Wednesday, March 12, 2003

More game theory in UN negotiations

I was never a big fan of game theory, but I took a negotiations class this quarter where we used it often and I found it offered interesting insights.

For example, Rumsfeld declared that the US may go to war with Iraq without Britain. Britain is upset, and people call Bush & Co a "bunch of posturing teenagers in a schoolyard. Pathetic."

But it's clear that Britain needs a UN resolution and the US does not, and since France and its allies, who oppose the US action, understand this they withheld UN support to pressure the US through Britain. This was predictable the moment the British Parliament required Blair to get a UN mandate. It is also worth noting that the UN is the only avenue France has to pressure the US since they lack the military and economic clout to use other channels.

And just as Bush announcing he is willing to go to war without UN approval reduced the leverage France (through the UN) has on US foreign policy, Rumsfled announcing that the US would go to war without Britain reduces the leverage France (through the US's reliance on Britain, and Britain's reliance on the UN) has on US foreign policy.

If people don't understand "What on earth was [Rumsfeld] thinking?" when he made his remarks I would invite them to think through America's interests, France's interests, the bargaining chips each side holds, and what they can do to strengthen their own position and weaken their opponents'. Rumsfeld said what he did to weaken France.

The US deciding to go through the UN at all actually strengthened the French hand dramatically, which may end up costing them their ally, Tony Blair. Perhaps the US did not understand France's interests when making their decision.

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