NEWPORT, R.I. – More than 75 experts from private industry, academia, and government joined the War Gaming Department at the Naval War College (NWC) to discuss future strategic maritime scenarios involving the Panama Canal and the Arctic Ocean during its Global Shipping Game from December 8-9.
Conducted at the request of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead, the game was designed “to explore the future security and trade implications involving the expansion of the Panama Canal—scheduled for completion in 2014—and the projected increase of international shipping in the Arctic Ocean,” said Game Director Doug Ducharme. “The Navy wants to focus on these regions because of predicted changes in global shipping patterns and their significant impact on economics, global partnerships, security, and international trade in the decades ahead.”
Roughead welcomed game participants and shared his view that navies “exist to facilitate - the flows of commerce, communication and resources” on the sea lanes and that “the need to draw resources from the sea is not going to change in our lifetime or in the foreseeable future.”
“The area of change that is closest over time is the expansion of the Panama Canal. What does that mean for routes, commerce and the activity that will take place, not just in this hemisphere, but beyond, as businesses decide where they want to go and how they’ll get there,” Adm. Roughead said.
The CNO also discussed the expected future increase of shipping through the Arctic or the “Fifth Ocean” from the standpoint of trade, resources and the nature of activity that will take place throughout the polar regions.
Thanking the assembled industry and government leaders for their participation, he said, “You bring perspectives of a lifetime studying these issues and you bring a perspective of industry, commerce, think tanks, [and] perspectives of other countries that can only enrich the discussion.”
The seminar-style event allowed two separate teams of experts to discuss futuristic views and paint a more definitive picture of the Panama Canal in the year 2020 and the Arctic Ocean in 2035. Participants also debated the ramifications of the possible ratification of the United Nation’s Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). That convention defined the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
“This game was unique because it’s the first time we’ve invited such a diverse group of high-level experts—with their wide range of perspectives—to critically evaluate and explore these international scenarios,” said Ducharme, who also mentioned that game participants represented industries such as commercial shipping, education, government, insurance, international law, oil, and retail. “We challenged them to challenge previously held assumptions and implications about the future of Caribbean trade, Arctic shipping and UNCLOS.”
The players’ cells —comprised of interdisciplinary groups of experts—focused on the Panama Canal expansion and opening of the Arctic passages for trade and exploration. The groups consisted of a mix of professionals who provided political, security, international law, economics, commerce, insurance, infrastructure, and regional perspectives.
“A control team, comprised of War Gaming Department faculty and representatives from OPNAV, played an important role in effectively monitoring and directing the two-day exercise,” said David DellaVolpe, Chairman of the War Gaming Department at NWC.
The game’s first day focused on participants sharing their assumptions about the Panama Canal in 2020 and the Arctic in 2035 with regards to their specific industries. The session concluded with players discussing those regions’ future security and trade environments.
The control group presented new arguments and scenarios on the second day to challenge the teams to question, re-examine and expand their initial rationale.
“We brought the groups together a final time to collaborate and decide what they perceive are the major issues that should be brought to CNO’s attention for the way ahead,” DellaVolpe said. “Gaming is built to deal with complex, ill-structured problems and these teams were successful in understanding the issues, providing valuable insights and offering key deliverables to the Navy.”
DellaVolpe explained that the event was conducted at the strategic level.
“Key stakeholders from many industries were encouraged to share their expertise and opinions in order to formulate recommendations for the Navy and to potentially influence future maritime policy for the United States and across the globe.”
The game’s recommendations also brought attention to issues currently off the radar scope, according to Lawson Brigham, professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and expert on Arctic policy.
“Specifically, I think the biggest takeaway was that the United States should ratify ‘The Law of the Sea Treaty’ in the near future,” said Brigham. “That came out of the game very clearly from a diverse group of people from academia, industry, military and other countries. They believed the U.S. should do this not only for Arctic issues, but for global issues as well.”
Chilean Navy Vice Adm. (ret.) Sergio Robinson, professor at his country’s Naval War College, commented on the value of the game.
“We dealt with many new and complex issues that could potentially affect the business, commerce and the people who live in the Americas,” said Robinson, who noted that Chile is the third largest user of the Panama Canal—behind the United States and China. “This was a superb exercise in advancing strategic plans that will protect our future economies.”
The event was not only beneficial to the participating industries and the Navy, but also reinforced the Naval War College’s tradition of preparedness and performance, with the CNO referring to Newport as “the home of thought in the Navy.”
“This exercise re-emphasizes the important role this institution plays in helping the Navy shape and posture itself in the years ahead,” DellaVolpe said. “We have the capabilities to successfully look at the entire spectrum of issues from tactical to operational to strategic.”
By David Reese, Naval War College Public Affairs