December 2023: Falling Out? Testing the consequences of stalemate in the Ukraine war – Prime Minister Rt Hon Charles Clarke, Scottish First Minister – Rt Douglas Alexander

By late 2023 the Ukraine war appeared to have reached a place of strategic stasis, with neither side able to make significant advances towards their own definitions of total victory. With global attention diverted by events in the Middle East our simulation asked what risks a continuing, attritional conflict might bring to European security, and looked at the little considered risk of asymmetric escalation. With the historic reference point of the Chernobyl incident of 1986 in mind also asked how vulnerable or otherwise eastern Europe’s nuclear infrastructure would be to sabotage and how a major nuclear safety incident on the continent could play out in the UK. Reflecting contemporary debates over the durability of the United Kingdom’s own constitutional arrangements we included the Scottish First Minister in our scenario for the first time.

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June 2023 – ‘All at Sea’ – The UK’s role in the wider Pacific region – Prime Minister: Rt Hon Amber Rudd 

The UK government has made much of its ambition to diversify and expand the country’s global reach following its departure from the EU. This simulation examined the reality of the ‘pacific tilt’ by asking about the true extent of the UK’s trade and defence commitments and ambitions in this geographically distant region. In particular, we asked searching questions about the UK’s readiness to support possible future US military action against China over Taiwan. We also looked at the relatively under-developed security architecture of the wider pacific and explored the UK’s commercial and trade attitudes to the mid-size states of the region.

Dec 2022 – ‘An Ice Curtain’ – Testing the strength of NATO’s Northern Flank – Prime Minister: Rt Hon Charles Clarke 

With tensions between Russia and the West at heightened levels not seen since the end of the Cold War, our second simulation of 2022 asked searching questions about continuing economic and military vulnerability of democratic governments in Northern Europe. We drew particular attention to the vulnerability of the undersea interconnectors that carry vital energy and communications traffic between the Baltic States, Scandinavia, the UK, and mainland Europe. We were able to point out that legal and protective responsibilities for this infrastructure are currently unclear, and that there had been little focus from NATO and the West on the capabilities necessary to protect these vital links from attack. In 2023, undersea infrastructure was added to the UK’s critical risk register.

July 2022 – ‘No Pain, No Grain’ – Geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean – Prime Minister: Rt Hon Charles Clarke 

With the world’s attention now on the Ukrainian conflict, our first simulation of 2022 began to explore some of the potential longer-term consequences of a drawn-out war of attrition that few Western leaders seemed prepared to accept as a potential outcome of the invasion. We focused particularly on Putin’s potential weaponization of food exports, alighted on the potential opportunities and risks of the UK sovereign presence in the Eastern Mediterranean (with military bases in Cyprus), and correctly predicted the ambivalent, but pivotal, role of the Turkish government in mediating tensions between Russia and the West.

Dec 2021 – ‘Power Play’ – Energy security in Northern Europe – Prime Minister: Rt Hon Charles Clarke 

Aware of rising tensions and talk of potential Russian military action along Russia’s western borders, our first simulation following the COVID pandemic raised significant questions about Western dependence on Russian oil and gas supplies. We modelled the economic and political effects of a sudden rupture to those supplies on the UK and EU, accurately presaging the price shock that hit world energy markets following the Russian invasion of Ukraine just three months later, in February 2022.

Feb 2020 – ‘Pole Position’ – Geopolitics of the High North – Prime Minister: Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell 

With climate change climbing quickly up the international agenda, we modelled how physical changes in ice coverage in the Arctic would affect the strategic balance in the region that had been, figuratively and physically, frozen. This simulation drew attention to the potential for future involvement of the Chinese state and military in a region of direct territorial interest to NATO members, including the UK. We looked at how previously overlooked political entities (in this case the Government of Greenland) could take on surprising levels of strategic relevance in short order, without little experience or capacity, to manage the consequences. Improving the realism of our model further, we included an eminent international lawyer taking on the role of UK Attorney-General on this occasion, immediately drawing attention to the complexities of maritime jurisdiction – a theme that emerged again in subsequent simulations set in the Baltic, Pacific, and Mediterranean regions.

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Feb 2019 – ‘Internal Stability of post-Brexit EU’ – Prime Minister: David Trimble 

Staying with the EU-Brexit theme, we examined the degree to which the EU27 would/could hold together post-Brexit, faced with the growth of populist domestic politics and malign external influence. We drew attention to the latent ethnic, linguistic, and cultural tensions across the EU that still carry the potential to de-stabilise national and supranational organisations, particularly if exploited by hostile state actors. This was the first of our simulations to include a strong cyber element, and we increased the involvement of those currently serving in government. We also added a new structured element to our simulation days – a statecraft ‘masterclass’ where our senior participants shared their experiences of leading responses to crises with the participating students.

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Feb 2018 – ‘The UK-Irish Border post-Brexit’ – Prime Minister: Rt Hon Charles Clarke 

Following the Brexit vote, this simulation modelled the tensions that might arise at British-EU land borders in Cyprus, Gibraltar, and Northern Ireland (NI) as a result of the UK’s ‘leave’ decision. Including former UK ambassadors in the line-up for the first time, the simulation quickly focussed on the NI-Republic of Ireland (ROI) border as source of future political difficulty. We examined, in depth, the customs and trade architecture linking EU states, the UK and the ROI, many months before these subjects entered the mainstream political and public debate. We correctly predicted that these factors were likely to produce the most significant impediment to the impending Brexit negotiations.

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Oct 2015 – ‘On the Brink’ – Protection of UK airspace from Russian incursion – Prime Minister: Sir Malcolm Rifkind 

This was a ‘Yours, Cambridge’, fundraising launch event. It was in a one-off format, conducted in public, in real-time, presented by BBC presenter Tim Sebastian. This scenario focused on the potential for a sudden but accidental escalation of Russia-NATO enmity and tested the correlation betw

een events occurring in real-time, social media/news cycle coverage, and decision-making with incomplete information in a crisis.

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Feb 2015 – ‘Russian Interference in the Baltic Region’ – Prime Minister: David Trimble 

This was our initial simulation event, so it was somewhat experimental in nature. The subject matter was stimulated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine the previous year, and the emergence of ‘hybrid’ or ‘grey zone’ tactics being deployed by the Russian state. The simulation tested the contemporary application of the NATO treaty’s Articles IV and V and asked important questions about the readiness of the US Government to make good on promises made after WWII to guarantee European peace and stability. We also examined the thresholds for nuclear conflict with Russia that had been in abeyance since the end of the Cold War but were again becoming relevant.

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