How might game theory shed light on Trump talking to Kim?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, they chose a nice photo.  Here is an excerpt:

If North Korea and the U.S. simply talk, and nothing comes of it, that raises the status of Kim Jong Un, who then would keep improving his missiles anyway. So if the U.S. goes ahead with the talks, you might rationally infer that the risk of war has gone up. Furthermore, there is the risk that Trump or Kim could feel humiliated by a summit that yielded nothing, again raising the chance of war or miscalculation leading to disaster.

In chess there is a concept known as “zugzwang,” or “compulsion to move.” It’s used to describe the position of a player with no good options who would prefer to do nothing at all. That’s not a possibility in chess, so the unfortunate player faces a situation in which all roads involve a deterioration of his position.

There is much more at the link, only one scenario being even somewhat optimistic.

Comments

"...as a result the Chinese citizenry might demand a solution to the standoff". Let me see, is that the populist faction? Or maybe the Chinese Greens? Or the Chinese Tea Party? And how will they make this demand? Threaten to vote the bastards out?

More important question: what does it say about the opposition that they intentionally force these positions on Trump? The White House media correspondents pushed the Tillerson “moron” comments so hard. Hey, now a moderating force is gone from the White House and the leftist media is celebrating. Is there any doubt that the average democrat partisan would be excited if NK launched a nuke on the US? We all heard the disappointment in Ari Shapiro’s voice when the NK talks were announced.

It's interesting....a President selects a Sec. of State who calls him a 'moron'. He doesn't fire him immediately but let's him linger for almost a year. He spends most of his time undercutting his own team with tweets rather than push a consistent policy position. If all this culminates in N. Korea nuking us or an ally, the fault will be 'the left' for being too criticial

Trump fired Tillerson for being too hawkish on Russia. One thing Trump apparently can’t forgive is anyone being mean to Putin.

So what's the alternative, don't talk to NK?

Are you saying the US and SK should not do anything, given the 'risks', however large or small?

Tyler is saying that as a member of the Bloomberg staff he must meet his quota of negative articles about Trump policy. To fulfill his quota Tyler will write anything even mindless insanity,

Sure, because the only reason anyone would find anything negative to write about Trump is to meet a quota. No other reason. Trump = flawless. I mean, who ever wrote anything critical of a president before?

Now THAT'S sarcasm.

wow really great sarcasm msgkings

I see what you did there LOL

Yes, don't talk to them. There is no point. Why reward them? The US and SK should do nothing. Because there is nothing to be done. Simply wait them out.

Either they start a process of serious reform and go down the Chinese path. Or they continue their insanity. In which case they remain poor, hungry and contained within their box. Expecting, a la Obama on Iran, that giving them lots of free stuff and letting them out of their sanction regime will produce happiness is insane.

Leave them where they are until they decide to behave.

For a really good application of game theory to international politics I would check out the Eric Garland twitter thread from last year. Great stuff there.

This is actually pretty close to the reality. It sucks that they have nukes but they will never give them up, and the chance they use them is small. If they do, they get turned to glass (so to speak). The nukes insure we don't invade, ours insure they don't use them. Kim is evil, he's not shown any inkling that he's nuts.

Except, they don’t have to be nuts, just vicious.

They can leave the “box” in which we have contained them by proliferating the technology.

Their nukes are not only to prevent a regime changing invasion but to provide a robust security umbrella that would allow them to export ideas, blueprints and technologies, sneakily and on the side.

Obama returned financial resources that belonged to Iran but were frozen.

This is different from the question of whether allowing NK freer access to international markets in food and fuels will be effective in reducing the risk associated with their pursuit of a nuclear deterrent.

Two back to back Bloomberg articles on Kim that use chess terms: "In chess there is a concept known as “zugzwang,” or “compulsion to move.” " - Tyler Cowen "Kim is a tactical difficulty. Holding our alliances against China is the strategic issue".- James Stavrides (tactics and strategy being chess terms, for short and long term objectives).

I suggest a third chess term to describe America's plight, borrowed from IM Hans Kmoch: "leucopenia" (insufficient control of the white squares).

Insufficient control of the white squares, indeed. As Steve Sailer can attest, America has gotten soft and is afraid to do the 'right thing', 1950s style, which is to preserve Americans (largely still white, largely conservative, largely 'square') from the Rest of the World. Today's white squares are demoralized, not letting their voices be heard. Thus today's USA values all human lives equally, even North Koreans, so naturally under this calculus, which BTW much to my chagrin even otherwise cold and calculating members of my family subscribe to, it makes no sense to nuke North Korea first since many Koreans would die (even North Koreans) who are otherwise innocent. Consequently the USA must wait until say Guam, Hawaii or Los Angeles are nuked before retaliating. Nonsense. Even the pacifist Bertrand Russell, who went to jail rather than fight in WWI, was in favor of a first strike against the USSR, and only when the USSR had more than one atom bomb and was capable of retaliation did he repudiate this sound view. When North Korea has hundreds of long range ICBMs it will be too late for a first strike. The time to act is now. In fact, from a game theory point of view, and a leaked paper in the 1980s confirms this, as reported back then by Jane's magazine, the best time to strike is during a peace negotiation. Send a condemned criminal who looks like Trump to negotiate with Kim, orange buffoon hair and all, during Kim's mass games (stadium shows), promise his family a large indemnity for his act (as was done in the Philippines at Manila airport with the Ninoy Aquino assassination), and then, potboiler style as per the Sony comedy film, during some placard show, maybe even the ones showing an ICBM flying across the stadium, or when white doves of peace are being released, strike with a barrage of nuclear weapons aimed at Kim in the grandstand and also invade by ground. Thousands will die, maybe a 100k, but millions of Americans will be saved. From a moral calculus, USA exceptionalism viewpoint, it would be morally justified. But will America act? Doubtful.

I only hope if there's nuclear war our DC real estate will not be affected. I did my best to warn fellow Americans and thus don't feel responsible for any bad outcome, though I fear a real dictator may seize power if the USA is nuked, see what happened after the relatively innocuous World Trade Twin Towers affair by analogy.

Bonus trivia: both world champions GM Garry Kasparov and today's GM Magnus Carlsen have played the "Rest of the World" in chess and won decisively. Even when the collective brains of the rest of the world compete, contrary to James Surowiecki, there is too much dissent in the ROW to form a coherent plan, and the single mind wins, again not unlike today's divided USA vs Kim's united North Korea. As chess master Eugene A. Znosko-Borovsky once said, countermanding a plan is worse than no plan at all ('order, counter-order, disorder' is how he put it).

In your plan no nuclear weapons would be needed.

Regardless, do you really believe that killing the NK figurehead would destroy the regime.

Moreover, do you not see how such a sneaky attack would compromise all future interactions between the US and other countries? And that if you use nuclear weapons so close to one of your allies and one of your rivals, you will inevitably lose all support and legimitimacy?

Chess can give some good analogies to think about international politics. But killing the king is not the ultimate goal here. The game is not self contained: one game affects others; the king is not as important a piece as he seems; and short term tactics often lose agaisnt proper strategy.

The worst part is associating someone else s (or collective) opinion with “leucopenia”, as you put it, instead of assessing it through its merit. All it does is give you satisfaction for giving your ideas validation.

Hi SebThomaz, some counterpoints to your otherwise excellent but first-order and conventional points: (1) in chess you cannot kill the king, it's illegal. You stalemate the king to win; (2) nuclear fallout is overrated, some studies found humans can withstand a lot of radiation and do quite fine, they have neutron weapons that limit fallout in any event. SebThomaz, do you realize they had open-air nuclear testing of fusion (hydrogen bombs) weapons until the late 1950s? That the fallout went world wide? It didn't hurt me, did it hurt you and yours? And a tactical nuclear or low-rad neutron bomb in Pyongyang would be peanuts, seriously; (3) "Moreover, do you not see how such a sneaky attack would compromise all future interactions between the US and other countries? " - did Pearl Harbor jeopardize Japan-US relations? Did Japan's sneak attack on Russia jeopardize today's JP-Russia relations (they are fighting over oil on disputed islands, not the Battle of Port Arthur)? And my sneak attack is not a bug, but a feature. When "Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam" (the next nuclear powers says TC) see that threatening the USA with long-range nuclear weapons will prompt a first strike, they will either be more circumspect and abandon such talk, and more, abandon long-range ICBMs. In fact, the "Big Five" (UK, FR, RU, CH, US) will be thankful that the USA took the lead in maintaining the nuclear monopoly that these Security Council UN members have.

I don't expect my plan, which is logical, to be adopted. I do expect harm to come to the USA via a nuclear weapon from a hostile power. Then, your "PC" concerns will be washed away by forces vastly more powerful than yourself, namely, "Can It Happen Here" US-style fascism. As a dual national, with assets all over the world, I'm fully hedged, but I wonder about the rest of you.

You checkmate the king to win. Stalemate is a draw.

Dang Ray you're such a clown.

2) Comparing testing in a desert hundreds of miles away from where people live and thousands of miles away from everyone else is substantively different from nuclear explosions near major population centres which are located near to other major population centres.

3) Japan was under military occupation for an extended period of time before US and Japan had decent relations. Moreover, yes, Pearl Harbour negatively impacted relations in the sense of all-out war until militarily defeated, and only the prospect of Russian advances reaching Tokyo before the Americans resulted in capitulation (Nagasaki and Hiroshima having been minor cities, and the news having been to the effect of 'a city completely bombed out, city number 70 or so, but not for the third time yet' - as reported in an article in Foreign Affairs a couple/few years ago).

If you're going to be supportive of a first strike option, you shouldn't so willingly underestimate the consequences.

Finally, a first strike would encourage other regimes to want to obtain a nuclear deterrent to prevent the possibility of a first strike. (Presumably NK's reason to seek nuclear weapons is not because they actually want to nuke Soeul, but because the possibility of a destructive counter-response would prevent a frst strike. While the dictatorial regime is dictatorial, presumably they are not suicidal and would not launch except as response to a first strike.)

@Troll Me - Pyongyang is 200 km and 'downwind' of the prevailing winds from Seoul. You are ignorant if you think a tactical nuclear or low-rad neutron fission bomb has fallout that extensive. I think hydrogen bombs of the "Tzar Bomba" Soviet type had fallout that was several hundred km, but not tactical fissile bombs that are not unlike the "Moab" conventional bomb the US military already has. It's "Pearl Harbor" (US) not "Harbour" (UK). The theory advanced by the Russians that they, not US nuclear weapons, ended WWII in the Pacific theatre (sic) has no merit in this debate.
"Finally, a first strike would encourage other regimes to want to obtain a nuclear deterrent to prevent the possibility of a first strike" - flat out wrong, standing logic on its head. See the TC column for more on this; as TC says, other regimes want the Bomb because they see North Korea having success with it; by contrast, if North Korea gets nuked for having the Bomb, then the opposite will occur. Finally, "presumably they are not suicidal" is an assumption that's not sound. North Korea's leadership is unstable, using nerve agents for assassinations, and terror against its own citizens, so if Kim has terminal cancer or otherwise feels he wants to go out with a bang, and has 100s or 1000s of hydrogen bombs, ICBMs, and the like, who's to stop him from nuking Tokyo, LA or Seoul? Certainly not the Christian morality against suicide which you seem to bank on. In fact in Asian tradition, suicide is deemed noble and heroic.

@y81 - checkmating the king is in fact stalemating him. @msgkings - we're having a Big Boys conversation dude, tune out.

Yes Ray, when my son was around 5 we used to praise him for being a "big boy". That's about your level.

Re: end of WWII in Pacific ... It's not a Russian theory. It was published in Foreign Affairs in an article that explained how the defense of nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki as causing the end of the war, which justified their use to the American public, was very possibly a historically inaccurate portrayal.

Something to the effect of Russian troops could have occupied Tokyo within 6 days time, and they preferred to surrender to Americans than Stalin.

"if North Korea gets nuked for having the Bomb, then the opposite will occur" - maybe, but the view that killing millions of people is a bad thing would suggest against such strategies, unless in aggregate it were patently dumb (e.g., Munich analogy, but NK is minor, not a global industrial power).

5 or 10 bombs is credible as a deterrent for the ability to respond to a first strike against the regime -- which is not the same as wanting to prevent them from having those nukes. Any appearance of working toward first strike ability would be a different story.

You're crazier than a shit house rat.

5 star comment. Hope it's not ©

Alternative case: Kim is scared of Xi Jinping. NK dictator really wants to talk as he fears the possibility of fighting a proxy war for China go up.

The meeting should be one last shot before preparing for a major strike and a final offer to China to back off if China agrees to full cooperation (China can keep NK as a non-nuclear buffer state).

Behold the final solution to the Korean question: just let China be the region hegemonic power and evacuate all American forces from Asia. That is the most natural solution: the US has become overextended like the British Empire at the turn of the 20th century. And who cares if NK has missiles? That's just their insurance policy so let them do it. What are they going to do? Attack the US? Of course not: attacking the US would insure in MAD even for Russia. So who cares if they can attack the US? Putin has a sword on top of 320 million American necks and that's a fact for many decades and nobody gives a s" nowadays. Americans need to learn to live in the real world and in the real world the fact is that any small country can acquire nuclear weapons and if their government really wants to they can kill millions of US citizens. So? What the US can do about it? Nothing. Those are facts of reality. The problem is not NK it is the reality denial of the US's elite who think that they have a divine right to forbid all small countries (except (of course!!) Israel) to acquire nuclear weapons.

The US has the divine to use Israel as a buffer in the Middle East as China has the divine right to use NK as buffer on its northeast border.

Also, don't advocate for small countries having nuclear weapons. I bet you'd be against the Tibet having them.

Behold the final solution to the Korean question: just let China be the region hegemonic power and evacuate all American forces from Asia. That is the most natural solution

It is the easiest and cheapest solution but is it the best solution? I don't think so. And personally I would not use terms like "final solution" when nuclear weapons are concerned. But suppose America withdraws. Japan will be a nuclear power tomorrow. That may not bother America much, but it may focus some minds in Asia. Especially as South Korea would become a nuclear nation in six months time and Taiwan about a year after that. How does this contribute to regional stability? It works in Europe. It just goes to show how right Trump was.

The loser from that, of course, would be China.

It's not really the USA that thinks it can deny nuclear weapons to small nations. That's part of an international agreement most of the countries have signed on to -- and then some violate.

I've wondered if a similar policy as MAD would not be the better solution to non-poliferation. If any country starts developing such weapons systems then the 3 de facto superpowers launch a massive conventional strike on both the developmental location and several of the countries military bases. No questions asked. Caveat Emptor if you will.

That would limit the incentives for attempting to develop such weapons and create incentives to ensure public/international oversight of any peaceful development of nuclear power to avoid any misunderstandings.

+1 to John, for thinking rationally. And for those of you that think the USA, under MAD, will automatically nuke North Korea if it strikes the USA first with nuclear weapons, you've never read the novel "Failsafe" by Ray Bradbury, nor have you read non-classified DoD-oriented policy papers (that TC once alluded to) that say in order to avoid worldwide conflagration and nuclear holocaust, the USA should NOT retaliate if fired upon once by a nuclear country like North Korea. In other words, sacrifice Los Angeles to save the entire USA and the entire planet from a nuclear winter. This however presupposes that North Korea has 100s or 1000s of nuclear weapons. If North Korea has one or two weapons, or none as today, then a first strike by the USA is actually 'conventional wisdom' prior to MAD (read history if you don't believe me).

It's amazing how otherwise rational adults are so ignorant of nuclear weapons and anything nuclear (one reason the USA does not have a nuclear depository, which is more dangerous than having one in Nevada).

Russia and China are both signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and moreover are empowered to prevent small and potentially unstable regimes from acquiring such weapons, for example as a part of international processes established for precisely that purpose.

@Rafael R - why are you against nuking a country like North Korea that does not yet have reliable long-range missiles that can deliver a nuclear payload? Is it Christian morality? Do you fear cancer from radioactive fallout (negligible btw, by the time it gets to the USA)? Do you think Korean lives matter as much as US lives? Seriously, tell us why.

Do you think Greek or Filipino lives matter as much as US lives? Seriously, tell us why?

it's just inhumane slaughter of fellow human beings. Checkmate.

> So is there any move that leaves the U.S. better off? The best possibility I can see comes through China. A summit would focus attention on the North Korean threat, and as a result the Chinese citizenry might demand a solution to the standoff. That could mobilize a stronger Chinese response and a tightening of sanctions, with a constructive response in turn from Kim, while in the meantime the talks keep the South Koreans from rejecting their American alliance. Still, that strikes me as something of a longshot.

But... the Chinese *have* tightened sanctions, they *do* seem to be effective, and perhaps *this* (the Olympics and the request to speak directly with Trump) is Kim's constructive response.

As far as I can see, the article doesn't even consider that possibility.

The subtitle is "The U.S. and South Korea need the most from a negotiation. Guess who that favors." But how much longer can the regime last with the sanctions as they are? If the sanctions are already threatening the future of the Kim regime, then North Korea needs the most from a negotiation.

So, any odds on whether Trump will appoint an ambassador to South Korea and the Senate confirms both that appointment and a new Secretary of State before Trump wings his way westward?

'More than a year into his presidency—one marked by continual saber rattling with nations like North Korea and now the looming possibility of an international trade war—Donald Trump still has not appointed a U.S. ambassador to dozens of countries, including South Korea, and the European Union.

As Trump moves forward with foreign policy announcements that have the power to rock stock markets and redefine diplomatic relationships, he does so without input from ambassadors in critical regions around the world. That's because U.S. ambassadorships in at least 57 different posts remain vacant 13 months into the Trump administration, according to the State Department's most recent list of overseas ambassadors dated February 1, 2018.' http://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-north-korea-south-korea-no-united-states-ambassador-56-countries-837029

Thank God that Max Baucus coughed up $610 for Obama's Inauguration. Otherwise he might not have been appointed Ambassador to China. Then the American government would not have had his feedback on what is going on in Beijing.

Personally I am surprised at how cheaply some ambassadorships go for. I mean Kenneth F. Hackett gave $500 to the Obama campaign and he was made Ambassador to the Holy See. Who wouldn't like Diplomatic Immunity in Rome for the price of a decent mobile phone? Or Judith Beth Cefkin who was made Ambassador to Fiji after donating $200 to the Democrats. $200? I mean travel insurance is probably more expensive than that - and it doesn't come with a car that can run red lights.

Both parties have treated Ambassadors as a joke for years. I doubt Trump is any better or worse off because he does not have donors he needs to reward with cushy sinecures.

'Personally I am surprised at how cheaply some ambassadorships go for.'

If you say so - I'm surprised that in one of the few places on the planet where American military forces have realistically anticipated an attack for more than a half century, the U.S. cannot be bothered to actually have an ambassador to the country hosting those American forces. An ambassador picked by President Trump to represent his own policies and positions.

'Both parties have treated Ambassadors as a joke for years.'

Not to major trading partners such as the EU or South Korea they haven't. Though one hears that President Trump is concerned with how unbalanced trade has become with trading partners like the EU or South Korea. A concern that is clearly not real, since he cannot apparently be bothered to appoint his own ambassadors to such significant contributors to America's trade deficit.

South Korea - TOTAL 2017 in millions exports 48,276.6 / imports 71,164.1 Balance -22,887.https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5800.html

EU - TOTAL 2017 in millions exports 283,517.4 / imports 434,933.1 Balance -151,415.6 -.6https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c0003.html

One can quibble about the Ambassador to the Court of St. James, but to suggest that that particular position goes for the price of a cell phone would be a bit silly.

Hey don't you talk bad about Trumpy!

Certainly, if the worst criticism that can be mustered is a process complaint about there being an empty seat at the table, that raises the status of Trump.

Which empty seat?

That of the ambassador to South Korea, who in a normal administration would have spent the past 13 months at least attempting to represent America's interests among the various South Korean political and business factions, and would thus be in a position to hopefully allow Trump to screen the wheat from the chaff in terms of importance when doing that famous wheeling and dealing of his.

Or that of the Secretary of State? Who, at least theoretically, would be the one in charge of actually handling the myriad details of such a meeting.

Because as of today, both seats at the table would be empty - on the American side, that is. One assumes that the North Koreans will be just a bit better represented, with staff able to understand and exploit the people sitting in the non-empty chairs on the American side.

"Donald Trump still has not appointed a U.S. ambassador to dozens of countries, including South Korea,"

Oh no, we lack a Chief Clerk for the embassy in South Korea. Who will deliver stuff for us?

This is not 1700 or 1800. Or even 1980.

Embassies as diplomatic entities are obsolete. We have instant communications at a higher level. No one needs to send instructions by boat to an ambassador who will deliver a message and may be given some discretion.

If the president of Korea needs to discuss something with us, he can call Trump or Pompaeo or McMaster and it can be resolved the same day. No need for an ambassador at all.

An important function is to provide advice which will enable to achieve overall policy objectives. In the present context, perhaps more importantly, is to have a chance to communicate with the president, and others, toward having coherent policy of higher quality than 3am social media musings of the president.

"provide advice which will enable to achieve overall policy objectives"

Nobody listens to ambassadors. Certainly not this administration.

How would an ambassador to South Korea have insight into North Korea in any event?

The only way an ambassador would have insights into the Norks would be if he or she was a spy or ex-spy, and thus closely connected to “those who know stuff”. Frankly that would be my favoured appointment. But most ambassadorial appointments are based on stuff like party donations. 90% of them are meaningless patronage appointments.

Sure, but for 90% of the countries it's the perfect job to appoint a donor to. Does it matter if the ambassadors to Jamaica or New Zealand or Switzerland are any 'good'? For South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, Israel, Saudi, etc. I say it matters quite a bit.

Looks like `game theory' was just click-bait.

The god of game theory is Eric Garland not Tyler Cowen.

What does Garland say about NK and the current situation (game)?

That's the justification for the nation/state, mutual terrorism that can only be handled by a powerful government. Death, however, is an individual phenomenon and when that individual dies, for him nothing else ever matters. Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin have no ability to remember or reflect upon their time on earth and what they may or may not have done to affect the future. They're dead, just like the nameless commoners they dominated. To me, being run over by a texting driver while riding my bike to work is just as big a calamity as the Norks detonating a nuclear warhead a couple of blocks from my house. I'm dead either way and won't know anything about it.

however as a bike rider you actually have some ability to avoid the idiot driver by paying attention to the traffic around you. That is not possible with the other problem.

What if they nuke your family and you live? Might be worse than your own death.

This is not a khadafi like situation for the NK dictator if he loses his nuclear capability. He has a big protector. It’s China. China has enabled NK for many years , trading with them, supporting them all the while paying lip service to the sanctions.

They have used them as a thorn into the West. as a buffer against the West. Trump has done the right moves and that is to pressure China. Tell China their game is up, that we hold them responsible for NK continuous development of nuclear weapons and that we expect them to stop it.

China has been playing a double game as a helpful bystander in the Korean Peninsula situation but they don’t want regime change in NK. They don’t want eventual reunification of the two Koreas. This would create a huge rival to them in Asia. They might actually secretly want the north invading the south ( a communist reunification). If this were to occur. a nuclear NK would create a deterrent against the US intervening.

Tell China we expect you to stop it and convince KJU. We won’t try to change the regime if they give up nukes. Otherwise a military solution is imminent and we should mean it. This is our line in the sand.

KJU doesn’t need his nukes to stay in power. He only needs China’s support. He understands this. His nuclear capability is only required for offense ( invading the south) not defense.

KJU may (correctly) calculate that China won't necessarily always be his patron. He will never give up the nukes.

China is not obliged to take sanctions as far as the US might like them to.

Among other things, they have an interest to allow sufficient flows of basic goods to prevent an exodus of refugees, which they do not want to have to deal with. Asking them to go further without offering financial or other support to deal with resulting refugees (which would be logistically nearly impossible for both physical and political reasons) is very possibly asking too much.

China HAS restricted many flows with NK, just not to the extent that those geographically removed from the question have promoted.

In the long-run, China also has a genuine interest to not be within firing range of an unstable nuclear regime.

This is all because Kim heard about Trump and Stormy. Kim is a big fan of Stormy and wants Trump to arrange an “introduction”.

This is not as much of a joke as you might think. But it was more Kim's dad who was batshit crazy about movies and movie stars.

Regarding the compulsion to move. Trump simply should continue the policies of the smart kids did.

I suspect that readers' hostile reaction to Cowen's very good essay on the application of game theory to diplomacy is because they know there's not a chance in Hell that Trump is capable of it. I suppose readers could have one of two reactions to the essay: one, acknowledge that Trump is incapable of applying game theory to diplomacy because he is temperamentally unfit to the task, or two, ignore Trump's unfitness, dismiss diplomacy and the essay, and promote the most belligerent approach to North Korea. My reaction to Cowen's essay is that Cowen (and maybe economists generally) could be a very good diplomat. I am also reminded of Cowen's TED talk on avoiding "stories" and see it in a much different light.

Like a lot of the credentialed, you seem to assume that the products of credentialism are all that matters. Game theory? I don't know, Trump might well have a fairly good sense of applied Game Theory given his life story. But that is beside the point. What is the evidence that Game Theory is remotely useful or has any real world application?

People who live in Ivory Towers usually assume that all that matters are theories invented by other people who live in Ivory Towers.

Still, Trump stopped the spineless appeasement and started to consider some tougher options. Or said he did. North Korea has come to the table. That looks like a pretty good application of Game Theory to me. He raised the price of North Korea's misbehavior and got results.

Trump happened into NY real estate just before a boom, happened upon a handful of very profitable loopholes, and the resulting financial position has led him to believe that playing "dictator games" is an effective way to achieve things in the real world.

Also, attributing non-zero consideration to the humanitarian situation of the population living under that regime is a good thing. Whether this leads to ultimately taking a harsher or softer position in the shorter run is a different question.

Well, lets be reasonable here. Game theory largely developed for the problem of diplomacy and war -- chess was a training tool for the leader, not some game of distraction/entertainment for the masses.

However, in this day and age of acknowledging the oppression and barriers to participation by women one wonders why the Queen is so powerful and the King weak.

I have mentioned before that I took a course in diplomacy in college (many years ago). What I remember is that diplomacy was very structured, in what I would describe as a detailed diagram, and what Cowen describes as game theory. Thus, one plotted out the the steps in the process, with each step depending on the previous step taken or not taken, an "if, then" approach. That not only provided coherence and predictability but helped avoid ad hoc decisions. My comment about Trump's temperament wasn't intended as a criticism of Trump but merely an acknowledgment of his lack of structure. I've spent time with many people who are ADD and it can be stimulating but also frustrating. I'm more of an "if, then" person, which is also my approach to contract drafting.

"If North Korea and the U.S. simply talk, and nothing comes of it, that raises the status of Kim Jong Un." Or, of course, letting himself be hectored into talks by Trump's aggressive approach and then coming away with nothing reduces the status of Kim Jong Un. Apparently game theory is all about selecting one's starting assumptions.

Note too that Tyler would presumably conclude that reducing Kim's status would raise the risk of war. Is it a feature of game theory that all roads lead to the desired conclusion?

Everyone makes that claim -- seems to be something of a meme in the geopolitical landscape. I'd ask for whom is Kim's status raised by such a meeting? It's not really clear to me that holds outside North Korea and I'm not entirely sure it holds inside the country either. Is this a case of incorrect language?

The argument seems to be that should the President of the USA meet with the Kim regime that allows them to use it as a propaganda tool and tighter controls internally. But those in North Korea are probably much better at recognizing propaganda and the average western citizen (they've lived with it 70 years now). Those people won't be fooled by any of it. For those that already buy into the propaganda Kim is nearly a god anyhow so what more elevation in status could be gained?

Fair point. If Kim wants to raise his status with his slaves by actually dealing with us, let him do so.

"I’d ask for whom is Kim’s status raised by such a meeting?"

Tyler's professional community.

One of the ways Trump won the primaries was by talking to people. All the other candidates would make reporters jump through 20 hoops to get an interview. So maybe he just sees value in taking to people and maybe he's right.

Uh . . . this is not even close to accurate. Every one of the 19 (?) Republicans candidates was desperate for any kind of media attention.

Yeah, it is. There was book out last year about the GOP primaries and the challenges of getting access to any of the traditional candidates.Nobody was desperate at the outset because they all "knew" they were going to win.

Trump would close the doors of any media outlet that was critical of him, if he could. However, for some variety of reasons, it would be impossible to do that.

(However, in some number of cases, the interpretations of his poorly chosen words have in many cases been unreasonable.)

Banned again. I will go away, then.

Thought provoking. Kim needs to remain in power otherwise he is dead. ICBMs are the best way to ensure that. So Kim's best strategy is to appear to make some concessions but continue on his way. The China angle is interesting because ultimately it does not seem in China's interest to have a powerful Korea that can challenge China for regional hegemony and will force Japan to protect itself. Not clear how strategic Trump really is -- he was not a particularly able businessman, which suggests that moving the chess pieces around the board is not his forte.

"ICBMs are the best way to ensure that."

On the contrary, they likely ensure his overthrow and death.

We did not invade North Korea at any point after 1953. We allowed them to seize a spy ship and torture our sailors.

They were just an annoyance. We kept troops as a trip wire and did nothing except some sanctions from time to time.

Nuclear ICBMs are a threat to the US. Sooner or later, we are going to eliminate that threat.

"In chess there is a concept known as “zugzwang,” or “compulsion to move.” It’s used to describe the position of a player with no good options who would prefer to do nothing at all. That’s not a possibility in chess, so the unfortunate player faces a situation in which all roads involve a deterioration of his position."

With NK the default position for the past 25 years has been to do nothing, so I wouldn't say it's not possible.

Also, what's wrong with an assassination? We don't have to nuke the whole country.

What's wrong with given assurances their current boarder will be safe conditional on denuclearization? How unprotected can the regime really feel when both China and Russia would step in to prevent any USA driven -- or even a South Korean -- invasion to overturn the regime or force unification (which is the NK and Russia way so all too much of a kettle seeing a black pot).

The game is to prove North Korea's intent so a meeting the basic give Kim the assurances that North Korea is safe as long as it keeps to its own boarders and non-military/weapons trade and drops all it's WMD programs with verifiable international monitoring. If he doesn't take that option then he goals are forcing the reunification of the peninsula as his grand father attempted at the start of the Korean War.

That would be optimal, but that guarantee, if it were ever credible, went away with Libya.

"what’s wrong with an assassination?"

It assumes that the next 10 guys in line for power are not variations on the same theme.

I think this was written before yesterday. The whole Tillerson imbroglio makes it that much worse.

We are in many respects operating without a government, and many of us poor little people can only hope for the best.

Ah well, maybe Pennsylvania will put the scare on Congress, and get them to lead a little more.

"We are in many respects operating without a government,"

That is not true at all.

Tillerson was widely panned [probably by you too] as a Russian stooge. Now that he is gone, whining like you illustrate is mouthed by all the anti-Trump people.

Tillerson disagreed with the President on some fundamental things. the new Secretary of State is much more closely attuned to Trump on things like Jerusalem and Iran.

In a normal Presidency, in a normally managed Administration, the President directs the Secretary of State, to direct the State Department, toward some specified goal.

The breakdown is so complete that you can't even see it, you think the tweets must have some hidden genius, but what the hell evidence is there of that?

Bob, Trump delivered what you wanted, beating Hillary. Now though, he's awful. Why are you defending him? Anything good he's done President Pence would have done as well, and maybe better. I'm not a big Pence guy but he's better than Trump.

Trump is not going anywhere. He will be president at least until January 2021.

I also defend him because I support most of his policies and do not care about his tweets. Pence might be "better" but Trump is president. He has given me no reason to repudiate him, and I did not even vote for him.

Trump is right to challenge the status quo on Korea. Our policy there has been a failure for 20 years.

One by one, Trump supporters are slowly waking up the fact that the tweets are all there is.

By the way, per the tweets, it is infrastructure week again. Yay?

Why is Trump awful? Because of tweets? Your critique of a clearly elected President is because of Tweets? Which you don't even bother to copy?

Ha. What a joke. Trump critiques are so flimsy.

He's doing great on the economy.
He's filling the judiciary with good conservatives; who mostly are against Fascist Dictator type leaders, like those judges who support Obama's executive overreaches.

He's doing pretty good in a world that, thanks to Dem abdication, is transitioning away from "Pax Americana" (never really Pax, tho).
ISIS is essentially destroyed.
NK is asking to talk.
The US embassy is, FINALLY (after Clinton, Bush, Obama broken promises) moving to Jerusalem.
There was NO COLLUSION of the Trump campaign with Russia.

So Trump, like Clinton, JFK, Teddy K, and so many other Big Dogs cheated on his wives -- every Dem voted to support Pres. Clinton perjury (not adultery, not sexual harassment) because "sex is private". So Trump's 30+ year younger wife (competing, slightly beating, his daughter for hotness) was cheated on (probably; no blue dress semen proof). This bothers me, does it bother you? Say it then. But not so much, since the Dems changed the rules to claim it should not bother voters at all.

Trump's doing more than Reagan for conservatives -- all who criticize should be clear on how he should be doing better; and we can judge how realistic such alternatives are (usually... not very).

Neither Trump nor Tillerson really believed in having a State Department. They both thought they could roll into any room and shoot from the hip. So obviously one had to go. But that doesn't restore normalcy. For that you need a normally functioning chain of command, and all oars pulling together.

The hope that a new Secretary might do that .. seems at odds with what we know of the principal, the tweeter in cheif.

The State Department is useless.

It is a solid truck, without a driver.

Consider the Belgian example, which did not have a legislative body for 18 months, but where the public sector basically just kept on doing there jobs and there were no problems.

However, the case of the USA is quite different, for some variety of reasons, in particular related to the international importance of the country.

@Tyler:

How does the game theory equilibrium change if Russia (and China?) are putting NK up to this to hand Trump a significant diplomatic victory, aiming for a payoff of Republicans retaining the House in 2018 and the Presidency in 2020?

If I were Putin, this is how I'd play my hand.

China is far more relevant to NK than Russia, and why would China want to help Trade War Trump?

"Why doesn't Congress lead?"

Game Theory or self-evident Public Choice result? Discuss.

Congress has spent the last 100 years ceding leadership and power to the President. It is comforting to them.

To be fair, in some of those 100 years the President has grabbed it.

Congress has led. The National Security Act, the War Powers Act, etc. Just not lately.

"War Powers Act"

Seriously? An act that has not prevented any president from doing anything. Some leadership.

America had a pretty bad war-hangover after Vietnam. The law plus the sentiment kept us out of trouble for a generation. I think Andrew Bacevich has a good read on how the sentiment reversed itself in new century.

"The law plus the sentiment kept us out of trouble for a generation."

Grenada, Panama happened within that generation.

The War Powers Act did not slow down any president. They send the letter afterwards and go about their merry way, see aid to Contras also.

Grenada and Panama? Your examples prove his point. We were hardly 'in trouble' in those.

I thought the way talks are usually handled is that teams of knowledgeable negotiators meet beforehand and find something -- anything -- to agree on, so that when the big leaders meet they are assured of having something they can announce afterward for all the cameras.

If nothing can be agreed to beforehand, the high-profile big-leader talks are simply postponed due to "prior commitments." Either way, no one seriously loses face.

I think Trump just wants to size up KIm face to face. Remember he does have experience sitting down with some very tough union leaders, suppliers, mob bosses and politicians who could nix or seriously delay his projects

As far as Tillerson, it was wise of Trump to clean house before the NK talks. These two guys simply disagreed on too many key issues, and as former CEO of one of the galaxy's biggest companies, RT was not used to taking orders.

I think the real targets of the summit are South Korea and China. It will have little direct impact on US and NK relations.

The US requires strong sanctions that weaken and perhaps topples the North Korean government. This summit aids the South Korean government in easing fears amongst the South Korean people and encourages them to stand against North Korean threats. The talks give the appearance of an America seeking a peaceful resolution, which helps the South Korean government.

China would be the potential source of an internal opposition that will topple the NK regime. American overtures to NK could give a signal to the potential Chinese backed opposition in NK that America is willing to seek a peaceful resolution if Kim was gone: and that the threat of escalation with America is real if Kim remains. The nuclear arsenal is not to protect the people of North Korea. It is to defend their leader.

Good analysis.

Introduction of third parties changes the game. The question is: what is the interest of the third party.

Trump has Kim talking and suddenly all the economists sound like Edward Luttwak.

I wonder if the new steel tariffs are part of a new strategy of hard diplomacy.

It's common knowledge that the real key to solving North Korea is in China, as only China has any sort of real leverage over the North Korean regime. But China has always played a double game here, reassuring the west that it wants reform in North Korea, while quietly sabotaging attempts to really pressure North Korea.

So now Trump announces 25% tariffs on Chinese steel, and suddenly Kim is willing to talk. Could be just a coincidence, or it could be a return to the old 'hard' diplomacy, instead of the 'Can't we all just get along and sing Kumbayah' diploma of the past 25 years.

We will know if this was part of it if we get concessions from North Korea and suddenly Trump starts new trade negotiations with China over steel.

It seems Tyler's preferred move is ... wait for Kim to get nukes ... and use them? before using military force. Which was Clinton-Bush-Obama choice, too.

If NK uses a nuke, I'll admit I was wrong (silly me); if Trump gets Kim to not use a nuke on any neighbor, will Tyler admit he was wrong?
Of course not. All are assuming, magically, that NK doesn't use it, even if he gets it.

The most likely scenarios are also not mentioned:
A) Trump gets Kim to leave power, with bribes to him, family, chosen supporters,
B) China gets the generals to have a coup to accept Trump terms to avoid nukes for S. Korea & nukes for Japan.

Trump talking to Kim is an above board feint, while China and NK generals plus China and Kim are the real action.

A US trade war with China hurts China, and semi-dictator Xi, much harder than the US, especially in the short run.
Mid run, nukes in S. Korea plus Japan also hurt China's ambitions.

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