Wargaming China is a Double-Edged Grift
Congress’s new Select Committee on China held a wargame, organized by my old think tank, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) (I severed ties with them some time ago). You could probably stop right there, know nothing else about it, and be able to deduce a lot about how the game was structured, why CNAS was the organizer, and how it will be used going forward.
Congressman Mike Gallagher, the Committee’s chair, concluded:
Yesterday’s wargame stressed the need to take action to deter CCP aggression and arm Taiwan to the teeth before any crisis begins…Deterring war is the only path to peace and stability.
That is of course nonsense. Not just because, by all accounts, the purpose of the game itself was to “deter” a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, by which they actually meant mapping out a conventional warfighting campaign against China. After all, the scenario starts with a crisis and China’s imminent invasion of Taiwan, meaning it was defined in such a way that there’s zero ability to maneuver or shape the context to foreclose on the crisis.
But Gallagher’s statement is also nonsense because, for all the talk of deterrence, there is no theory of deterrence in any of it. What’s the argument in this case for how guns and bombs purport to deter—rather than cause—a war of attrition and nuclear war? If our current problem is China’s naval and nuclear expansion, how does “arming Taiwan to the teeth” address the problem rather than exacerbate it? (and for the record, I support arms sales to Taiwan—it’s just not a solution to the stated problem).
Gallagher wants to “deter CCP aggression…before any crisis begins.” No shit. But that glosses over the ongoing reality that deterrence is holding. By his standard we’ve already succeeded, baby. We can only f—ck it up.
Unfortunately, that’s what the repertoire of “great-power competition” encourages. If deterrence is working and we have no place to go but deterrence failure (war), then we need to widen the context. We need to break out of a dependency on perpetual deterrence—why make transgressive or zero-sum choices that insist on imagining we’re stuck indefinitely on the edge of catastrophe?
I mean, if you really want to deter an invasion, you should keep Taiwan the home to 90% of the world’s advanced semiconductors rather than trying to diversify—that ensures the world doesn’t just let Taiwan get taken over. That kind of interdependence is the ultimate tripwire. Which makes it the ultimate deterrent. Of course, that’s the opposite of what Biden’s industrial policy is doing, which once again goes to show that people are talking about deterrence but
ain’t no theories of deterrence goin’ on in this b*tch making choices based on shoddy intellectual foundations and category errors.
I teach wargaming at the graduate level. I ran wargames when I worked in the Pentagon. Wargaming is a grift. It’s just also sometimes an analytical tool.