Playing poker with another party who holds the keys to nuclear weapons (literal, metaphorical, or figurative), and has given indications based on experience that they will be willing to deploy them, is a dangerous game.
The stakes are high, but not for the obvious reasons of total physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological annihilation.
The stakes are high for three reasons:
No one really knows another party’s motivations, needs, or interests. Unless we ask. And far too often our inherent selfishness in pursuing outcomes that benefit us exclusively, blinds us to the simple need to do some discovery about the other party.
Sometimes, only one person has cared enough to explore another party’s motivations, needs, or interests.
But then they use this knowledge cynically, to manipulate and exploit other parties who are more ignorant—and more selfish.
The far rarer case is that the party who has the knowledge and cares, shares; unselfishly, openly, and with the purpose of avoiding—or minimizing—disastrous outcomes.
Egos, self-interest, and selfishness tend to override rationality and logic in even the most innocuous negotiations. When potential destruction is the thing on offer, all bets are off.
The fact is, people at the individual level are irrational and emotional and in moments of high stress, tend to make short-cut choices that relieve tension in the amygdala, but create further problems down the road.
If the other party isn’t talking to a rational actor (such as it is) on the other side of the negotiation table, or leads with principles rather than interests, the changes of an undesirable outcome increase tremendously.
The appearance of being willing to do what the other party is either to scared, to demoralized, or to invested in alternative outcomes (their own BATNAs and WATNAs, for instance) to do, is sometimes enough to “win” the high stakes game of poker played with nuclear weapons (literal, metaphorical, or figurative).
Unfortunately, this sets a precedent in the mind and approach of the “losing” party around the potential for blackmail, coercion, or something even worse—subservience and the appearance of weakness.
The person who is willing to walk into a nuclear negotiation and deal fairly, transparently, and unselfishly with each party in the conflict is the one who wins the day today and tomorrow.
And not just a moral victory either.