Nationlab

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The Center for Hemispheric Defense studies (CHDS) conducts NationLab, a computer-assisted simulation exercise that engages senior policy makers and senior students at superior studies institutes throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It consists of a series of complex exercises designed to develop organizational capabilities in defense and security. CHDS NationLab challenges players to re-examine existing processes, procedures and doctrine to identify possible improvements in defense and security capabilities. Exercise play is complemented by “reference lectures” by CHDS professors and host institution experts. CHDS NationLab places a heavy emphasis on collaborative analysis of intermediate products, utilizing standard methods for employing modeling and simulation as analytical tools. In implementing CHDS NationLab, CHDS has begun to move toward its goal of becoming a center for excellence in employing modeling and simulation tools to analyze and enhance defense and security policy in the Americas.

The objective of CHDS NationLab is to promote a rational, integrated approach to defense and security strategy and policies. It provides a self-learning experience designed to broaden the player’s perspective on national security strategy and policy within a national environment using fictitious but near-real-world scenarios. Players work in teams to devise, recommend and advocate solutions within constraints on their authority, time, and resources. Because the game is non-prescriptive in nature, it allows participants to discover potential changes in national security procedures and strategies within the context of their own national economic, social and political environments.

CHDS has refocused NationLab to challenge players in partner nations to re-examine existing processes, procedures and doctrine to identify possible improvements in defense and security capabilities. Exercise play is complemented by “reference lectures” by CHDS professors with the goal of advancing the national state of the art with respect to national security strategy planning. There are three modules of CHDS NationLab, each with slightly different approaches to the same objective.

  • PolicyLab generates feasible and affordable solutions for defense and security challenges by using a crisis management scenario. Simulation teams divide into “virtual ministries” charged with dealing with both the short and long-term implications of a given crisis scenario within the context of “virtual cabinet” meetings. PolicyLab initiates using current host nation policy formation techniques and exercises identification and validation of national agencies’ contributions to national security. While generally conducted at superior studies institutes, PolicyLab is also relevant to senior members of the national defense, security, government and justice, foreign relations, and interior ministries, with participation from other ministries and cabinet agencies as appropriate for the national scenario.
  • StrategyLab enhances the capabilities of the host nation's defense forces to meet the evolving requirements of the 21st century, including international peacekeeping, stabilization, and counter-terrorism. StrategyLab initiates with a scenario challenging current host nation policy formation techniques, augmented in stages with the principles of adaptive defense design. It exercises problem framing, threat analysis, defense planning, and the interagency process. Its learning outcomes highlight changes necessary to the national security strategy planning process in the context of operations with multi-agency and/or multinational forces. Like PolicyLab, it is generally conducted at superior studies institutes, but StrategyLab is also valuable for senior members of the national defense, security, foreign relations, and interior ministries, with participation from other ministries and cabinet agencies as appropriate for the scenario.
  • RegionLab builds on current annual exercise conducted at the Inter-American Defense College to encourage inter-agency and multilateral cooperation on defense and security issues. It employs strategic dialogue to exercise crisis management, interagency and international collaboration and disaster response capabilities with an international security focus. Its learning outcomes include ways to validate Confidence and Security Building Measures and other ways of inter-agency and international collaboration. In addition to the IADC, its clients will be the strategic studies institutes of the region. The institutes can create multilateral participation using exchange students and professors or small teams traveling from neighboring countries.

In October 2006, the NationLab seminar was transferred from the U.S. Southern Command, Miami, Florida, for oversight to the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS), a regional center of the United States National Defense University in Washington, DC. The original authors of this programs were Dr. Loren Cobb and Dr. M.A. Gonzalez.

As of mid-2008, over 4000 people have participated in some form of NationLab strategic seminar. NationLab alumni have gone on to become ambassadors, ministers, central bankers, generals and admirals, national police commanders, prosecutors, economic and political advisors, and corporation presidents.