What Does War Gaming for Peace Look Like?

In policy planning, there's a lot of effort involved when planning for conflict. Research papers and briefings, certainly, but also "war games" -- simulations of conflicts with experts on the various parties to the conflict acting out their roles. If Group A invades and takes this military base, how does Group B respond (or Group C, D, or E)? What if policymakers put as much thought into thinking through diplomatic scenarios as they do war scenarios? 

That was the question posed by PeaceGame, a simulation of diplomatic efforts around the Syrian civil war organized by the U.S. Institute of Peace and Foreign Policy Monday. The discussion brought together 45 experts, including former ambassadors and State Department officials, academics, and Arab activists, all together representing 19 groups influencing the war. It's the first of what is planned as a series of similar events. The next one is scheduled for Spring 2014 in the United Arab Emirates.

If you're trying to envision what it was like, imagine a high-level roleplaying game -- something akin to Model United Nations or Dungeons & Dragons (with FP CEO David Rothkopf as dungeonmaster). But the level of expertise was something else entirely. Former Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley and Casimir Yost, recently returned from the National Intelligence Council, represented the United States. 

PeaceGame sought to highlight the interests and roles of groups whose voices are frequently lost in often insular Washington policy discussions. Though they won't be in Geneva, Salafi militants, represented at today's event by Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor at the Stimson Center, did everything could to derail an agreement to end the war. USIP Associate Vice President Manal Omar spoke for Syrian civil society, and though they may not be at the negotiating table, Omar gamed out how they might implement -- or not -- a potential peace deal.

And how far does Bashar al-Assad think he can push his luck? Will he compromise if Russia drops its support? Former Ambassador Ted Kattouf and Syrian National Council member Murhaf Jouejati, who represented the Assad regime, didn't think so. He'll hold out until his support from Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria's domestic Alawite community starts to slip, they suggested. But, they added, others in his government may push him out as a means to save their own skin before that happens. Then there's the long-term: Former Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer noted that an agreement is one thing, but for peace to be sustainable, it will require a generation of multinational oversight and, she stressed, funding. 

Plans for an even more in-depth conversation were cut short by the threat of a snowstorm in Washington Tuesday, curtailing a conversation on potential spoilers to an agreement.

For more on Monday's event, you can see check USIP and Foreign Policy's updates from throughout the day on Twitter. USIP will soon be posting video from the event here.


Putin Bids Farewell to Independent News, Welcomes the Crazy

President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin always had a very sly, if transparent, way of creating the illusion that Russia has independent media -- at least until now. Walking a thin line, state-owned or state-backed news services would be allowed to report just enough on the shortcomings of the Russian political system to keep up the appearance of free speech but would never go too far in their criticisms.

But the Kremlin just couldn't take it anymore. With one swift signature the president himself ended the golden days of independent-ish Russian media.

On Monday, Putin, with no notice whatsoever, signed a decree dissolving the state-owned agency RIA Novosti and Voice of Russia radio, which had become known for providing relatively balanced reporting about the country in 14 languages. Novosti, founded in 1941 as a Soviet news agency, and Voice of Russia will be substituted by a new, consolidated agency called Russia Today. It will be separate from another state-backed news organization known as RT.

Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, said that the move was an effort to control the state's budget, to spend media funds "more rationally." But even the Kremlin left no doubts as to the actual reason for the decision -- the question of who should be controlling the image of Russia abroad. "Russia is following its own policy, firmly defending national interests, this is difficult to explain to the world but one can and must do it," Ivanov said. According to the New York Times, the agency's directors will be designated by Putin's office.

In a sad, sad announcement of their own demise, RIA Novosti managed to capture their strange position in the Russia's media world. Their report was on the one hand accurate and on the other hand unwilling to call Putin's move what it is: an outright crackdown on media freedom. "The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia's news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector."

The new agency's overlord will be the news anchor Dmitry Kiselov, who has become well-known for his anti-gay and anti-Europe remarks. Kiselov made a splash last week when he went on a rant during his evening show about the moral decline facing Ukraine should they choose to join the European Union instead of maintaining their partnership with Russia. And while Western news organizations such as the New York Times and the Financial Times dutifully noted an unforgettable moment in Kiselov's rant when he speculated that the EU-Ukraine association agreement was a Polish-Lithuanian-Swedish revenge plot for the 1709 Battle of Poltava, they managed to leave out the best part. Kiselov went on to cite a Swedish children's show that aims to teach the country's youth about their bodily functions as evidence of the decadence which marks European culture, which we at Foreign Policy wrote about last week. That show includes the characters Pee-Pee, Turd, and Nixon the Nose, and it's the evidence cited by Russia's newly crowned media tsar in his rant against the West.

Goodbye Novosti, and welcome to crazy town.