War games and strategic competition return to the global stage

In its inaugural training course, IGCC offers wide-ranging and multi-faceted perspectives on the great power competition of the 21st Century

Aug. 27, 2019 | By Rachel Hommel | GPS News

Harkening back to the Cold War, competition between global great powers has returned to center stage and the consequences will be profound. From Aug. 12-16, the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC) based at UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) held an inaugural five-day training workshop to explore the origins, nature and long-term prospects of this competition.

Brought together to understand the consequences for international peace, stability and prosperity, participants arrived to GPS across disciplines, industries and nations. In the room were early career professionals, graduate students and postdoctoral candidates, eager to think critically and collaboratively, at the intersection between politics, economics and security.

Tai Ming Cheung“There has been very little academic research on this topic, particularly from the economic side,” said professor Tai Ming Cheung, director of IGCC and lead training organizer. “The people we invited are at the cutting edge of research, thinking about the future nature of international engagement and the long-term drivers of disparity and security for the U.S.”

The five-day workshop was broken up into panel discussions, mentorship dinners and simulation briefs, to encourage participants to dive deep into salient topics ranging from competition and cooperation in economics, technology, and defense, economic strategic rivalry and international dynamics and domestic politics of great power.

Funded by the generous support of the UC-National Laboratory Fees Research Program, the course worked directly with Lawrence Livermore Lab, a longtime partner of IGCC. Brad Roberts, director for the Center for Global Security Research at Livermore Lab, explained the need to revisit notions around competition in today’s world.

“Many of the assumptions that have guided U.S. policy are no longer valid and require broader thinking and creative intellectual capital,” suggests Roberts. “Students interested in pursuing careers in public policy have significant opportunities here as well as challenges.” 

As a former advisor to Obama on nuclear proliferation, Roberts was able to offer sage wisdom to budding leaders. Throughout the week-long training, participants had the opportunity for mentorship, to sit down with experts in the field and explore solutions for long-term peace competition and the dynamic world order.

“We need intellectual processes in our society that are rigorous, creative and exploratory,” explains Roberts. “This is a period of opportunity; I think the most important single skill that a newcomer should be developing is disciplined curiosity.”

This disciplined curiosity echoed throughout the training, which culminated in a two-part simulation, or war game. Popular for military strategy training, participants had the opportunity to analyze contemporary questions on economic competition.

“War games offer an experimental environment for social science, taking a complex reality into the gaming environment,” said Andrew Reddie, lead simulator and deputy director for the Nuclear Policy Working Group (NPWG) at UC Berkeley. “While war games are not a panacea, it’s a fantastic tool for the classroom as well as the policymaking process.”

These war games proved invaluable for James Lee, a postdoctoral research associate at IGCC, whose focus is at the intersection of international political economy and international security, looking at U.S. grand strategy and the great power rivalries.

Working alongside Cheung for the 2019-20 academic year, Lee will focus his efforts on a book examining the role of the U.S. in the creation of the development state in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. From the training, it became clear to Lee that the economic and security aspects of international relations are very closely intertwined, particularly within Indo-Pacific strategy.

“Understanding the international politics of East Asia requires an interdisciplinary perspective, drawing from a wide range of traditions and between traditional subfields,” said Lee. “The workshop gave me a strong sense of the kinds of academic and theoretical questions most valuable to policymakers in the 21st Century.”

UC San Diego undergraduate Jialu Xu, who is studying political science (international relations) and mathematics (economics), echoed the same sentiment. Joining Professor Molly Robert's Chinese censorship project team in April 2019, Xu is an extraordinary student and familiar face at GPS, thrilled to be amongst so many insightful Ph.D. students and postdoctoral candidates for this training.

“Besides the countless intellectual takeaways, it was very inspiring to talk to the Ph.D. candidates and postdocs in the room, especially as an undergraduate,” said Xu. “The best encouragement and advice I received was never take reticence for incompetence and loquacity for intelligence.”

After the course, Xu is eager to address some of the most urgent issues facing society, through a career in public policy. Inspired by the myriad career opportunities available, she stressed the importance of recognizing the new international competition and the existing and emerging conflicts that will dominate the 21st Century.

“The geo-economics perspective in the seminar really caught my attention,” said Xu. “The course provided me with various new and unique frameworks, topics and perspectives in understanding political science and the new international power race.”

Global power competition has and will invoke new technological, ideological, environmental and financial incentives from this moment forward. We are in a time of evolution, where the main contestants and areas of competition are ready to be shaped.

“We hope this training course will provide students the platform to build dissertation topics, form their careers and shape the next generation of intellectuals leaders,” said Cheung.”

Want to see more from the training? Check out the week-long events here.  

Additional IGCC stories:

IGCC receives coveted UC research grant

World-Renowned National Security Think Tank Secures $1M in Annual Funding from State

Carnegie Corporation of New York Supports UC San Diego-Hosted International Talks on Northeast Asia

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