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Opinion
Tyler Cowen

North Korea Is Playing a Longer Game Than the U.S.

Its leader for life, Kim Jong Un, is only 33, and likely to long outlive Donald Trump.
A thirtysomething idol.

A thirtysomething idol.

Source: KCNA via AFP/Getty Images

If we think through the North Korea nuclear weapons dilemma using game theory, one aspect of the problem deserves more attention, namely the age of the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un: 33. Because peaceful exile doesn’t appear to be an option -- his escaping the country safely would be hard -- Kim needs strategies for hanging on to power for 50 years or more. That’s a tall order, but it helps us understand that his apparently crazy tactics are probably driven by some very reasonable calculations, albeit selfish and evil ones.

It is very difficult to predict the world a half-century out. Fifty years ago, China was just coming out of the Cultural Revolution, and Japan’s rise was not yet so evident. North Korea was possibly still richer than the South, which in 1960 was one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s unlikely anyone had a reasonable inkling of where things would stand today.