This blog post is based on an earlier version of a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) post and video interview that can be viewed here.
After seven rounds of meetings and 133 days, the ongoing Kaesong Industrial Complex negotiations between the two Koreas culminated into a five-point agreement. The agreement’s key provisions included language to not disrupt operations within the complex unilaterally, provide for the guarantee of safety of Kaesong assets and workers, restore customs and telecommunications operations, maintain and promote the complex to attract international investments, and the creation of a joint Kaesong Industrial Complex committee
What led to the bargaining breakthrough? The first six rounds of talks were mainly fruitless efforts of what negotiation analysts refer to as “positional bargaining,” in which each party states and restates its positions on a particular issue. Such positional jockeying can often lead to impasse, and even at times, a strategy of purposeful strategic non-cooperation in a form of “prisoner’s dilemma” (a simulation game in which two parties have a choice to cooperate or betray one another). This seemed to be the case with North Korea, which took the view that elongating and escalating the Kaesong negotiation process would yield a net benefit—the same modus operandi it employs with its ongoing nuclear nonproliferation negotiations.
If North Korea viewed the Kaesong bargaining process as a prisoner’s dilemma, then what does it take to break its bad behavior? In prisoner’s dilemma, players betray rather than cooperate mostly out of fear and distrust, viewing the outcome as a zero-sum game in which player A’s gain must come at the expense of player B. But if fear can be mitigated and trust furthered, a greater likelihood towards cooperation exists.
With such agreement leading to other talks related to inter-Korean relations, the one open question now is just how long the Kaesong agreement will last? If precedent is any indicator, it won’t take too long before discord strikes again.
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Below is Jasper Kim’s video interview with the WSJ today: