Thursday 30 May 2024

The Meteoric Rise of Professional Wargaming in NATO


This article is not making a geopolitical statement, it is merely explaining the key driver in the massive expansion of professional wargaming.

The time, effort and money injected into professional wargaming in NATO has increased dramatically in the past five years. The reason is market forces. In defense terms, market forces means war is coming.

A crude summary is that China wants a greater China, which includes areas currently with their own government. A major rival is Japan. Japan’s defense spending is rising and by 2030, it will be the third largest in the world. Shortly after that Japan, own its own, would be able to fight China to a standstill. Anyone who has watched Shogan should grasp that Japan has a warrior culture and when mobilized, the whole national will would be engaged in supporting the war effort.

India is also out growing China. The British Empire valued the contribution of the Indian soldier and no-one who has taught Indian students would doubt they would fight if their country was threatened. So, if China wants to do a regional land grab, it has a limited window of opportunity before its. neighbors reach their full military readiness.

Russia is continually testing Western resolve, on the sea, under the sea, in the air and wants to reclaim the Russian empire. Putin is routinely threatening the West with war and destruction as he seeks to define his legacy. Now Western leaders have broken the cultural norm and have openly threatened Russia (and China) back.  

The impact of Russian/ Chinese rhetoric and policy statements has been to persuade those who really matter in the West, that war is coming. Of course, future history is decided by leaders. Russia and China might decide to become liberal democracies, or at last join the world order again. Western leaders might decide it is not worth fighting over the wilderness of Finland or obscure Baltic Republics. Perhaps some negotiated adjustment of borders might be sufficient to avert war. Wargames are not about predicting geopolitical futures; they are largely focussed on war fighting when diplomacy fails.

In the meantime, there is a surge in the frequency and importance of the wargames behind closed doors. It is no secret that the games are nearly all about fighting Russia and China. War is coming. Professional wargaming is now a career option for school leavers.


  1. A very interesting take on the growth of professional wargaming.

    Your reference to India was of particular interest to me. I have taught or have known a large number of Indians from across the ethnic and linguistic groups that make up that nation, and whilst they have almost all been peace loving, they have a pride in their nation and what it has achieved since independence. In my opinion, it is the sleeping giant of South Asia … and one with a growing military capacity. Whilst the Chinese are building and learning how to operate aircraft carriers, the Indians have many years of experience to call upon. They have shown that they can build military equipment that is as good as that produced in the west … and it isn’t all just developed versions of licenced weapons.

    I suspect that India is going to be a growth area for professional wargaming … and were I a fitter and younger man I’d certainly be lobbying them to send a tranche of students to the UK to ‘learn’ about wargaming with the intention of setting up their own School of Wargaming in the Defence Services Staff College (

    1. You make some good points. India is likely to be a world power in due course.

  2. I think it's great that NATO is wargaming massively, but I hope it will wargame the right things... along with everything else.
    In the 1980s we (as young hobbyists, and some later professionally) wargamed the hot war that never was, the Big One that would have incinerated and poisoned at least Europe if not the entire hemisphere. And yet, what kind of wars were actually fought by NATO and Pact countries? The same kind that had been fought for the preceding 30 years, asymmetric conflicts in which one side hardly ever resorted to anything larger than a 3" mortar (the Falklands is the exception that proves the rule, and it's not even that much of an exception) and were fought out on the psychological and political/moral plane as much as the fruited plain.
    I don't think it's greatly different today, even though the alignments and alliances are quite different from 40 years ago. There _will_ be many such lower-level conflicts fought before, during, alongside and after the large intense conflicts that _might_ be fought. So I think we need to pay at least as much attention to thinking about the "grey zone", no matter how quickly and how much counterinsurgency has returned to be an unpopular topic... 'twas ever thus.

  3. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, achair of the Defence Committee at the Bundestag called on her country to activate some "900,000 reservists" as she believes Russia's "attack against us has already begun". Nothing to say to that one.