Nixon's Madman theory, Trump, Putin.

I must admit that I was, before the recent NYT article about their foreign policy interview with Trump referenced it (see below), ignorant of Nixon’s “Madman theory.”

About the Madman theory:

It seems to me that Putin to some degree has adopted that position (or is in fact crazy) and used it to some degree of success.

Lawd knows the world would be convinced that Trump would be irrational and volatile. I know I am so convinced.

The point of this thread however is not to discuss Trump but the rationale of the Madman theory. Was Nixon correct or does predictability help foster international stability?

no, it does not. If you don’t know what people might do, you don’t know what they might do. So you have to be ready for anything, including missiles coming at you. Launch on warning? Not good, given that warnings could be wrong.

Unpredictability might enhance one side’s advantage. If we don’t know if Putin will or will not invade Lithuania, we have to devote resources to be ready to react to that possibility…no matter how insane it is in reality.

But it does the exact opposite of promote stability.

It has worked for many years for NK’s Kims, too. All it does is make people fear and hate you, and militarily contain you if they can, and launch terrorist attacks if they can’t.

You don’t even have to act mad, either. Just let the country whose leadership wants to get you portray you as mad to their people, and they’ll get behind a war on you. Just ask Saddam.

Putin doesn’t seem “mad” to me. His interests don’t always coincide with the US’s but that’s not madness necessarily.

He is motivated by his own lust for power, like Saddam was, and is guided by Russia’s history of empire, including the Soviet period. Not madness.

Although declaring someone to be mad is certainly a convenient way to excuse yourself from dealing with him instead of warring with him, isn’t it?

In foreign policy I can see how unpredictable is a good thing, while mad man is a bad thing. I also think strong man is a different issue altogether. To me Putin is a strong man in foreign policy.

The one that makes me wonder is the little man in North Korea. Definitely a strong man, or trying to be internally, also in his own way is predictable. Does he cross the barrier over to mad man is what I wonder.

The problem with the madman theory is that it eliminates the ability to build trust with ones adversary. Consider the prisoner’s dilemma. A good strategy for repeated games against the same opponent is to cooperate so long as your opponent does likewise but to punish betrayal by you opponent with immediate reprisal. This will generally result in an optimal strategy of mutual cooperation for both sides.

However against a pure madman, the optimal strategy will always be against cooperation.

Funny, I came in to compare this to the prisoner’s dilemma as well, where madman and cooperation are comparable to confession and silence respectively. I think the real difference, though, is that, at least for Nixon, and any “players” in a cold war version, there really is only one iteration. In an ideal world, we’re all better off cooperating, but just like in the prisoner’s dilemma–where the global optimum may be cooperation, the personal optimum is always achieved by confessing–you only get once chance to play because the stakes are potential annihilation, so it unfortunately leads to sub-optimal global results like mutually assured destruction and unpredictable leaders.

Even in an adversarial context I’m dubious unpredictability garners any kind of valuable advantage. The crazier you appear only dilutes your adversaries conflicts with each other. “Listen, I know we have some bad blood and all from the hostage crisis awhile back, but that Nixon dude is batshit. How about we work together?”

Nixon would lie to his Secret Service about crap like the date of his wife’s birthday, not sure he was the calculating political genius he is made out to be by some cause that sounds more like a mild mental illness.

I’ll throw this out.

Lets assume you are a “reasonable guy”. Somebody wants X. You’'ll give Y. And the negotiations continue.

If you are a bit “too” “easy”, the “other guys” figure out it is pretty easy to push you to the limit of what you’ll accept…and that limit will be at the limit of what any “reasonable” guy will take.

OTOH, you can be a “reasonable” guy…but also the “crazy guy”…but if they push you too far and you go batshit crazy and go all “fuck you bastards…now I’m going two steps back and you can take it or suck on it for all I care” then the other side will probably be a bit hesitant to push the negotiations to the point of maximum benefit for themselves.