Column Foreign Affairs and National Security 2009.08.05
On July 4-5, a large-scale policy simulation session on international crisis management was held in Tokyo. It was organized by the Canon Institute for Global Studies and I was lucky enough to undertake the role of "game controller" (supervisor) in the simulation.
Over 50 people participated, all of them leading experts in various fields. They were divided into 10 teams playing different national roles in the international community, such as those of officials and politicians from Japan, the U.S., China and Russia. These teams used every possible stratagem to cope with a situation that assumed that nuclear weapons leaked from a South Asian country.
Although the session was primarily designed to provide hands-on training for 11 individuals who had applied for the Institute's program to develop political appointee candidates, it seemed to be extremely effective as policy-making training for them as well. Although only a game, something about it took it beyond what a game would seem to imply. This report focuses on policy simulation, a tool widely used in the West.
The roots of this kind of simulation exercise are said to go back to the war games played by the Prussian army in the 18th century. War games are essentially rehearsals of strategies and tactics that are conducted in virtual reality before an actual war. Reportedly, the U.S. forces, noting the effectiveness of the tool, played war games simulating a war between Japan and the U.S. many times before the outbreak of the Pacific War.
We were aware that an unrealistic scenario would ruin the game, even if it was for policy-making training. Fortunately, those who played the roles of the President and the Secretary of Defense in the U.S. team were both from the U.S. government. Likewise, the leader of the Chinese team was played by a renowned Chinese journalist. The roles of the government officials of the individual countries were acted by Japanese bureaucrats on active service.
As expected, the game yielded very realistic results. The "U.S. government" finally decided not to take a hard line due to the influence and attitude of the President, after a heated discussion among "department secretaries." The crafty diplomacy exercised by the Chinese team greatly exceeded anything the naive Japanese could imagine.
Compared with them, the Japanese team acted in very "Japanese" way. While "major countries" launched one effective measure after another, the "Japanese government" seemed to spend much time on examining the legitimacy of possible measures, stopping short of discussing detailed strategies.
Japan's focus on tactics alone undermined its presence. Not only the "U.S., China and Russia" but also other countries constantly assigned a low priority to consultation with the "Japanese government," although most of the players of those "countries" were Japanese.
During the simulation, other countries often criticized Japan's decisions for being "too late and too vague." This happened even when the members of the "Japanese government" were all enthusiastic experts. All of them, "ministers" and "private secretaries for political affairs" alike, must have participated in the game with a determination to pursue policy-making led by politicians.
However, domestic legal and institutional constraints were stronger than they had expected. I assume that many players were mortified, saying to themselves, "This is not what I expected." They say that some "ministers" even vowed to requite their mortification by taking revenge in the next game. If this is the reality of the Japanese policy-making process, I think politicians need to gain more know-how to overcome the rigidity of the process.
Although the purpose of policy simulation is not to foresee the future, it is rather useful in allowing policy-makers to experience potential mistakes in a no-risk environment so that they can avoid the same mistakes in the real world.
It is said that the U.S. forces, which had repeatedly played Japan-U.S. war games in the 1930s, had been able to predict most of the tactics used by the Japanese forces. The suicide attacks carried by the kamikaze squadron were the only exception. Although Japan has renounced war, the importance of refining the peaceful decision-making process needs to be acknowledged. Obviously, policy simulation is a worthwhile exercise for Japan to try out.