It’s no surprise that New Zealand strongly endorsed the UN Security Council’s latest sanctions against North Korea. One stone accounted for three birds. The first is Wellington’s concern that Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear program threatens regional stability and the prospects for nuclear disarmament. The second is that a response authorized by the Council is a big tick in the international legitimacy and rules-based system boxes. The third is that this response reflected US-China cooperation. That’s not only good for Wellington’s view of regional order, but also for hopes that President Trump may be thinking twice about setting off a trade war with China.
But as New Zealand’s diplomats will know, we have been here before. North Korea has already rejected the new measures and is unlikely to show much sign of slowing its missile and nuclear programs. China may have approved the additional sanctions. And its Foreign Minister criticized North Korea on the sidelines of a recent ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Manila. But few expect Beijing to place maximum pressure on its wayward ally: for all its faults, North Korea remains a buffer state for China. And even if Beijing did maximize the economic pressure, few would expect Pyongyang to suddenly stop in its proliferation tracks. Barring regime collapse, the world will be dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs for some time to come.