“…the practice of pushing dangerous events to the verge (or brink) of disaster in order to achieve the most favorable outcome.” ~ Wikipedia

Depending on the source, the term “brinkmanship” is attributed to either John Foster Dulles or Adlai Stevenson in connection with President Eisenhower’s policies for containing the spread of communism by limiting the then Soviet Union to its existing boundaries. Then as now, the practice involves a series of escalating threats from both sides, with the very real possibility of mutual destruction if neither side yields to the demands of the other. Brinkmanship has been used in a number of international situations since then, most notably during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Korean War, and the Berlin (wall) Crisis, all of the Cold War era.

As hard as I find it to believe, brinkmanship was considered a successful strategy during the Cuban Missile Crisis because the U.S. and the Soviet Union were evenly matched in terms of their military capabilities and each knew the other was well able to deliver on its threats. Credible overt threats somehow led to a diplomatic agreement where the both Soviet Union and the U.S. agreed to remove missiles from Cuba and Turkey respectively.

Over the last several years it seems we have been exposed to a never-ending saga of economic brinkmanship. In the U.S., our elected representatives seem more intent on promoting their respective party’s political agendas than they are in conducting the people’s business—the most publicized outcome of this ongoing debacle was the lowering of the country’s credit rating in 2011. Elsewhere there’s the epic struggle between the European Union and some of its component countries to figure out a way to resolve national economic crises without destroying the entire EU, except the separate countries seem more interested in engaging in nation-centric economic brinkmanship than considering themselves as part of the overall EU.

Note to readers:  Part of the motivation behind my “colloquialisms and idioms” theme for this round of Jenny Matlock’s AlphabeThursday meme is to investigate words and phrases that I hear (or use) without a full understanding of their origins. “Brinkmanship” is a case in point—I had no idea when I selected this term that it would turn out to be such a dark, disturbing, depressing topic. So in an attempt to lighten it up a bit, I offer you this (instructive) exchange between the primary characters of a 1989 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ~

Commander William T. Riker: Close call.
Captain Jean-Luc Piccard: Too close, Number One. Brinkmanship is a dangerous game.

5 thoughts on ““brinkmanship”

  1. Interesting and enlightening. It’s amazing to me that I lived through many of these events but as a child had so little understanding of the critical nature of what was occurring around me.

  2. Pingback: Smile! « Tidbits & Treasures

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