After its nuclear test on Monday which generated international condemnation, North Korea reportedly fired several short-range missiles the following day. These actions by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il – who has been accused of acting and being irrational – raises the question of what you should do if you’re faced with someone similar.
First, determine if your counterpart is seemingly irrational or truly irrational. How can you tell? Research your counterpart’s past behavior and evaluate whether he consistently acts irrationally only on issues that help him. If so, he’s probably just trying to gain a strategic advantage. If this is the case, just ignore his behavior and proceed as in any other highly competitive negotiation.
But what if your counterpart is truly irrational?
Consider whether you even want to do a deal. The strength of an agreement, once completed, is based on your counterpart’s willingness and ability to fulfill his end of the bargain. If your counterpart is truly irrational, who knows if he will stick with the deal? It’s usually better to just walk – if you can.
In Kim Jong-il’s case, he clearly has used the perception that he is crazy to his advantage and has benefited from it over the years. This suggests he is very rational, albeit extremely adversarial and competitive.
Unfortunately, the international community has relatively weak leverage with North Korea. But we do have some, and hopefully we can pull everyone together – including China – and let Kim Jong-il and North Korea know that these actions have negative consequences for them.