Crisis Simulations

The China Power Project conducts regular crisis simulation exercises to study bilateral and multilateral cooperation efforts in areas of increased tensions.

South China Sea Crisis Simulation

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) conducted a 1.5 day-long U.S.-China-Philippines simulation exercise on a crisis in the South China Sea in November 2015 with the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation. The project aimed to underscore the potential for miscalculation in the South China Sea; identify specific actions that could cause a crisis and potential escalation; determine possible off ramps in a crisis that could enable de-escalation; and identify options for crisis management mechanisms that would be most useful to prevent an accident or escalation from taking place. Participants were split amongst four teams: a U.S. team, a China team, a Philippines team, and a control team. Participants included senior U.S. experts and former officials who performed various roles in the simulation.

The scenario centered on a contingency involving a crisis at Second Thomas Shoal, a reef that is occupied by approximately a dozen Philippine marines deployed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated navy ship that was deliberately grounded on the shoal by the Philippines in 1999.

During the simulation, participants utilized both diplomatic and military options to pursue their interests, promote communication, and de-escalate the crisis.

The China Power Project holds crisis simulations that seek to enhance understanding among scholars and policymakers, test and improve US-China crisis management capabilities, and underscore the benefits of regular, multifaceted cooperation to avoid crises and potential escalation. By providing extensive briefings to US policymakers, our simulations have helped to deepen understanding of Chinese behavior in potential crises that goes beyond what can be learned at the official policy level given political sensitivities.

East China Sea Crisis Simulation

In July 2014, CSIS held a two-day crisis simulation exercise in collaboration with the International Communications and Negotiation Simulation (ICONS) Project of the University of Maryland and with generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation.  Four teams were formed for the exercise: a China team, a Japan team, a U.S. team, and a control team.  Participants included senior members of the U.S. foreign policy and security expert community, many of whom were former U.S. senior officials.

The simulation was designed to test and enhance U.S.-China-Japan crisis management capabilities in general, and to underscore the benefit of advance discussion between the three parties to respond to potential conflict in the East China Sea.

The scenario began with a collision between a Chinese fishing vessel and a Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) patrol vessel inside the 12nm territorial waters around Uotsuri Jima/Diaoyu Dao that resulted in the death of a Japanese sailor and the detainment of thirteen Chinese fishermen by the JCG.

During the simulation, participants utilized both diplomatic and military options to pursue their interests, promote communication, and de-escalate the crisis.

Korean Peninsula Crisis Simulation

In November 2012, CSIS held a two-day crisis simulation exercise in collaboration with the International Communications and Negotiation Simulation (ICONS) Project of the University of Maryland.  Three teams were formed for the exercise: a China team, a U.S. team, and a control team which played the roles of North Korea, South Korea, and Japan.  Participants included senior members of the U.S. foreign policy and security expert community, many of whom were former U.S. senior officials.

The simulation was designed to test and enhance U.S.-China crisis management capabilities in general, and to underscore the benefit of advance discussion between the U.S. and China to respond to potential contingencies on the Korean Peninsula.

The scenario began with the sinking of an ROK navy vessel, and included injects that suggested factional differences in North Korea and unsecure radioactive/nuclear material in North Korea.

Positive actions by the U.S. and China teams included:

  • Agreement to share intelligence information throughout the crisis to prevent escalation through misunderstanding

  • Coordination of efforts for providing humanitarian relief in the event of major instability in North Korea

Some significant insights drawn from the simulation exercise and the roundtable discussion among participants that followed include:

  • The political climate in South Korea since the Cheonan Incident makes it politically unfeasible for South Korean leaders to not take military action in response to another major North Korean provocation.

  • Both U.S. and China teams assumed that the other side had considerable influence over the behavior of its ally and both had expectations that the other side would restrain its ally.

  • The China team’s signaling to North Korea was often subtle and not always fully appreciated or understood by the U.S. team.

  • The U.S. team consistently overestimated its ability to persuade China to join in specific actions; actual cooperation was more difficult than anticipated.

  • The China team was less worried about the potential for unsecure WMD and the threat of proliferation from North Korea than the U.S. team and failed to appreciate how this threat would drive U.S. decision making.

  • The China team’s decision making was influenced by suspicion about U.S. desire for “regime change” and overall U.S. intentions toward China.

  • The China team was reluctant to accept signs of political instability in North Korea.

  • Both U.S. and Chinese teams agreed that such simulations are useful tools to reduce misunderstanding and misperceptions, strengthen crisis management skills, and promote U.S.-China coordination and cooperation.