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Strategic Irrationality in Political Leadership

In the history of American politics game theory has consistently been used to form strategies, both on domestic and international levels.  This article describes the growing conflict between the United States and North Korea – more specifically the leaders of these countries.  Donald Trump’s decisions are often seen as irrational and he seems to portray a “madman” rather than a rational leader weighing the consequences of a nuclear war.  He freely throws out statements threating a nuclear attack.  This article challenges that this “madman” act may only be a façade that Trump is purposefully acting out in game theory fashion to benefit his political strategy.  By this theory he is trying to convince North Korea into thinking he will make an irrational decision, so that they will in turn act in a way that is beneficial to the U.S.

Richard Nixon’s actions during the Vietnam War are given as an example of another instance of the “madman theory.”  Nixon chose to threaten Russia with the use of nuclear weapons and act irrationally so Russia would in turn feel compelled to discuss ending the war with the Vietnamese.  Although unsuccessful, the concept of using a strong, even seemingly crazy, strategy that threatens a foreign power to back down is a reoccurring theme that is now appearing in the Trump Presidency.

This decision-making concept relates back to game theory and the Hawk-Dove strategy.  One player consistently picks an aggressive strategy – the hawk – while the other chooses a more passive strategy – the dove. In the case of Trump and North Korea, both are attempting to play the Hawk strategy, but Trump is taking it to another level by acting like a “madman.”  By threatening to make choices that are detrimental to both parties, the goal of this strategy is to force the opponent to want to pacify the extremist side and make a decision that may be against their own interests, but more favorable than the destructive alternative.  When it comes to Trump however, it is unclear if he really is strategically acting irrationally to push the game theory technique, or if this irrationality is purely a character trait.



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