Game Theory Scowls at Trump-North Korea Talks

Beware of the zugzwang.

Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s possible meeting with Kim Jong Un to discuss North Korean nuclear weapons is considered a fairly unpredictable event. It’s worth a look at how an economist might use game theory to think about such a summit, if only to explain why there is more room for things to go wrong than to get better.

QuickTake North Korea’s Nukes

Game theorists often approach a problem by first considering where a series of strategies might end up, and then working backward to understand current choices. When it comes to North Korea, the theorist would start with a scenario in which the country is just a few years from having intercontinental missiles able to target major cities in the U.S. That is good for their leadership and very bad for others, including a South Korea that would end up more vulnerable to a North Korean invasion.