Crisis Games: Asia (February 1997)

Originally published in 1996/1997, Issue 2

The setting for 1997’s first Crisis Game was Gregynog Hall, a 19th century pseudo-Tudor mansion near Newtown, which provided a pleasant if not typical setting for a game of interstate politics and diplomacy. Those taking part were subject to the laws of the Gods (who were more akin to the Greek Gods than their Christian counterparts) and regularly exposed to the resident Gregynog Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) who soon became very adept at grilling the various state leaders over their actions. This combination of circumstances resulted in a fast-paced game of manoeuvring and out-manoeuvring which fully lived up to the Chinese curse, “May you live in turbulent times”!

Indonesia By Nick Lane

From the two crisis games I have been on it seems they can very easily debilitate into turmoil. Within the confines of the game terrorism, repression and war all seem that bit more interesting than internal stability, endless co-operative conferences and negotiated settlements. Yet this leaves an extensive reality gap as players fancy spicing it all up a bit. Indonesia was the victim of terrorist aggression from the Friends of the Earth, or Wallies (sic.) as they were called, and invited by some ASEAN ministers to consider joint military action against China! An overview of the game could easily lead you to believe that it was a disaster for Indonesia. Given that I was assassinated and the country did descend into a brutal civil war, it can seem hard to pick out the more successful elements of the game for us. However, I think the team had a lot of fun attempting to kill each other and learnt a little about the international politics of South-east Asia in the process.

The difficulty for Indonesia was that from the start of the game we were preoccupied with massive internal problems while an international crisis was fomenting around us, a challenge that China similarly seemed to feel later in the game. The FRETILIN militia in East Timor was posturing for attack, 14 hostages had been taken by rebels in Irian Jaya, and riots and disturbances prompted by Islamists and democracy activists were occurring in two other places across our diverse country. At the same time we were under pressure from the environmentalists, our ally Australia, and other western states to tone down our human rights and environmental abuses. It is clear that Indonesia with its plethora of languages, minority ethnic groupings and cultures cannot, despite its massive rates of economic growth, continue to deny elements of democracy to its 200 million inhabitants. Most commentators seem to believe that post-Suharto there will be some change towards democracy in Indonesia. Within the context of the game, I felt our best bet was to undertake a policy of repression of extremists (as we liked to call them) and of hollow concessions to my fellow Indonesians, without actually committing ourselves to much outside the rhetoric of peace and democracy.

We hunted the FRETILIN in East Timor and managed to end up killing an alleged 1,000 civilians and sustained a rare defeat to the militia. After negotiations for the release of the hostages in East Timor failed, we sent in the special forces who saved all but two and captured the terrorists. However, simultaneously we offered improved medical facilities and investment to the tribes people of Irian Jaya. Similarly while imposing Marshall Law in other areas of unrest, we also offered the possibility of the establishment of consultative chambers across Indonesia. This dual strategy led to an interrogation of me by GBC (Gregynog Broadcasting Company) news over our repressive tactics, while at the same time I tried to dress up our hollow concessions in diplomatic language. Although something of a deviation from Suharto’s traditional line this was not without its precedents, Indonesia introduced quite comprehensive pollution laws in 1990 and tentatively experimented with consultation in 1989. Pragmatism is surely a characteristic of all governments and leaders, but my actions were as much to do with playing the simulated game as fulfilling the Suharto role in day-to-day Indonesian and South-east Asian politics. In talking to one of the gods (the staff who oversee the game) afterwards, I was told that Suharto tends to ignore his critics and repress Indonesian minority groups with little qualms for the international repercussions. However, as the regional situation spiralled out of control with the dangers of offensive action by China and the organisation of some sort of collective security group among the ASEAN states, it seemed that it was essential to keep the favour of Australia who was due to undergo military exercises with us.

Nevertheless, after day 9 of the 12 day game things seem to be looking up for Indonesia, our internal problems seem to have quelled somewhat and we were hoping to raise our prestige within ASEAN by devoting time to establishing ourselves as the “honest broker” of the Spratly Islands dispute. Yet it was seemingly the calm before the storm, 1,000 dead bodies hadn’t apparently been enough to satisfy the army’s genocidal urges. Assassination, however, did not seem to have the brutal finality you expect when an 85 year old President meets a poisoned box of chocolates. It was all handled in a very diplomatic fashion: “Ah President Suharto, you’re dead, come with me,” said one of the gods. What followed was the beginnings of an Indonesian Civil War which would no doubt claim a lot of lives. I became Suharto Junior, the powerful son of the great deceased President, challenging the traitorous government of my former ministers (led by Richard Butler). I was joined by Suharto’s Vice-President, Subianto (Andrew Coley), establishing ourselves as the Legitimate Government of Indonesia, as we wrestled to gain control of the military and obtain international recognition. In both we were partially successful. If nothing else it was an interesting way to end the game, wholesome genocide being that much more engaging than international diplomacy.

In the final plenary session we were asked to summarise what we learnt about international politics from the game. Apart from a list of reasons on why it is necessary to kill lots of people if you are ruling Indonesia, I did also gain a feeling for the dynamics of a region of vast economic growth and increasing political confidence. However, perhaps most of all I learnt how the structure we impose on relations can affect the game of international politics. The game we played lacked the tangible human consequences of actual government directives and military operations, and, without trying, encouraged a short-term win/lose thesis among players. While the 12 game days were intended to be open-ended, many sought to bring a finality to the preceding with a strong move on day 12. Moreover, while the structure of the crisis game is contrived by us players, and the immutably positivist gods, is not the same true about the real (or should that be neo-realist?) game of I.R.? Unlike the real leaders us players generally did not have substantial empirical knowledge of the region, thus our predilections about how international politics works showed through obviously in our actions. However, perhaps the greatest similarity of the game to reality was this aspect. For the real President Suharto there is no doubt that the values and beliefs he holds about international relations, though perhaps more easily hidden than those in a UWA crisis games, similarly affect his actions in the game of states (and NGO’s) in South-east Asia.

Malaysia By John Heathershaw

Trying to govern Malaysia at the crisis game in February was a bit like walking on a tightrope. Malaysia’s record of supporting human rights and environmental awareness is hardly exemplary, but as one of the more democratic regimes in the ASEAN region, unlike Indonesia, there was no potential for authorising the random massacre of troublesome Islamic Fundamentalists or indigenous inhabitants on Borneo. Equally, there was a need to balance playing an important role in the ASEAN Forum with a desire not to totally alienate China, who could influence the Chinese minority on the Malaysian Peninsula.

Malaysia had a number of problems to sort out, a confrontation with Thailand over fishing rights in our territorial waters, conflicting territorial claims over the Spratley Islands with China, not to mention Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam, some domestic turmoil and finally pressure from the eco-friendly, soon to become eco-warrier, Walhi environmental group.

Malaysia sought to deal with the problem of the Spratlys through the ASEAN Forum, demanding that states should negotiate sovereignty on the basis of Exclusive Economic Zones created by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. To this end we came to an agreement with Brunei whereby we would give up claim to Louisa Reef, so that we could jointly pursue EEZ based claims on the Islands. Compromise was also reached with Thailand and trade agreements signed with Singapore and briefly China, but domestic issues proved harder to deal with. Indigenous rebellions were breaking out across Sarawak and Sabah, whilst Walhi was drawing media attention to Malaysian destruction of the rain forest and plans to create a reservoir by flooding an area the size of Singapore. Our solution was to push native tribes from the flooded region into Environmental Protected Areas, where rain forest could be ‘sustained’, but exploited by pharmaceutical companies. Simultaneously a covert operation ‘Undermine’ was launched to deal with growing Islamic Fundamentalist opposition.

Malaysia accomplished most of her aims during the course of the game, but was accused of ‘going soft’ and compromising too readily…in hindsight probably true. Governments in the cut-throat of mid-Wales, it seems, need to be more devious.

Singapore By Rosalind Roberts

Singapore, small in size yet large in terms of economic wealth, played the role of an intervenor and negotiator during the Crisis Game. Disputes between China and the ASEAN nations were watched with the concerns of a country whose population consists of roughly 70% Chinese people and which has valuable trading links with all of its ASEAN co- members. Needless to say Singaporean interests followed a clear middle path through the course of events which included the Chinese shooting-down of two Philippino aircraft and the Chinese take-over of the Vietnamese-occupied Blue Dragon Reef…

Our aims at the beginning of the game were therefore to further improve trading links and to forge future co-operation between China and ASEAN in order to maintain peace and stability in the region. As a team we were agreed that these aims were suitably vague and general enough to cover our backs – not that they needed covering. Our presence at the Game was very much neglected until we decided to flex some of Singapore’s economic muscle by placing a trade embargo on Thailand after continued drug-trafficking, under the auspices of the Thai Defence Minister, was exposed by a leaked document to GBC news.

It was not until the end of the game that Singapore received more attention from the other players who had up until this point been busy fighting for their respective claims in the Spratly Islands. Chinese obtrusiveness resulted in the ASEAN nations seeking Singaporean support to take an economically threatening stance. This move was however overshadowed by China’s preoccupation with domestic problems which were overwhelming a divided government whose premier had passed away on the same day as his real-life counterpart.

The end of the game was not as cataclysmic as people had at first expected or how previous crisis games had ended. I’d like to think that this is a reflection upon the diplomatic and co-operative nature of those playing rather than any missed chances by them to seek revenge for underhand deeds that were rife amongst the teams at Gregynog.

Brunei by Catherine Lillington

As the Sultan of Brunei I found myself occupying a rather unique position within the crisis game. As a state with minimal military power, Brunei posed little threat to the other states involved in the game, and therefore Brunei found itself in a situation, aided greatly by the vast wealth of the country, to participate actively in diplomacy in the region, both bilaterally and through mechanisms for multilateral negotiation. Therefore, an important role for Brunei within the crisis game was involvement in conflict resolution, and this was achieved in a variety of ways. From the outset, representatives from Brunei were sent to help resolve the recent dispute that had emerged between Thailand and Malaysia, and in the latest episode of the long-running climate of shared animosity between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Vietnam, Brunei working alongside Singapore to help mediate between Thailand and Malaysia, while Bruneian diplomats were also able to help reduce some of the misunderstanding between China and Vietnam, though this dispute proved to be a running sore which was to persist through much of the event.

The primary issue for Brunei was the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which was held in Brunei and chaired by the sultan. The Majority of the countries which had been invited to attend, representatives from ASEAN and China, participated in the spirit of the event, which led to the creation of an important step towards security in the region, the South East Asian Peaceful Area (SEAPA), the ASEAN members and the PRC signing the agreement, which included Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) such as prior warning of exercises, with the provision of observers from the signatory countries and from other interested parties, the selection of which was to be made by a `Workshop on observer selection`. A `Workshop on mutual security` was also form, which was intended to provide a forum for the peaceful discussion of emergent security problems which effected the SEAPA signatories, and the first meeting of this group was held only days after its creation, to discuss the issue if the Spratly Islands, with mixed results. The ASEAN states also agreed to draw up a report on narcotics production and trafficking in the region, while on the vital issue of expanding membership of ASEAN, all three states applying for membership: Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, were refused entry for the present time.

Apart from helping mediate in regional disputes and hosting a successful conference, Brunei was also involved in activities more directly related to the national interest. Through a mutual recognition of the rights of state’s to control a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a ruling reached by the United Nations (UN) in the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea (UNCLOS), Brunei was able to secure the Louisa Reef feature of the Spratly Islands from Malaysia, while an military and economic agreement with ASEAN’s newest member, Vietnam, secured Brunei’s claim to the other two islands within its EEZ.

Lastly, Brunei was also able to invest in the future with the acquisition of 15% of the stock of another of the crisis game players, the Crestone Oil Corporation. The subsequent right to representation on Crestone’s board also allowing Brunei to help restrain Crestone from some of its actions which ran contrary to Brunei’s interests.

The Indonesian Forum of the Environment (WALHI) by Owain Gower

It was obvious from the start that playing the role of an environmental group would be a challenge for three strategic studies students and a historian, but unperturbed we set about the challenge enthusiastically. We had a number of aims for the game, of which one of the largest was overcoming the embarrassment caused by our acronym, as well as promoting the cause of the rain forests, trying to save indigenous populations and pushing for tougher and safer standards on the exploitation of natural resources.

As the game progressed it became clear to us that – despite our attempts at organising regional conventions, publicity stunts and plain begging – nobody was was paying us anything but passing interest. Our plight appears to mirror that of non-governmental organisations out there in the ‘real’ world, who are often at best ignored and occasionally persecuted by governments. This is particularly true of environmental groups who have to face the fact that whilst governments gain little from preserving the environment, they do gain a vast amount financially by exploiting it.

Therefore as a team we took the only course of action we felt could fulfil our goals, eco-terrorism, and we set about bombing government ministries, oil companies and logging concerns. The result of our attacks was that we did receive a lot more attention, admittedly in the form of arrest warrants, deportation orders and death threats, and we lost the support of originally sympathetic governments. But the attacks did raise the issues that concerned us and like the rest of the game doing them was great fun!