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ICONS team hosts Peace Game with U.S. Diplomatic Studies Foundation

Earlier this month, START’s International Communication & Negotiation Simulations Project (ICONS) team hosted the Peace Game with the U.S. Diplomatic Studies Foundation (DSF) at START Headquarters.

“START is excited to be part of efforts by the Administration and bipartisan supporters of diplomacy to help strengthen the civilian-led, interagency face of U.S. foreign policy,” START Director William Braniff said.

DSF is a bipartisan organization composed of former senior national security professionals which aims to improve the training and education of Foreign Services Officers (FSOs) and their civil service colleagues at the U.S. Department of State.

Former ICONS Director and current researcher at the Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security (ARLIS) Devin Ellis noted that the core purpose of the game was to offer an opportunity for U.S. Government participants to practice crisis management at the U.S. embassy level.

“DSF recommended to the State Department that more training and gaming be done for FSOs, who don't receive the level of consistent investment in these types of trainings that their counterparts in the Department of Defense, for example, do,” Ellis said.

The game included more than 30 participants from the Department of State, Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Intelligence Community.

“The unit of analysis here - the Country Team - was selected because it is an interagency group at the embassy level,” Ellis said. “Aside from serving on a country team during the course of their careers, many FSOs, when they become Deputy Chiefs of Mission or Ambassadors, would have only had experience in leading a country team to deal with a crisis if a real crisis had happened at one of their postings. So the aim here is to fill that gap.”

The game involved a crisis situation at a U.S. embassy within a fictional nation named Ikhaya, and included everything from invented White House memos to maps of Ikhaya.

“One of the best things about this simulation was that it was an interagency activity from start to finish,” ICONS Researcher and Simulation Developer Ron Capps said. “We had some pretty senior people from the defense, development, diplomacy and intelligence communities engaged in getting the details right during the development, and we had the same groups represented on the control team and as participants in the simulation itself.”

In his opening remarks, DSF President Ambassador David C. Miller, Jr. expressed his gratitude for the Robertson Foundation for Government (RFG), which provided both logistical and financial support for the game.

“I was speaking with [Former RFG President] Cynthia Robinson one day when I mentioned that I don’t think our country practices making peace. She thought it was a good idea, and with that the RFG gave us support for two years, introduced us to ICONS and supported them, and that was the great gift that got us here,” Miller said.

Miller noted that DSF’s mission is to support exercises like the Peace Game that provide education and training for the civilian side of the international community.

“DSF is policy agnostic – we don’t write policy papers,” Miller said. “This game is a piece of that, and it’s really quite simple. We are engaged today in a struggle in the world to provide stability to countries. We’re at war now with the environment, with a lack of water and food instability, and a lack of political commons. This is a war game in real time.”

Ellis also expressed his gratitude for ICONS’ partners in supporting the game, including John Paul DeJoria's Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation (PLH), and noted the importance of such games to those working in the civil service.

“The PLH, RFG and DSF were very generous in supporting us in developing this game and letting us set it up,” Ellis said. “The benefit of this game is that it is truly interagency. We’re trying to overcome cultural divides within the U.S. Government, and we hope that there is an appetite at the Department of State down the line, from practicing fundamental crisis management skills in a fake country to one that supports real-country strategic knowledge.”


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