Three weeks before taking office, Donald Trump issued a stark warning to North Korea:
Trump has largely stuck to this tough-guy approach. He has threatened China with tariffs if it doesn’t keep its belligerent client-state in check, and has said that if China won’t stop North Korea then the United States will be forced to act unilaterally.
There was a brief pause in this policy after Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping. “After listening for ten minutes, I realized that it’s not so easy,” Trump said about China’s complicated relationship with North Korea. But since then, Trump has repeatedly responded to North Korean missile tests with saber-rattling, apparently convinced that the threat of a U.S. strike—which is clearly a bluff—would stop North Korea’s missile program in its tracks.
Then on Monday evening North Korea launched a missile capable of reaching Alaska. In response, Trump has stuck to the same flawed approach:
The problem with this strategy isn’t just that it isn’t working, it’s that it has made things worse. Trump’s belligerence has boxed North Korea in—if it were to stop testing intercontinental ballistic missiles now, it would look like it was giving in to Trump’s bluffs. Trump has almost no good options, but he is proving that it is still possible to make a bad situation even worse.