Report

Trump Admin. Seeks U.N. Authorization to Use Military Force Against North Korean Smuggling Vessels

The controversial draft is likely to get pushback from Russia and China.

TOPSHOT - This picture from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) taken on August 29, 2017 and released on August 30, 2017 shows North Korea's intermediate-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 lifting off from the launching pad at an undisclosed location near Pyongyang.
Nuclear-armed North Korea said on August 30 that it had fired a missile over Japan the previous day, the first time it has ever acknowledged doing so. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT   ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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TOPSHOT - This picture from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) taken on August 29, 2017 and released on August 30, 2017 shows North Korea's intermediate-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 lifting off from the launching pad at an undisclosed location near Pyongyang. Nuclear-armed North Korea said on August 30 that it had fired a missile over Japan the previous day, the first time it has ever acknowledged doing so. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by STR has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [at an undisclosed location near Pyongyang] instead of [in Pyongyang]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States is seeking United Nations authorization to use military force to board and seize North Korean smuggling vessels on the high seas, dramatically escalating the Trump administration’s nuclear standoff with the Hermit Kingdom, according to a draft resolution obtained by Foreign Policy.

The push for a green light for military action was included in a sweeping U.S. draft Security Council resolution that would ban Pyongyang’s export of oil, liquid gas, and textiles, and forbid the employment of North Korean laborers, who are required to send home a big chunk of their earnings. The draft would also hit North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, his government, and the ruling Worker’s Party, with sanctions.

The United State’s latest diplomatic gambit comes just days after North Korea on September 3 detonated its sixth, and by far its most powerful, nuclear explosion, triggering widespread expressions of condemnation from Beijing to Moscow and Washington, D.C. In response, the Trump administration is looking to target key economic sectors that contribute to pouring up to $3 billion-a-year in revenue into the North Korean economy — money that U.S. policy-makers believe is funding its nuclear weapons program.

The initiative is likely to face tough pushback from Russia and China, who have both been pressing the administration to resolve its difference with Pyongyang through negotiations. In a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Vladivostok, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said that his government firmly opposes the imposition of an oil embargo on North Korea. “We should not act out of emotions and push North Korea into a dead end,” Putin said, according South Korean reporters cited by the New York Times. “We must act with calm and avoid steps that could raise tensions.”

The 13-page draft condemns North Korea’s Sept. 2 hydrogen bomb test and its “flagrant disregard” of numerous previous Security Council resolutions that prohibit Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile activities. North Korea, the draft states, “shall immediately suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and … immediately abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”

The resolution would authorize member states, including the United States, to “use all necessary measures” to “interdict and inspect” cargo vessels that have been designated as sanctions violators by the U.N. Security Council. It would also empower a U.N. Security Council sanctions committee to designate vessels for “non-consensual inspections.”

Security Council diplomats say that Russia and China have both been briefed on the draft resolution, but have not expressed support. On Wednesday, the United States went ahead and distributed the text to all 15 members of the council.

The move comes just one month after the U.S. secured passage of a resolution banning the export of coal, North Korea’s largest source of foreign revenue, and iron, lead and seafood. The U.S. claimed that resolution — which was adopted unanimously in response to two reported intercontinental ballistic missile launches in July — would cut off as much as $1 billion in revenues that could be used to support Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear weapons program.

Council diplomats said that the draft sets the stage for a likely showdown between the U.S., Britain and other close allies on the one side and Russia and China on the other. One provision in the American draft text would close a loophole that permitted the export of coal, iron or iron ore through a single border crossing into Russia from the North Korean town of Rajin.

One senior council diplomat who reviewed the text said that it was “doubtful” that Russia and China, two of the council’s five veto-wielding members would let the resolution pass. “But at least the world will see who’s who.”

Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

This story has been updated.

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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