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Monday, November 20, 2017

Using Game Theory to Settle Conflict-Does it Apply to North Korea?

Conflict is about disagreement over who has rights over something, deserving of receiving something, or who is limited in future actions. When conflict makes its way into a pitched battle there will need to be a solution at some point or future conflict is likely. Game Theory can help in making better predictions about what type of actions can lead to advantageous outcomes with an opponent like North Korea.

What we do know is that decision makers won't make compromise unless they either have insight of a future outcome or they are put within a position where a compromise is their best outcome. We have seen this in war and our personal lives where self-seeking behavior is curbed through carrot and stick approaches. How those carrot and stick pressures are created should be created through Game Theory.

Game theory can be a tool of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers (Bockova, Slavikova & Porubcanova, 2016).  It seems to predict rational behavior based on a large table of different motivations and outcomes. Let us just hope that everyone is rational or otherwise problems might arise when information is misinterpreted in a semi-delusional manner.

Each player has something to gain or to lose from conflict. Typically conflicts arise through differences in desire and need. As the players work and move against, and sometimes in cooperation with each other, they will create windows of opportunities. The players that recognize these opportunities can leverage their position to gain advantages that lead to future outcomes. Eventually, the game ends when continued playing leads to a high likelihood of loss and players seek to settle while they still have some leverage.

Let us use North Korea as an example. In this scenario there is North Korea, U.S., China, and the International Community involved in a "war game". As a country already secluded from the rest of the world, it is unlikely that further sanctions will work unless those sanctions close North Korea's black market and push China to discontinue all but humanitarian trade.

The game is complex and many players have their own needs making the game a symphony of movement. Within this chaos it is possible to open little cracks of opportunities for North Korea that encourages them to unwittingly take positions that appear to be in their short-term advantage. Yet in their effort to find advantage they become "boxed in" to a position that will be difficult for them to escape once new pressures are created.

Pushing North Korea to willingly make pro-social choices means creating opportunities and punishments that allow them to "save face" during the conflict. The wider strategy may be unknown to them as they jump through political hoops that eventually lead to an agreement, inspection and dismantling of nuclear weapons. Failure to move through the "windows of opportunity" will mean eventual regime change, forcible dismantling, and complete shunning by the international community.

To use game theory in this situation in a way that will lead to an eventual positive outcome it is necessary to engage China and work in a cooperative manner. As long as China continues to passively accept such bad actor behavior and territorial influence protections there will continually be a "life line" to North Korea. They can use their "paternalistic" view of North Korea to influence their decision making. The current path is full of conflict and has a high likelihood of multiple losers in the game. At this point, both China and the U.S. have opportunities to achieve what they want if they mutually create the pressures, punishments, and opportunities for North Korea. The zero-sum game of forcibly removing these weapons is used as a pressure but not necessarily the main strategy.

Blockova, K., Slavikova, G. & Prorubcanova, D. (2016). Game Theory as a Tool of Conflict and Cooperation Solution between Intelligent Rational Decision-Makers in Project Management. International Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10 (4).

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