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Game Theory Analysis on North Korea: Really Just a Game?

Although game theory was originally developed as a tool for analyzing economic actions, it has evolved into an analysis method that can be applied to various fields. Among these fields where there is merit in using this form of analysis is when analyzing international relations, specifically between hostile countries. In the case of North Korea’s relationship with United States, there has been even further escalation between these two nations in the last several years. Recently, North Korea has successfully, or seemingly, developed significant nuclear capability, and has continued to test payload delivery systems that some experts believe could even reach US soil.

The question then becomes, what is the best move for the United States to do in response to North Korea’s aggression. If the United States shuts down North Korea’s nuclear program there would be likely large scale international turmoil as the United States meddled in international affairs. If the US choses to sit by and do nothing, international relations may be preserved, particularly with respect to China, but there is a chance that the leader of North Korea would use these weapons against South Korea, Japan or even the United States.

North Korea really has nothing to lose in this game. The final outcome for them is not good, so any strategy they choose has the same final outcome. The Forbes article sums this up elegantly, “North Korea has clearly decided to maintain the course even in that worst case outcome. If this weren’t true, they would have realized that they would cave in the end, which would mean they are paying a huge price just to lose, which would mean they would cave right now. Since they aren’t caving now, they realize, as we realize, that they, not we, are the winners of the appeasement game.” The United States by waiting too long to change its strategy has essentially already lost the game. They are also betting that Kim Jong Un is also not crazy enough to actually use his nukes once he has strong nuclear capability.

The non-obvious choice is often the best choice in game theory. The United States has already lost the appeasement game and are going further down the rabbit whole with respect to North Korea. Although using force or economic sanctions to limit North Korea could flare international tensions, it is by far the best option for United States policy makers. This is the same strategy they should have used decades earlier, before the North Koreans even had any nuclear capability. Even the mere threat of North Korean, long range nuclear capability should stir Americans. Kim Jong Un has threatened repeatedly to use his arsenal against US soil, why would you wait to allow him further develop their weapon systems? 


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