I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no one wants a nuclear war with North Korea. That said, President Trump’s aggressive tactics when it comes to the situation actually have quite a bit of merit.
Last Thursday, Trump announced a new executive order that basically amounts to sanctions against North Korea. The order will increase US authorities’ ability to blacklist individuals, companies, and financial institutions who do business with North Korea. It’s what North Korea expert Stephan Haggard calls “the most significant experiment in the use of secondary sanctions on North Korea to date.”
It’s also not unlike what President Obama pursued in the case of Iran.
The order will allow the Treasury Secretary and the Secretary of State to impose sanctions on any foreign entity who knowingly gets itself involved in “any significant transaction” involving North Korea—or anyone who does business with them.
Sure, it’s a bit heavy-handed. But since when has anything other than financial concerns gotten politicians to play nice?
Speaking of which, it’s worth noting that China has already responded. As soon as the new sanction was announced, China’s central bank immediately told all Chinese banks to stop providing financial services to North Korean customers. This is likely because the sanction could very easily have significant financial repercussions for China in terms of its interactions with the United States.
As far as Trump’s aggressive speeches go, there’s actual precedent for that tactic when it comes to dealing with potentially dangerous world powers. Called the “madman theory,” a similar method was used by President Nixon in dealing with the Soviet Union and North Vietnam during the Cold War. For Nixon’s Operation Giant Lance, he had American bombers loaded with nuclear weapons circle the area just outside of Soviet airspace. It was a risky bluff, but it did frighten the Soviets and their allies into eventually coming to the negotiation table.
Sure, it’s a tricky balance, using aggression to deal with a situation like the one in North Korea. But the combination of sanctions and (carefully orchestrated) bluffs has been effective in the past. So long as President Trump doesn’t go over the line, strong arm tactics may be just what the situation calls for.