Game theory and North Korea

Peace and WarKim Jong-Un is a new leader in a dangerous situation. Hopefully he’s read up on some game theory!

There are lots of ways to look at the North Korean situation through the lens of game theory and this post looks at what various commentators have been saying.

Evan Osnos has written in the New Yorker that Kim is a dangerous wildcard but that China will continue to support him because having him in charge is preferable to the Americans or South Koreans taking charge in North Korea.

Gregory Boyce thinks that this is a game of chicken where Kim is trying to responding to internal pressures from his military leaders.

Tyler Cowen looks at the situation from the American standpoint saying that they have to take the position they do in support of the South Koreans to give confidence to their other allies such as Israel. The Americans don’t really support South Korea that much but they use their support to send a message to others.

Don Rich also brings Israel into the analysis. He also raises the tricky problem of how Kim can keep the domestic support he gains from his aggressive stance if he then backs down. It is all made more difficult by cultural differences and the risk that Kim Jong-Un may not be acting rationally at all.

This brings me to the final article by Tim Worstall who says that in his experience of dealing with the North Koreans, including handing over £10,000 in cash to get a rail freight deal concluded, shows that they might just be crazier than anyone gives them credit for!

Having read these it is my view that China are the key to the situation. They support North Korea because they would not want to see the Americans occupy the land. It is this Chinese support that gives Kim the confidence to sabre-rattle so loudly without worrying about a US invasion, but equally they won’t want him to actually start a war which they would either have to get involved in or let him lose.

How do you think the game will play out?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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