On Friday, president Trump announced that his administration would be hitting North Korea with the “heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before.” The new penalties target dozens of ships and shipping companies that have (allegedly) been helping Pyongyang sustain its economy — and thus, its nuclear program. Specifically, these firms have allegedly enabled Kim Jong Un’s regime to evade previous sanctions by helping it trade illicitly with other countries while at sea, as opposed to on land, where such verboten commerce would be more easily detected.
The move represents an escalation of the White House’s latest strategy for combating the North Korean nuclear program: Pursue direct talks with Pyongyang — while imposing maximum economic pain on the regime — in hopes of forcing Kim Jong Un to denuclearize without unleashing “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
There are a couple of flaws with this gambit. First, it does little to prevent the Chinese from continuing to keep their eccentric allies afloat; and second, it does nothing to stop the irrational actor in the Oval Office from poisoning the prospects of a diplomatic agreement with homicidal bluster.
The latter liability became abundantly clear Friday afternoon, when a reporter asked the president about his North Korea policy.
“If the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go to Phase 2,” Trump replied. “Phase 2 may be a very rough thing. May be very, very unfortunate for the world.”
In other words: If North Korea does not meet my demands, I will deliberately inflict something “very, very unfortunate” on the entire world.
This might sound like a maniacal threat fit for a Bond villain. But if launching a globally devastating war is the only way to preempt the possibility of a globally devastating war, then what choice do we really have? How could we possibly trust that crackpot dictator with the nuclear weapon? I mean, have you heard the things he says?