Chapter 7: Strategy for Balance of Power

The purpose of this book is to develop the ideas presented in Balance of Power and extend the player’s understanding of those concepts. However, some players will also expect that, having understood these concepts better, they should be able to play the game better. This chapter makes explicit suggestions on how to play Balance of Power more successfully.

Balance of Power is most often lost in a crisis, either by blowing up the world or by caving in. A crisis can easily place several hundred points of prestige at stake; by contrast, replacing the Sandinista government in Nicaragua with a very pro-American regime would be worth less than ten points. Thus, effective crisis management is the central requirement of the game.

Crises are won or lost before they begin. That is, the player’s preparations for a crisis will determine his success in that crisis. The most important preparation that the player can make is to decide which crises to avoid. Every crisis, whether won or lost, does some damage. Every crisis poses the risk of an accidental nuclear war. Moreover, every crisis, won or lost, increases the hostility between the superpowers and goads your opponent into more dangerous behavior. The player should refrain from entering crises unless he or she is reasonably confident of success.

The primary skill in crisis management is the judicious assessment of the computer’s likely move. If the computer is determined to prevail, then the player should back down immediately. (Better still, the player should never have gotten into the crisis in the first place.) If, on the other hand, the computer’s commitment to the issue at stake is weak, then the player should definitely press hard. The problem is that most players have difficulty assessing the computer’s likely degree of determination.

There are, of course, the advisors, who present their assessment of the amount of interest of the two superpowers. Unfortunately, their advice is next to useless in the Expert level game, so you must rely on your own judgment. The only way your judgment can be of any value is if you do your homework before the crisis. This is the big secret behind Balance of Power (as well as in real-world diplomacy): doing your homework.

The first step in doing your homework is to get an overall view of the world situation. This is often very similar to the situation you find in the real world. For example, you can be certain that East Germany will be in the Eastern bloc, and West Germany will be diplomatically very close to the United States. There may be differences of degree in different games, but the rough outlines of the world are the same in all games. Your first task is to find out how the world of Balance of Power differs from in the real world. To do this, you consult several of the map displays. The Spheres of Influence display is always useful. Any country that is marked as USA Solid you can treat as being safely in your sphere and can readily challenge any Soviet intrusion. In the same way, you must keep your nose out of any country shaded as USSR Solid. Most of your problems will come with the nations between these two extremes.

Before you get into a crisis over such a country, it is a good idea to take the second step and familiarize yourself with the crucial variables that will shape your opponent’s behavior in the crisis. Pull down the Briefing menu and select CloseUp for the country over which a crisis might be fought. There are four things to note in the resulting Closeup window. The first and most important is the Sphere of Influence entry. This will give you a more precise statement of the sphere of influence for that country. If the sphere of influence is Slightly USSR, you can move with caution. If it is more strongly pro-Soviet than that, you had better not get into any confrontations with the Soviet Union over this country. If it is more favorable to you, you can act with more confidence.

The second item to note in the Closeup window is the country’s diplomatic relationships with both superpowers. The crucial factor here is not whether or not you are liked, but the relative extremity of the diplomatic relationships. For example, if the country loves you and feels neutral about the Soviets, that puts you in a strong position. However, if the country feels neutral about you and hates the Soviets, then you are in a weak position in a crisis over the country. Why? Because the Soviets feel more strongly than you do about the country and will therefore press their case with more determination than you could.

The third item to note in the Closeup window is the state of treaty relationships between the country and the two superpowers. If your treaty relationship is stronger than that of the Soviets, you are in a better position to press your case in a crisis.

Now fold all three considerations (sphere of influence, diplomatic relations, and treaty) into a single lump. Which superpower has the more pronounced relationship with the country? That superpower will prevail in a crisis. Remember that the computer considers the outrage excess - the difference in degree to which the two superpowers are justified in standing firm in a crisis. Even if your claim is weak, you can still prevail if the computer’s claim is weaker. Conversely, if your claim is strong, you can still lose if the computer’s claim is stronger.

You should do this little homework exercise before challenging the computer over any of its own policies. Too many players read in the newspaper about an action and instantly challenge it. A much wiser policy is to consult the Closeup window for that country before initiating any crisis. Other players engage in fishing expeditions - they challenge the computer just to see what he’ll do. This is a serious mistake. In the first place, every crisis that escalates to the level of a military crisis carries the risk of an accidental nuclear war. Moreover, you lose credibility with your opponent every time you back down in a crisis.

There is another side to homework: doing your homework before executing a policy that your opponent might wish to challenge. Before you undertake any provocative action against any questionable country, you should check out its relationships with the superpowers. Make sure that you can get away with it before you try it; to make an attempt and then back down when challenged is worse than doing nothing. If you wish to attempt a risky policy, such as sending weapons to insurgents in Afghanistan, use the old creeping escalation trick: Start off with the lowest level of weapons shipments, then increase shipments by one step each turn. Small steps are less inflammatory than big jumps. Over five years you might be able to get away with a policy that you couldn’t pull off in a single year.

With your homework done properly, you enter each crisis in the best possible manner: knowing your risks and your opponent’s likely behavior. Even so, you must treat each crisis with care. Reject the temptation to mindlessly escalate. There are good reasons to pause at each stage in the crisis and reconsider the merits of continued escalation. In the first place, the amount of prestige at stake will increase each time you escalate. The least you can do is pause to see how much worse you have already made things by escalating to this stage. Much of good statesmanship is having the discipline to avoid being swept up in the passions of the moment. Don’t succumb to the temptation to put it to the floor. That’s how most players lose.

There is another reason to pause at each stage of the crisis. The replies that your opponent provides are meaningful and will give you hints as to the likelihood that he will back down. If he is sure of himself and determined to prevail, his language will be tough and assertive, but if he is unsure of his policy, then his language will reflect that uncertainty. Take the time to consider the fine shades of meaning.

Dont be afraid to back down. It hurts to accept defeat, but escalating can only make matters worse if your case is weak. The aphorism to keep in mind is “Cut your losses”. You may not win by backing down, but you limit the extent of damage created by a bad move.

There are times when you feel justified in pressing a crisis all the way up to DefCon 2. You just know that the computer is bluffing and will back down. If your instincts are correct, then this is the opportunity to make big gains in the game, for there is nothing more productive than winning a big crisis. Pressing your opponent all the way up to DefCon 2 is a high-risk move. If your instincts are correct, you could win the game in a single well-played crisis; if they are wrong, you could just as easily lose the game. If you trust your instincts, go for it. Remember, though, that repeated recourse to high-stakes crises will sooner or later fall victim to the laws of chance. Don’t press your luck.

Finally, a player should care about the order in which he tackles crises. Each turn will present the player with many possible causes over which he might initiate a crisis. The best strategy is to tackle the safest, surest area first, and then move on to the less certain topics. This is because the winner of each crisis gains some Pugnacity, which in turn determines the degree to which the other superpower will be intimidated in future crises. This creates something like a diplomatic momentum. Once you have beaten your opponent in one crisis, it is easier to defeat him in the next one. Keep the momentum on your side.


Dealing with insurgencies
One of the first tasks facing any player is responding to insurgencies. Insurgencies are the quickest and most dramatic way to change governments around the world. There are two sides to dealing with insurgencies: protecting your friends and overthrowing your enemies.

A great many players see every insurgency as an opportunity that cannot be lost. They feel a need to intervene for one side or the other. What they miss is the fact that some insurgencies are best left alone. (This has been a peculiarly American blind spot since 1960.) You don’t have to solve every problem in the world, and if you try, you may well get burned in the process. If you get involved in an insurgency, and your side loses, then you lose prestige. If you attempt to get involved, and your opponent chases you out, then you lose prestige. Thus, there are two prerequisites that must be satisfied before you can commit yourself with success to one side or the other in an insurgency: Your chosen side must be able to win, and you must be able to stare down any crisis challenges.

Can your side win? That depends primarily on the scale of military forces being used in the country. If, for example, the insurgency is a civil war in China, then any resources you could commit would be a drop in the bucket. They would not be able to influence events. If, on the other hand, the insurgency were in Burma, which has no army to speak of, then a very small commitment of resources could easily have a dramatic effect.

A second consideration is the state of the insurgency. In general, once an insurgency has grown by its own efforts to the level of a civil war, any intervention in support of the government is almost a lost cause. If your goal is to support the government, you must take action early and prevent the insurgency from growing to the stage of civil war. Of course, if you have strong treaty commitments to a country, then it may be necessary to take desperate measures to prop up the regime in any way you can. You must not fail to meet your treaty commitments.

On the other hand, if you wish to support the rebels, then it is advantageous to support them even at the last possible minute. In the triumph of victory, the rebels will forget that your fraternal support only came late, and will still regard you as a good friend.

Remember that it is easier to get weapons than troops into a country. Troops are inherently more provocative than weapons, so never try to rush troops into a country without first paving the way with some weapons as a trial balloon. If you manage to bluff your way past the other superpower with the weapons, then you will be able to get the troops in on the next turn. If you try to put in both at once, you could end up with neither, for your opponent will first challenge you on the troops, and then, having forced you to back down, will use the increased sphere of influence he thereby gained to force you to back down on the weapons as well.

One difficulty you will have in supporting insurgencies arises from the logistical restrictions on such support. You must infiltrate troops and weapons across the border from a neighboring country. To do this, you must have friendly relations with that neighboring country. This element underscores the importance of maintaining friendly relations with a variety of strategically placed nations. Those few nations will make it possible for you to act against a larger number of neighboring nations.

This suggests one of the long-term strategies possible with Balance of Power. If you can identify a likely region for insurgency activity in your favor, such as northeastern Africa (by investigating each of the countries in the region and finding that a majority of these countries are weak, not very favorable to your own country, and struggling against native insurgencies), you can then select the most friendly country in the region to woo as your future base of operations. It takes several turns just to buy enough goodwill with military and economic aid, but perseverance furthers. It will not be possible to force events to move in precisely the path you desire, but it is always worthwhile to develop opportunities.

It is also possible to use insurgencies to tie down your opponent’s resources. Both superpower’s supplies of troops and weapons are limited, and some juggling of resources is always necessary. A well-developed insurgency can require a large number of troops to put down if it is primed with enough weapons. For example, a small amount of American weapons sent to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan could occupy the attention of a large number of Soviet troops. While thus engaged, those troops could not be used elsewhere to intimidate friends or support enemies.

Under no circumstances should you ever send troops into direct combat with your opponent. If the other side has already sent troops into a country, whether for the insurgents or the government, you must refrain from sending your own troops to support the other side. Once Americans and Russians begin killing each other, diplomatic relations between the two countries become poisoned and you will careen from crisis to crisis until the world is destroyed.

Coups are not as dramatic as insurgencies in the changes they create. While a revolution can completely change the relationships between countries, a coup has a less marked impact on the state of affairs. Nevertheless, the player should resist coups in friendly nations and encourage them in unfriendly nations. The problem is, when and how?

As with insurgencies, the first mistake that many players make is getting involved in matters that have little import to them. A coup in an uncommitted country will have little impact on the state of the world. Given the danger of getting into a crisis from which no graceful exit is possible, the wise player tends to avoid entanglements that do not promise real gains. This means that the player should refrain from getting involved in countries that are: (1) neutral, or (2) worth few prestige points. Unless, of course, the player is confident that meddling will be successful.

The primary vehicle for toppling a government with a coup is destabilization. This is not a technique to use heavily - if it fails to topple the government, diplomatic relations will be worsened. It is best to use destabilization only as the last nudge to topple a government already about to fall. This can be determined by consulting the Closeup window for the country. You cannot destroy a government that would otherwise hold up; for all its reputation, the CIA simply cannot invert political realities. Although it can accelerate domestic trends, it doesnt have the power to reverse them. Remember that there is considerable opprobrium associated with destabilization of governments, so again, use restraint with this ugly technique.

There are also indirect strategies for toppling unfriendly governments. Anything you can do to induce the government to increase its military spending will cut into its consumer spending, which will in turn hurt its popularity. How to increase its military spending? Make it feel militarily threatened. Station troops in a neighboring country. Apply diplomatic pressure. Send weapons to the insurgents. All these actions will have the secondary effect of decreasing government stability.

The main way to save a friendly government that is in trouble is to send it economic aid. This is most effective with poor nations and quite useless with wealthy ones. If you act quickly enough, you can save a shaky government with this technique, so long as your opponent does not destabilize the vulnerable government. You may need to go to a crisis to protect your client if this happens.

There are limits to the amount of economic aid that you can send around the world. If you find yourself strapped for foreign aid cash, be sure to reduce the aid that you are sending elsewhere. Reducing foreign aid always generates resentment in the country that is cut off, but if its government is secure, this resentment will be minimal. Your general strategy is thus to take aid away from secure friendly governments and give it to insecure friendly governments.

Finlandization is the most difficult phenomenon to control, but with deliberate strategy you can induce Finlandization in some countries. The basic trick is to make the country feel vulnerable. The first ploy is to station large numbers of your troops in a neighboring country. You don’t have to do anything with these troops - their presence alone is menacing enough. Of course, you can’t station troops anywhere in the world you please; most nations won’t permit it. This is one situation in which the advantage of having good treaty relationships with many countries comes to the fore. Under many treaties, you can freely position troops almost anywhere you wish.

The second ploy is indirect. If you can create an image of ruthlessness, your ability to frighten countries will be enhanced. In other words, if you can make the countries of the world believe that you have no qualms about using your military power, they will be more likely to Finlandize to you. You can foster this image of ruthlessness by intervening frequently and by engaging your opponent in many crises. In other words, you frighten Nicaragua by invading Grenada and talking tough with the Soviets.

There is a danger in this second ploy. Adventurous behavior on your part encourages adventurous behavior on your opponent’s part. Throwing your weight around does not make the world more pro-American, it just makes the world more dangerous; and in a dangerous world, small countries behave more deferentially toward large ones. Thus, you must be prepared to cope with a more dangerous adversary should you pursue this second ploy. It is more likely that you will take advantage of the possibilities of this second ploy if the world situation has already deteriorated.

Once you have created the conditions necessary for Finlandization (consult the Closeup window to find out how close your victim is to Finlandizing), apply a judicious amount of diplomatic pressure to throw your victim over the brink. Do not apply too much or you will only instigate a challenge from your opponent. Use just enough to produce the desired Finlandization. How much is that? Consult the Closeup window and make an educated guess.

If you are successful, be prepared to follow up with further action. Your victim might repudiate any treaties it has with your opponent - rush in to offer a security treaty of your own. Offer economic assistance or weapons shipments, anything to consolidate your position with the government.

Your best defense against an opponent’s attempts to intimidate your clients is your integrity coupled with treaty commitments. Offer treaties to clients that you think are vulnerable, but only if you believe you can honor those commitments. It would be a terrible mistake to sign a treaty with a government that is losing a civil war; you would be almost certain to lose integrity when the government fell.

Another way to bolster the confidence of a fearful client is to station troops there. Your troops will increase the sense of security to the client. You could also send it more weapons for its army; this is especially effective with poor countries that have large but ill-equipped armies. A small amount of weaponry will greatly increase the overall effectiveness of the army and the government’s sense of security.

This does suggest a valuable indirect strategy toward Finlandization. If you ever get an opportunity to overthrow a government to which your opponent has strong commitments, press the opportunity for all its worth; if you succeed, you will win more than just the single country. The destruction of your opponent’s integrity will make it easier to induce his clients to Finlandize to you.

Playing as the USSR
Most people play Balance of Power as the United States, and so do not appreciate the special problems of the Soviet Union. you should try playing as the USSR some time to develop a better feel for Soviet paranoia. As the General Secretary of the USSR, you will find that your resources are more limited than those of the American President. More important, you will find that you have fewer friends around the world. In fact, the world looks quite hostile from Moscow. Outside of Eastern Europe, your only friends are Cuba, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Angola, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. This is not a very impressive list. Nicaragua is quite vulnerable to Yankee adventurism, and it is normally best to write it off as a lost cause, but you might be able to at least keep the Americans occupied with the place before losing it.

Ethiopia is always vulnerable, but can also be vital for expansion into Africa. Angola is in much the same position. Pursue your African openings with all possible vigor, for the Americans have little influence there and the local governments are easily manipulated with the smaller amounts of resources available to you. Vietnam can be used a springboard against Thailand, although the Americans can easily block this.

The Americans’ greatest vulnerability is the extent of their connections around the world. They have so many friends that they cannot possibly stretch their resources to cover all of them; if you can find the chink in the American system, the one or two American clients that are vulnerable to insurgency or a coup or Finlandization, you can discredit American prestige by toppling these clients. This can trigger a loss of confidence in American treaties that may induce a stampede of Finlandization toward you. This implies that a more unstable world is often to your advantage.

General comments
Most players are too impatient and too adventurous. This is a game of power politics and diplomacy, and you cannot win by playing cowboy. You must be circumspect. You must learn the skills of the diplomat. It is painful to swallow your pride and take your losses, but this is the only way to win.

Remember, this game lasts for eight years. Don’t try to win it all in the first year. Most players only last two years before they blow up the world. Exercise restraint and slowly, patiently develop your plans. It’s better to go for long-term victories rather than short-term conquests.

Although the game does emphasize the brutal realities of power politics, you must not abandon your sense of moral restraint. Balance of Power includes a great many checks against flagrant violations of the moral sensibilities of mankind. If you ignore your treaty commitments, your clients will Finlandize to your opponent. Whenever you take any action against any government, you increase the level of barbarism in the world, which only encourages your opponent to behave in a similar fashion. Whenever you worsen relations with your opponent, you increase the chance that a crisis will trigger an accidental nuclear war. An effective statesman cannot be a saint, but he must not be a barbarian.

Finally, you must recognize that, in the world of power politics, there are never any big winners. The diplomat never visualizes himself triumphant, standing with his foot on the neck of his groveling defeated foe, fist raised high to the adulation of the crowd. In a world with nuclear weapons, there can never be any such thing as total victory. There can only be small victories - or total defeat.