Brinkmanship is an old idea, but not such an old word. It was first used in 1956, after US secretary of state John Foster Dulles opined that “the ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art … if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost”. Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic presidential nominee, began to use the term “brinkmanship” in response. He did not intend it as compliment. Now we find ourselves surrounded on all sides by leaders who think they have mastered this “necessary art”. The stakes are blessedly lower, but still high enough to deserve examination. In the US, President Donald Trump has failed to deliver on his promise to get Mexico to pay for his border wall, and has partly shut down the federal government until Congress agrees that the US taxpayer will fund it instead. Voters will reach their own conclusions as to who is to blame. In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May wants parliament to vote for the unappetising Brexit deal she has...

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