The End of Maximum Pressure on N.Korea?
The "death sentence" for the U.S.' "maximum pressure" strategy against North Korea came suddenly. U.S. President Donald Trump said on June 1 after his meeting with North Korean apparatchik Kim Yong-chol, "I don't even want to use the term 'maximum pressure' anymore because I don't want to use that term because we're getting along." And just like that the term disappeared from White House briefings.
Instead, Trump said existing sanctions against the North will continue, but that sounds implausible. A strategy of sanctions is like a cat-and-mouse game. The subject constantly looks for ways to avoid them, while the enforcing side keeps on looking for possible weaknesses. Without additional pressure, existing sanctions are useless.
In a cabinet meeting last week, Trump admitted China's enforcement of sanctions against the North along its border is "getting a little weaker now." But he added, "That's OK." In other words, negotiations will continue even if some sanctions end.
The "maximum pressure" strategy lasted only a year and two months. There is no way of telling how much of an impact the strategy had on Kim Jong-un, but the move certainly brought attention to the North Korean nuclear menace and made the international community join sanctions.
Now that maximum pressure is dead, holes have started opening along the China-North Korea border. Radio Free Asia reported that China's border patrols eased recently, resulting in the smuggling of fertilizer and cars into the North. Chinese banks, which until recently had refused to handle wire transfers by aid groups, made comments hinting at resumed transactions with the North.
Knowing Trump, he may resume maximum pressure at any moment, but it will be impossible to achieve the same level of commitment since China and Russia have already begun demanding an end to such measures.
Perhaps we have lost our opportunity to sanction the North. Now the only options we have left are negotiations and war.
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