The United Nations imposed significant new sanctions on North Korea last weekend, in response to the dictatorship’s repeated ballistic missile tests. Kim Jong Un’s regime will be banned from exporting goods and services and cut off from foreign investors, at least to an extent.
This combined effort to confront what is, among other things, the foremost national security threat to the United States, is a big win for President Trump.
Deploying diplomacy backed by the credible use of force, he and his UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, were able to rally the entire 15-member UN Security Council into concerted action. While these sanctions won’t alone bring Kim Jong Un to serious negotiations, they will cause him real pain. Analysts believe the sanctions will cost North Korea around a third of its $3 billion total export market.
While North Korea’s transgressions — it’s evil, so let’s say it plainly — are undeniable, this sanctions vote was far from simple. It required China to change. Beijing would not have done so without believing that Trump might take military action against North Korea. Up until now, China's actions against Kim have been limited. Allowing this vote to pass the United Nations Security Council, where it has a veto, however, demonstrates that when Trump makes a military threat, China takes him seriously.
Trump’s approach has changed everything and shown his ability to do what others have not. Supported by Nikki Haley, Trump has, on China and North Korea at least, strengthened the foundations of American diplomacy. The combination of hard and soft power is important. Authoritarian regimes such as China's are unimpressed if international agreements don't have teeth as well as smiles.
This diplomatic success is also crucial in the precedent it sets. With Iran rapidly advancing its own ballistic missile program, Washington must ensure that hostile adversaries are aware that ballistic missiles offer only existential danger, not security. If North Korea’s ballistic missile program is allowed to rise unchallenged, Iran and others will pursue that technology as their first priority. Why wouldn’t they? If North Korea gains regime security from the possession of ballistic missiles, other regimes will seek the same safety. The stakes are high, considering Iran’s penchant for theologically rooted expansionism and the political sectarianism that defines Middle Eastern politics.