Recently, Abhijnan Rej, a colleague of mine at ORF, and I published a Special Report on the basis of a simulation exercise conducted in February 2017. The Simulation Exercise (SIMEX) involved a space security crisis scenario in which states had already attempted to interfere with outer-space assets. The SIMEX involved one scenario and three moves.
We were interested in this exercise to understand the interaction between contemporary terrestrial geopolitics and the ongoing securitisation of outer space. The exercise examined five key questions: In a hybrid conflict that draws in multiple powers with stakes in outer space, how do states meet national objectives in a conflict? Can escalation in such conflicts be controlled? What do the decision-making dynamics within states face in such a crisis, and what role does intelligence play in it? What roles do multilateral institutions play in controlling escalation? And what role does disinformation and information play in determining the tempo and outcome of such a conflict?
This report answers these questions based on the results of the ORF SIMEX. The next section of this report provides a brief background of the scenario played in the SIMEX. The third section presents an analysis of the results of the SIMEX, answering the questions raised above. The paper concludes in the fourth section, with a few brief policy-relevant observations. An appendix collates details about how each of the three moves of the SIMEX played out. Readers interested in other details of the SIMEX—standard operating procedure, briefing background, a map
of the universe of the SIMEX, country and force capability inventory, details of the scenario, team objectives and options—may consult the companion page.
Find the report here.
The full report is quite long and it is not uploaded here. I am pasting the four major conclusion of the SIMEX.
Four key lessons emerged from the SIMEX, all of which merit further study through other similar exercises.
First, a crisis that starts relatively high up in the escalation ladder can be deescalated. The exercise started with the premise that Yellow had destroyed, albeit accidentally, an Orange military communication satellite using an ASAT weapon. Thus, there was a strong possibility of a kinetic conflict during and after the first move. However, this was not the case. Instead, Orange multilateralised the dispute by approaching the Permanent Court of Arbitration and took only modest military punitive steps against Yellow.
Second, possession of significant kinetic and non-kinetic military means does not always translate to meeting the national objectives of a state. Blue in the SIMEX served as an example. Despite significant military capabilities, it failed to meet both its national objectives. Lack of military heft, on the other hand, can be compensated for by using smart diplomatic tactics. This was the case with Red, which is the weakest military power of the four.
Third, in a significant crisis involving three or more powers, a state will prioritise meeting those objectives that concern it directly, as opposed to those related to its alliance commitments. That does not mean, however, that states will not meet their alliance commitments at all. Yellow’s behaviour vis-à-vis Red is a case in point.
Fourth (and this pertains to the increasingly hybrid nature of warfare), in moments of intense crises, social and other media remain powerful tools. This is evident in how Blue moulded international and domestic opinion using social media in tandem with public statements containing the same message.