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Tobin Harshaw

Winning the Nuclear Game Against North Korea

Vipin Narang, a political science professor at MIT, thinks many moves ahead in the international chess of modern deterrence.

It's like chess, with nuclear weapons.

It's like chess, with nuclear weapons.

Photographer: Nicky J. Sims/Getty Images for Kaspersky Lab

As an undergraduate, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the library. In part, as you probably guessed, because I was a fairly indifferent student. But there was also the problem of the loopy barking man in the corner. None of us had any idea who he was or what he was doing making such a racket in the reading room – possibly someone off the street who had cadged a student ID?

Well, everybody knows now, and not just because he won a Nobel Prize in economics or (far more significantly) was played in a movie by Russell Crowe. Between those canine outbursts, John Nash’s beautiful mind was pushing forward on game theory, as were other economists including John Harsanyi, who shared the Nobel with Nash, and Thomas Schelling, who won it a decade later. Nash’s work is largely theoretical – although vital if you’re willing to spend your idle hours contemplating the prisoner’s dilemma (sorry, it’s no help with Fortnite). Schelling’s oeuvre is more practical, especially if you spend your idle hours contemplating nuclear Armageddon like yours truly.