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Can Donald Trump manage nuclear diplomacy with North Korea? It’s unlikely

TrumpIn Nuclear Poker, Don’t Bet on Trump, Bloomberg JAN 19, 2017 BY  Is North Korea’s belligerent young leader, Kim Jong-un, bluffing when he says the “last stage” is underway for testing a ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S.? What about President-elect Donald Trump, when he tweets, “It won’t happen“?

As Trump’s administration begins, a showdown with North Korea over ICBMs seems all but inevitable. Just yesterday, South Korean media reported possible signs that the North may be preparing a new missile launch. In managing this conflict, few things will be more crucial than understanding the nature of bluffing. Unfortunately, for all his talk of being a good deal maker, Trump is a terrible bluffer — and his lack of skill is likely to destabilize nuclear politics.

A bluff is an untrue but plausible story. In the mindsport of poker, bluffs work when your opponent believes you have a better hand, so he can’t call your bet or raise, conceding you the pot. The savvier player wants to steadily grind away at the stack of his opponent over a large number of small pots, without risking too many of his own chips in any single hand. The weaker player can counter the “small ball” strategy by raising all-in fairly often, forcing all-or-nothing confrontations.

To understand why these dynamics are so crucial in nuclear negotiation, consider the work of John von Neumann, the prodigiously gifted polymath who immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in 1933 and later contributed to the Manhattan Project. Von Neumann loved poker because its strategy involves guile, probability, luck and budgetary acumen, but is never transparent; it always depends on the counterstrategies deployed by opponents.

 Expert players misrepresent the strength of their hands, simulate irrational behavior, and deploy other mind games to confuse their opponents. In a nutshell, they bluff. It was von Neumann’s efforts to express bluffs in mathematical terms that helped him develop game theory, which has numerous real-world applications, nuclear strategy foremost among them……..

Trump bluffs almost constantly. He has spent his entire adult life overstating the value of his real estate holdings and branding endeavors, while bragging relentlessly about his wealth, sex life, length off the tee, and on and on. His bluffs during the campaign — that he had a replacement for Obamacare, a secret plan to defeat Islamic State and so on — were plainly false to anyone paying attention. To Trump, what was true hardly mattered.

Such tendencies would not serve him well in a poker game. Any player who continually misrepresents the size of his hand would cause sharp opponents to give his bets little credit. They’d simply wait for above-average hands and call him. As Daniel Negreanu, the all-time winningest poker tournament player, put it to me, “Trump’s bluffs are very effective against level-one thinkers. His lies are so outlandish that people think they have to be true or he wouldn’t have said it. The constant barrage makes him tougher to read. But sharper players would pick him apart.”

Kim may not be irrational, but he knows how to seem that he is, which gives him leverage. Kim’s contempt for most North Koreans means that he has less to lose by threatening to nuke an American city. The more we know about his pretensions to deity, his labor camps, the food and electricity shortages his policies have prolonged, the easier it is to believe he might sacrifice millions of Koreans in an absurd attempt to save face. Kim isn’t threatening to defeat the U.S., a bluff no one would credit; he’s trying to prove he could grievously injure it before dying himself, a bluff that must be taken seriously. As Negreanu puts it, Kim is “a scary player. Being unpredictable, capable of any move at any time, makes him hard to prepare for.”

In such circumstances, Trump’s long history of empty boasts is destabilizing. Kim may calculate that he has renewed leverage to push for concessions from the U.S. He might engage in riskier behavior, such as firing more test missiles or launching cyberattacks. Almost certainly, he’ll persist in developing missiles that can reach the U.S., calculating all the while that Trump’s Twitter outbursts are simply talk.

That may be true. But what if, for once in his life, Trump means what he says? What if he can’t bear to have his bluff called, and really is tempted to launch a preemptive attack if it looks like North Korea poses a real threat to the U.S. mainland?……..https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-01-19/in-nuclear-poker-don-t-bet-on-trump

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January 21, 2017 - Posted by | North Korea, politics international, USA, weapons and war

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