Back in 2016’s November elections, the Obama administration warned Donald Trump’s transition team that North Korea would be the top security priority for the incoming administration. The advice proved to be true; North Korea has increasingly become a threat in 2017. In February, Kim Jong Un allegedly sent North Korean agents internationally to murder his half brother, Kim Jong Nam, as part of a leadership purge. A more imminent threat, North Korea continues to test ballistic missiles, the most recent occurring on July 4th. It was the first successful nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles that theoretically can reach Alaska. This is obviously a snipe at the United States during the most patriotic day of the year.
What does North Korea gain from threatening the United States? Often, North Korea leadership is caricatured as irrational. However, its pursuit of a nuclear weapons program fits into what it believes to be a rational goal—self-preservation. It is not internationally accepted as practical, but based on Libya’s and Iraq’s nuclear surrender, it is understandable that North Korea does not want to fall to the same fate. From North Korea’s point of view, having nuclear weapons makes it untouchable by the United States in addition to showing the North Korean public that Kim Jong Un can keep his country safe from “western imperialists”. It seems to me that North Korea is playing a bargaining game, appearing hawkish to gain leverage over possible negotiations and public favor. From the United State’s point of view, this is completely absurb, yet continues to work for North Korea.
The United States responded to Tuesday’s missile test with a joint military exercise with South Korean forces along the Korean Peninsula’s east coast. Furthermore U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, announced at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council that the United States may need to take military action against North Korea. President Donald Trump vowed in a news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda that the United States “will confront [North Korea] very strongly”. So far, this only means more sanctions on North Korea.
In a pointed tweet at China, Trump writes “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!” This is true as the China Customs report in April shows that there was a 37.4 percent increase in trade between China and North Korea in the first quarter of 2017. However, the overall trend show a decline in trade activity. Nevertheless, China must stop supporting North Korea as it is North Korea’s main life source. The United States should aim its sanctions toward Chinese corporations that fund North Korea’s economic activities.
In fact, the Treasury Department has already taken some measures towards isolating Chinese companies with ties to North Koreans. These measures include sanctions for now, and possibly banning American financial institutions from collaborating with the Bank of Dandong, known for allowing North Koreans to circumvent sanctions. Sanctions against China are risky because the United State’s and China’s economies are intertwined. However, allowing North Korea to continue building a nuclear arsenal is an even more alarming danger. The United States government exists to protect its citizens from foreign attacks, thus it must continue to take difficult measures to ensure safety for its citizens.