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Centre for Geopolitics

Providing historically grounded approaches to enduring geopolitical problems

Strategic Simulations

Since 2015 the University of Cambridge Centre for Geopolitics has run a series of strategic simulation exercises in collaboration with Prof Brendan Simms’ Grand Strategy/Geopolitics masters class. Each simulation centres on an imagined (but realistic) crisis set in the near future, through which a subject of topical security and foreign affairs interest is explored. As events unfold in real time, we bring politicians, academic experts, officials, diplomats, and military leaders together with our MPhil students in a true-to-life simulation of the UK’s National Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) in operation. 

The aim is to allow all involved to deepen their knowledge of a contemporary geopolitical issue, and to develop strategic thinking skills and test potential future developments and options, in keeping with the Centre’s mission to offer new historically grounded approaches to enduring geopolitical problems. For the students, this is an opportunity to interact with and learn from those who have dealt (or are still dealing) with these challenges in government and affords the opportunity to think about the historic themes that run through their MPhil module in a contemporary context. For the politicians, experts, and officials who participate, we hope to broaden existing knowledge across disciplines and professions and to benefit from constructive questioning of each other and from the students. For all, there is the opportunity to reflect on the nature of government responses to current foreign, defence, and national security challenges. The simulation provides a safe, experimental space for current policymakers to probe and challenge orthodoxies and possible solutions. 

The simulation is conducted under the Chatham House rule to allow for the full and frank discussion of the topic that would occur between ministers and officials dealing with a crisis.  However, we report our most significant findings in a public panel event at the end of the day where we also explore the underlying themes and challenges that the exercise has illuminated.

Our Highlights 

For a complete list of all our simulations please see HERE

2023 – The UK’s Pacific Tilt

The Centre's most recent event turned to the Pacific region as we tested the substance behind the UK’s 'Pacific Tilt’. We examined the true depth and importance of the UK’s existing interests in this geographically distant region and raised important questions for policymakers about the choices that would face the UK in the event of regional conflict between the US and China. 

2022 – Undersea Security in Northern Europe 

Returning to examine security vulnerabilities in the Baltic region and NATO’s northern flank, we drew attention to the risks associated with the growing, complex, unregulated, and largely unprotected infrastructure that lies on the bed of the North and Baltic Seas. An associated event at the House of Lords built on our findings, extending the discussion to representatives of industry, government, and the Baltic states themselves. In 2023 undersea infrastructure was added to the UK’s national risk register. 

2021 - European Energy Security 

Just three months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, our simulation demonstrated just how dependent Europe had become on oil and gas supplies from the Russian Federation, and accurately predicted the global price shock that would occur if they were cut. We also drew attention to the vulnerability and strategic importance of the Nord Stream II pipeline. 

2020 – The Geopolitics of the Arctic 

In 2020 we were among the first to model how changing global climate might affect regional politics in the high polar north. We demonstrated how the retreat of arctic ice would open access to new sea routes and mineral resources but also invite global powers to intervene in territories (such as Greenland) that have previously been regarded as strategically peripheral. 

2017 - The Irish Border Post-Brexit 

Amongst the growing heat and light of the post-referendum political debate in the UK, the Centre turned its attention to the potential practical implications of a hard Brexit on the UK’s relationship with it closest EU27 neighbour. We correctly predicted that border arrangements between the UK and the Republic of Ireland would prove highly politically problematic for the impending UK/EU Brexit negotiations.   

2015 - Russian Aggression in the Baltic region 

The Russian invasion of Crimea the previous year spurred our first simulation which explored how far Vladimir Putin might go in efforts to destabilise NATO’s eastern borderlands. We looked at the threshold for triggering political and military action under NATO’s Articles IV and V and alliance cohesion in the face of aggression, as well as considering how Putin’s ‘little green men’ were beginning to blur conventional conceptions of state-on-state conflict.   


Our simulations are chaired by a former UK Secretary of State playing the role of UK Prime Minister, assisted by a range of senior serving and former officials.

Participants have included: 

Lord David Trimble, Former First Minister of Northern Ireland, Nobel Peace Prize winner 

Rt Hon Amber Rudd, Former Secretary of State, Home Office 

Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, Former Secretary of State, Department for International Development, Current Minister of State FCDO 

Rt Hon Charles Clarke, Former Secretary of State, Home Office 

Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 

Lord Simon MacDonald, Former Head, UK Diplomatic Service 

Sir Laurie Bristow, Former UK Ambassador to Russia 

Dame Veronica Sutherland, Former UK Ambassador to Republic of Ireland 

Sir Richard Dearlove, Former Chief, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) 

Lt Gen (retired) Doug Chalmers, Former UK Deputy Chief of Defence Staff 

Dame Veronica Sutherland, Former UK Ambassador to Republic of Ireland 

Tim Sebastian, Presenter, BBC HARDtalk