Chapter 6: The Unincluded Factors

The real world of geopolitics is a complicated place. Dozens or even hundreds of factors such as military power, diplomacy, economics, and religion influence geopolitical behavior. In the preceding chapters, I have discussed the four primary processes that Balance of Power includes: insurgency, coups, Finlandization, and crises. However, Balance of Power is a game, not a simulation; I have deliberately chosen to emphasize these four factors at the expense of others. The limited amount of RAM (the computer’s memory), the need for clear conflict, and the requirement that the game be easily understood by the player forced me to maintain a brutal editorial discipline with the game. I removed or failed to include a number of processes that rightly deserved a place in a proper simulation of geopolitics.

The process by which I chose some factors for inclusion while rejecting others was not a matter of moving through a checklist and placing check marks in front of some items and X’s in front of others. The factors that went into the game grew naturally from fundamental considerations about my goals in designing the game, and some of those that didn’t make it into the game were not rejected, but simply were never considered because they did not flow naturally from these fundamental considerations. Thus, one of the central concepts in the game was the notion of superpower conflict being expressed through conflict in minor countries. This naturally led to the use of insurgency and the options superpowers have for supporting one side or the other in an insurgency. Conversely, arms control never entered into the design because it is not a channel for superpower conflict but rather a (frequently failed) vehicle for superpower cooperation.

In this chapter I will discuss some of the factors, that, for one reason or another, never made it into Balance of Power: trade, multipolarity and neutralism, minor-country wars, arms control, human rights, and positive initiatives.

Trade between nations is an important element of their relationships for many reasons. First, trade allows nations to specialize their economies more closely to the areas of their greatest strengths and weaknesses, and to take advantage of the economies of scale created by heavy capitalization in other countries. For example, intensive trade links have made it possible for some East Asian nations to break out of their poverty. Their large populations were once seen only as a liability, but by concentrating on heavy utilization of their abundant cheap labor, they have been able to build up their economies rapidly. These same nations enjoy access to manufactured products, such as telecommunications systems, from the developed nations that would require a prohibitively expensive industrial base to develop domestically. Increased trade has also allowed the developed nations to concentrate their energies on making further refinements to their industrial base, without diverting their energies to the acquisition of raw materials or the utilization of great amounts of labor that the underdeveloped nations now supply. Trade confers a second benefit in providing goods or raw materials that may not be available domestically at any reasonable price. Much of the world’s supply of many crucial minerals comes from South Africa. Some nations, such as Japan, have very little in the way of natural resources and must import all of their raw materials. Similarly, most of the world’s underdeveloped nations have little indigenous manufacturing capacity and must rely on imports from the developed nations for many of their manufactured items, especially those requiring the most advanced manufacturing technologies. [2014: This is every bit as true today as it was nearly 30 years ago.]

The value of trade has been demonstrated by the fact that it is increasing worldwide. In the last twenty years, total world trade as a percentage of total world Gross Domestic Product has increased markedly. The increase in the absolute value of total world trade is even more dramatic: Total annual world trade in constant dollars increased from $246 billion in 1969 to over $1 trillion in 1978. Apparently, trade confers enough benefits to make it highly desirable to many countries. [2014: The value of all world trade is now $17 trillion.]

Thus, external trade is an important and desirable component of any national economy. This fact has not been lost on diplomats, who have learned to use their ability to selectively grant or deny trade privileges as a diplomatic weapon. Over the years this weapon has been polished and refined, so that there are now a variety of options open to the statesman: trade barriers, restrictions, boycotts, and embargoes.

Trade Barriers
First comes the normal array of trade barriers: quotas, duties, tariffs, and other restrictions on full free trade. These are seldom used as diplomatic weapons. Instead, they are most often expressions of economic policy. Thus, the Japanese restrictions on American products entering its economy are not caused by diplomatic strains, but are instead an expression of a desire to protect Japanese agriculture. Some of the American responses to Japanese imports, such as the threatened restrictions on automobile imports which have led to voluntary restraints on shipments of automobiles to the United States by Japanese automakers, are simply economic in nature, while others, such as the imposition of duties on some Japanese electronic components as a partial response to restrictive Japanese regulations on the sale of American electronic components in Japan, are meant to be diplomatic signals. Such actions, of course, can lead to diplomatic strains between countries.

Trade barriers of various kinds are so common that they have little direct value as diplomatic weapons. Such barriers are commonly erected by a variety of countries for reasons having little to do with diplomacy. It is hard to impress somebody with the seriousness of your intentions by slapping them with restrictions that are business as usual for most of the world. It is the absence or removal of such trade barriers that is significant diplomatically. The United States designates this condition as Most Favored Nation status and extends it only to its best friends.

Next there is the limited restriction on specific items. Normal trade relations are allowed, but certain goods may not be traded to the subject nation. Such restrictions normally apply only to weapons and strategic materials. For example, the United States restricts the export of weapons systems to unfriendly nations. It also restricts the sale of sensitive equipment that could be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons to all non-nuclear nations. A policy of this nature does not imply unfriendliness, only wariness.

Next comes the trade boycott. This is a full-scale refusal to allow any form of trade between the two countries. The odd thing about such a boycott is that it hurts both countries equally. That is, if the trade between two countries is mutually profitable, then loss of that trade is a mutual loss. If one of the nations is supplying goods that simply cannot be obtained elsewhere, then the other nation will suffer a greater economic dislocation, but the disparity is mitigated by the fact that such a monopolistic situation would normally mean very high profits for the seller, profits that would be lost in a boycott. The trade boycott is most often practiced by a wealthy nation against a poorer nation. In this case, although both nations suffer equal absolute loss, the proportional loss is larger in the poorer nation.

The trade boycott by a single nation against another nation is seldom effective. The United States placed a trade boycott on Cuba after the accession of Castro. If ever there was an ideal case for a trade boycott, this was it. Cuba was a small, poor country, and the majority of Cuban trade was with the United States. This trade boycott, more than any other, should have been crippling. But it was a failure. Cuba arranged to sell its primary export crop, sugar, to the Eastern bloc nations. There was some economic dislocation associated with the sudden change, but the Cubans prevailed.

Trade boycotts have at best a temporary effect. Within a few years, almost any economy can adjust itself to accommodate the new situation.

The most powerful diplomatic weapon is the multination embargo. If a group of nations constituting the bulk of the supply or demand for any given good can agree to collectively embargo another nation or group of nations, they have a powerful diplomatic weapon. The most dramatic demonstration of this was the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74. In the history of international trade, there has never been a more propitious situation for use of a trade embargo as a diplomatic weapon. The price of oil was much lower than its effective market value, most of the production was concentrated in a few nations sharing common political aims, and the oil itself was crucial to the economic well-being of the industrialized nations. Angered by American support of Israel in the 1973 October War, the Arab members of OPEC finally found the unity to take a strong position. In a series of strokes, OPEC cut production of oil; raised prices dramatically, and announced an embargo against the United States and the Netherlands. Together, these actions were effective in cutting the supply of oil to the embargo’s victims.

The effect on the United States was profound. The oil shock plunged the nation into a recession, and the steady rise of oil prices inhibited economic growth for the remainder of the decade. Long gasoline lines formed, buyers of gasoline were limited to ten gallons per visit, and the price of fuel-efficient cars shot up. A plan for the national rationing of gasoline was put together and rationing coupons were printed. American society staggered under the impact of the embargo. [2014: I still remember waiting in line for gasoline, congratulating myself on my Volkswagen.]

But even this, the most effective trade embargo in history, had its shortcomings. The United States refused to modify its Middle East policies under the pressure of the embargo. After a few months, the Administration began to mutter darkly about retaliatory moves, and the American public was openly discussing an invasion of Saudi Arabia. (One producer of board wargames, SPI, later published a game on just such a hypothetical invasion. It was called Oil War.) Having achieved a great deal - though not as much as they had hoped for - and starting to feel nervous about the growing American anger, the Arab oil producers called off the embargo. They had scored a limited political victory.

My point in this long discussion of trade restrictions in international relations is that the trade weapon is not a particularly effective one. Trade barriers normally evoke only retaliatory measures. Boycotts are easily defeated by going to other suppliers or consumers. Even organized embargoes can be broken up by economic adjustment or military sabre-rattling. [2014: The world has developed better systems for organizing embargoes, and now the multinational embargo is a serious weapon for diplomatic interaction.]

Paradoxically, this is one source of its value to diplomats. Trade weapons don’t do much harm, yet they do have a psychological effect. Use of the trade weapon is akin to the slapping of a gentleman’s face with one’s glove: It is a symbolic act that inflicts little real damage. It can mollify the volatile masses of citizens who imprudently scream for blood, without irreparably damaging relations between nations. [2014: Modern embargoes are more like slapping the gentleman with a hammer; the Iranians can testify to the damage it inflicts, and the Russians are starting to get the message.]

The other advantage of the trade weapon is its precision and controllability. The greatest fear of the modern statesman is losing control of events over some stupid incident. This problem is greatest when troops are involved. When you send large numbers of heavily armed people into a powder keg, your chances of having everything go according to plan are very low. Some rosy-cheeked 19-year-old will misinterpret a shadow in the dark and create an international incident. Trade restrictions are invulnerable to this danger. Moreover, trade restrictions do not invite escalation. In the tit-for-tat world of diplomacy, eliminating trade removes the tat.

Thus, trade weapons in diplomacy are not as powerful as many people would think, but they are safe and reliable, and they seldom make matters any worse. Thats why trade weapons will continue to be used by diplomats in the future.

Trade and Balance of Power
Why is trade not included in Balance of Power? As it happens, I had included trade in the earliest versions of the game. I had painstakingly researched the trade relations between every pair of nations in my sample, which were some 3,800 pairs in all. I had then typed in the results of my research. Then I tore it all out of the game. Why? First, these trade numbers took up too much RAM. The program was tight on RAM from the very beginning, and the day came when I simply had to make more space. Because the trade numbers consumed a considerable amount of RAM, they were an obvious candidate. [2014: Nowadays we just don’t worry about RAM; we have more than we can use.] I ultimately chose to eliminate trade because it is a less decisive diplomatic weapon than those that I left in the game. It is a second-order tactic requiring considerable subtlety and finesse. Balance of Power is an introductory game; I felt it necessary to include the primary factors before moving to the more subtle ones.

Multipolarity and Neutralism
Balance of Power presents a bipolar view of the world. The world is divided into two camps, those of the USA and the USSR. All other nations of the world exist solely in relation to this polarization. A nation’s foreign policy is measured by its position on a scale between the poles of the two superpowers.

This is an overly simplistic view of the world. There is another way to view the world - the multipolar view. In the multipolar view, the United States and the Soviet Union are merely the two most powerful nations in the world. The world is seen as a collection of sovereign states, each with its own policy interests and capabilities. Nations are bound to and repelled by each other through a complex web of affinities and animosities.

The multipolar view is a more complex model of the world community. It allows a wider range of interactions between states. There are two important concepts in particular that find easy expression in the multipolar view: neutralism, and the emergence of China as a superpower. [2014: Yes, the inevitable emergence of China as a superpower was obvious in 1987.]

Neutralism is the policy stance of those nations that do not wish to be identified with either the Soviet camp or the American one.  Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland are neutralist. A good many Third World countries are also purportedly neutralist, but they prefer the term nonaligned. In some cases, such as India, this term is appropriate, for India has steered a careful course between the superpowers. In other cases the term is misleading. For example, Cuba has gone to some length to establish its position as the leader of the nonaligned movement, but few nations accept the fiction that Cuba is in practice nonaligned.

The concept of neutralism just doesn’t fit into the bipolar view of the world. Staunch supporters of the bipolar view often take the position that every country in the world is either with or agin us. A genuinely neutralist country like India is suspected of diplomatic opportunism - of attempting to play off the superpowers against each other.

Another important concept that multipolarity encourages is the developing role of China as the world’s third superpower. For the next few decades, China will remain a minor character on the world stage, but this can change quickly if China can master its economic problems. [2014: Boy, did this turn out to be true!] Its huge and energetic population could quickly make it a major force in the world economic order, and its political stance as a Communist state with fundamental disputes with the Soviet Union make it a natural third force in the delicate geopolitical balance. Again, the bipolar view of the world sees China solely in terms of how pro-Western or how pro-Soviet it is, and so is blind to the much more likely outcomes.

The emergence of China could end the dangerously unstable situation in which the two superpowers find themselves. In a bipolar world, the only check on one superpower is the other. If you can destroy the other superpower, you have no rivals. The situation is drastically different in a tripolar world. To achieve global dominance, one superpower must destroy both of the other superpowers. Assuming that all three superpowers have roughly the same total power, this is quite out of the question. Moreover, the possibility of two superpowers forming a condominium against the third superpower is remote, for each of the conspiring superpowers would know that, once the third superpower was eliminated, they would be back to the bipolar world of today, with no guarantees of security. The weaker superpower would never go along with so suicidal a plan. A tripolar world would see lots of diplomatic maneuvering, many shifting pairings between superpowers, but it would be fundamentally stable.

Multipolarity and Balance of Power
If multipolarity is so superior to bipolarity as an explanation of the world geopolitical order, why then does Balance of Power use a bipolar view? For three reasons: first, bipolarity is simpler and easier to understand; second, bipolarity is more intrinsically conflict-oriented than multipolarity, and games demand conflict; and third, bipolarity is not such a bad description of the world of the 1980s.

As with trade, early versions of Balance of Power did include multipolarity. But just as trade ran up against the memory limitations of the Macintosh, so did multipolarity. For example, one of the most important concepts in the game is a quantity that I call diplomatic affinity, which is the degree to which two countries like each other. In early versions of Balance of Power, diplomatic affinity was a two-dimensional array with 62 columns by 62 rows, although the matrix was collapsed along its diagonal to save space. This still consumed some 3800 bytes of space. It was necessary to have such a large array because multipolarity required that I record the diplomatic affinity of each of the 62 countries of the world for every other country: 62 countries times 62 countries. Later on, I reluctantly chose to eliminate multipolarity, and the diplomatic affinity array was changed dramatically. It became a much shorter two-dimensional array with only two rows and 62 columns - one row for each of the two superpowers, because it was only necessary to record how each country felt about each of the two superpowers. [2014: It’s difficult for modern readers to appreciate just how constrained we were by the limited hardware of the time]

Players of Balance of Power should realize that bipolarity is not held in high esteem in most countries of the world. Indeed, one source of friction between the United States and its allies is the American fixation on a bipolar view of the world. Americans, our allies complain, always see the world in terms of us versus them. The real world is more complex than that. For example, we tend to view the populist Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua solely as a manifestation of communist expansion in the Western Hemisphere, while most other countries view Nicaragua in far less sinister terms. They see a populist revolution that overthrew a brutal dictator. Overactive American imaginations, in the eyes of many foreigners, see the Dark Hand of Moscow in every local fracas.

So which is right - bipolarity or multipolarity? There is no clear answer. These two concepts are not answers to questions, but rather ways of looking at problems. Each of the two views helps illuminate the complex events of the world scene. Balance of Power only shows the bipolar view. Players should be aware of the multipolar view, for it explains some aspects of international behavior not addressed by the bipolar view. [2014: in the second edition of Balance of Power, I restored multipolarity. It made the game more complicated without substantially altering the gameplay.

Minor Country Wars
Another factor that was removed from early versions of Balance of Power was the ability of minor countries to declare war on each other. Such wars between minor countries have been a significant contributor to superpower tensions, and have on many occasions been the precipitating factor in major wars. World War I was ignited over a sideshow war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. The major powers had no direct wish for a war but were dragged in by their commitments to their minor-country allies. An even more clear-cut case was the Korean War. Here were two very minor countries, North Korea and South Korea, each with its own protector, China and the United States. Neither the United States nor China had any desire to fight a war in 1950. But when North Korea invaded South Korea, the United States felt compelled to defend its junior partner. Later, when the United States invaded North Korea, China felt compelled to defend its ally. Thus, two unwilling giants were dragged into a confrontation they had no desire to pursue solely because of the actions of their allies.

This is a major flaw in the nation-state system. It arises from the conflict between the notion of sovereignty and mutual defense obligations. Sovereignty is the notion that a nation-state is absolutely free to pursue its own interests, with no externally imposed restrictions on its behavior. Sovereignty is to a nation as freedom is to an individual. However, the sovereignty of states is compromised by their treaty obligations. A case in point is the relationship between China and North Korea. Now, in theory, a mutual defense treaty is written to guarantee assistance to a nation only if it is attacked. In other words, China was under no formal obligation to assist North Korea, because North Korea had initiated the war. In practice, however, things work out differently. Powerful nations provide their client states with mutual defense treaties for sound reasons. For sound strategic reasons, it was in China’s best interest for North Korea to survive, regardless of whether North Korea had started the war. Consequently, China had no choice but to intervene.

So here is the dilemma: Where does sovereignty end and client status begin? If North Korea had been a truly sovereign nation, it would have suffered the consequences of its mistake and been conquered. If, on the other hand, it was a proper Chinese client, then it would not have acted without Chinese direction, and the invasion would have been unlikely. The unfortunate fact is that North Korea was sovereign enough to start the war and client enough to get Chinese support when it started to lose. That is a dangerous combination.

Lest the reader think that this was a Communist mistake that we would never repeat, I shall bring up the subject of the American relationship with Israel. Israel is a sovereign state, and has demonstrated its sovereignty time and time again with its wars with Arab states. The United States cannot dictate policy to the Israeli government, yet is compelled by precedent and treaty relationships to stand by it. Once before, in 1973, we went toe-to-toe with the Soviet Union in support of Israel. We have no assurances that our relationship with Israel in another Arab-Israeli war will not bring us into another confrontation with the Soviets, one that we might not survive. [2014: It turned out that the real danger was from Islamic opinion. The blank check that America has written for Israel has embitterd millions of people against us; a few of them have been willing to sacrifice their lives to harm us, with great effect.]

Arms Control
Another factor not included in Balance of Power is arms control - the attempt by the superpowers to limit the growth of their arsenals. Arms control is commonly held to be one of the most important theaters of superpower interaction; its absence in Balance of Power surprises some players. Why was it not included?

The most important reason for excluding arms control in the game is the complexity of the matter. Arms control is one of those endlessly intricate issues on which one could spend many years of study. Moreover, the fundamentals of the field keep changing with new technologies. In the late 1960s the issue was anti-ballistic missile defenses; in the 1970s the MIRV (multiple independent re-entry vehicle) became the major issue that destabilized the arms race; now, in the 1980s, the issue is President Reagans Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as Star Wars.

Any attempt to include arms control in Balance of Power would strangle over the dilemma posed by the complexity of the issue. If arms control were presented in a simple fashion appropriate to the needs of the game, it would be trivialized. If it were presented with any reasonable degree of thoroughness, it would dominate the game. In my judgment as a game designer, arms control cannot fit into a game on geopolitics. Perhaps it would be possible to design a game devoted to arms control, and indeed I have worked on just such a game (discussed in Chapter 8), without success. But it is another game.

The reader might ask: Why did you do a game on geopolitics instead of a game on arms control? Here we enter the realm of my own personal taste. I can present my own opinions here, but I cannot offer them as anything more than the opinions of one citizen, and not even an expert one at that. I do not share the common opinion that the most efficacious way to save the human race from nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons. This opinion requires some explanation.

How are we to prevent a nuclear war? There are two fundamental strategies: prevent a superpower war and prevent nuclear weapons. The first strategy does allow for the continued existence of nuclear weapons but attempts to avoid their use. The second strategy admits the possibility of a superpower war but attempts to guarantee that such a war be non-nuclear.

I believe that the second strategy is not the most likely to achieve success. In the first place, the central concept of arms control is crippled by a fundamental dilemma. The premise is that a nation can agree to a treaty that requires it to abandon its only means of enforcing the treaty. Any treaty eliminating nuclear weapons entirely creates the unacceptable situation for each side that, should the other side cheat, the honest side would be helpless to resist the demands of the cheater, much less enforce its own demands for compliance. Despite all the work on national technical means of verification, the ‘bomb in the basement’ remains the great bugaboo of arms control.

Our historical experience only lends credence to the theoretical impasse. From their earliest days, nuclear weapons have evoked calls for their elimination. Everybody wants them reduced or eliminated, yet their numbers have grown with each passing year. The diplomats negotiate endlessly and the best we have accomplished is a temporary slackening of the pace of growth. After twenty-five years of serious effort, the total number of warheads has grown from about 100 to about 50,000 - a growth rate of 28% per year. Arms control remains a field with high hopes and few results.

On the other hand, I do think that it is possible for the superpowers to learn how to restrain their global competition in such a way as to prevent the possibility of a nuclear war. There is historical evidence to support this. Despite the fluctuations of superpower relations, there has been a slow backing away from the precipice of nuclear war. Our relations with the Soviet Union may not be warmer today than they were, say, thirty years ago, but the two nations do have a clearer understanding of the limits of each other’s patience. The Soviets may grumble about our attack on Libya, and we may grouse about their invasion of Afghanistan, but we have come a long way from the Cuban missile crisis, when we tottered on the very brink of nuclear war. For all of the heated rhetoric, both sides are more careful about upsetting the other on fundamental issues. In short, over the last forty years of the USA- USSR competition, we have slowly and painfully hammered out a clumsy modus vivendi.

I do not present diplomacy as the ideal solution to the problem of nuclear war, for even diplomacy fails. But it is our best bet, I think. And that is a fundamental assumption behind Balance of Power. The game is about geopolitics, not arms control, because I believe that therein lies the surest path to successful avoidance of nuclear war. I do not expect the reader to accept my opinions as compelling, for the matter is too complex to admit anything like certainty, especially in a discussion only a few paragraphs long. I only explain my decision to design a game on geopolitics instead of the arms race. (Confusingly enough, I originally chose to call the game Arms Race, even though I knew it wasn’t about arms races; I just couldnt think of a catchy title about geopolitics.)

[2014: I was too pessimistic about the practicably of arms reductions. The USA and the USSR negotiated a dramatic reduction in nuclear weapons. Currently both sides are allowed “only” 1500 warheads. That’s still enough to obliterate each other, but at least we don’t have nukes falling out of our pockets like loose change.]

Human rights and other factors
Some players have objected to the air of ruthless competition incorporated in the game. The scoring system requires the player to hurt unfriendly governments and support friendly ones, regardless of their moral worth. Some have pointed out that this approach introduces a subtle bias towards confrontation into the game, and observe that there are a variety of other geopolitical goals of an American government. The one most often mentioned is human rights. Why were no considerations of human rights included in the game?

As it happens, the game did once have a more complex scoring system that included far more than just human rights. There were a number of factors for measuring success, including human rights, war-related deaths, prestige, and total world economic growth. The intent of all these separate scores was to make it possible for players to bring their own values to the game. A liberal could play the game for a good human-rights score, while a conservative might play for economic growth or prestige. I did not want to impose my own values on the player.

The problem was, people wanted me to impose my values on them! The early playtesters all complained about the lack of a clear set of goals for the game. They wanted the game to tell them how well they had done. Here we run into one of the expectations arising from the fact that Balance of Power is a game. People want to win it according to some defined standard of performance. I tried a compromise. I cut down on the number of dimensions. Not good enough; the playtesters still complained. My editor hammered away on this issue, arguing that the game lacked focus and clearly defined goals. I eventually caved in and eliminated all but the single measure of performance: prestige.

Players should remember that there are many measures of success on the world stage. This problem is ultimately a question of values. What do we want to accomplish in the world? For ages, there was an easy answer to that question: The goal of nations was to attain hegemony over all potential rivals. Only such hegemony guaranteed security. The United States is the first major power in world history to back off from the goal of world domination. Perhaps our wealth makes world domination seem pointless; perhaps our isolationist past makes us shy away from global responsibilities; perhaps our geographical position gives us a feeling of security that makes hegemony seem unnecessary; perhaps we recognize the hopelessness of the task. What, then, should our goals be?

There are many possibilities. We could pursue human rights and the establishment of a just world order. Perhaps we should more energetically attempt to promulgate democracy. Perhaps we should look towards material development and the elimination of hunger. Perhaps we should strive to eliminate the local wars that take thousands of lives every year. Balance of Power can provide no answers to these questions.

Positive Initiatives
One left-wing organization complained that the game lacked positive initiatives. The complaint was unclear as to the precise meaning of positive initiatives, but there is a valid objection here: The game does focus on the more negative aspects of geopolitics. The emphases on insurgencies, on military power, and on coups all give the game a pugnacious feel. Where is the possibility for something like Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy, or Jimmy Carter’s human-rights initiatives? Why does the game not permit creative initiatives?

Here we run into another fundamental limitation imposed by the nature of the game. It would have been desirable to allow the player to engage in such creative initiatives and pursue special strategies. The problem lies in the word “special”. A special strategy requires consideration of special factors, and you can’t consider them unless they are included. What special factors should be included in a game about geopolitics? The personalities of individual leaders? The internal political makeup of each government? Some cultural or historical factor about which a particular government might be particularly sensitive and defensive?

It is possible to include such special factors in a computer program, but one quickly runs out of RAM space trying to include all of them. Computer programs with many special factors do not operate well. They work best with generalized principles that can be universally applied. Thus, Balance of Power treats each nation in a generalized manner, applying algorithms to its behavior in the same fashion that it treats every other nation. For some reason, I know not why, the negative, brute-force techniques do seem more amenable to generalized treatment than do positive initiatives. This may reflect some grand truth of international relations, or it may be a misleading artifact of the application of the computer. In any event, the reader should be aware of the problem.

These are some of the factors that were left out of Balance of Power. Surely they are not all the unincluded factors; some factors were left out of the game because of my own limited understanding of international relations. Some of them were left out because of the biases that make up my own world view. Some were left out for technical reasons or because of limited memory space. It is easy to lament these shortcomings of the game, to imagine how much more interesting it would be with more features and more processes. I feel no regret over these deficiencies, though. I am pleased with the final balance between completeness and accessibility in the game. Aficionados will plead for more detail while novices beg for simplification. If anything, I erred in the direction of excessive thoroughness.

I do not present Balance of Power as a definitive statement on geopolitics, nor as even an unbiased and evenhanded representation. It is too intensely personal a statement.