In the aftermath of Pyongyang's ground-shaking hydrogen bomb test, the US has circulated a proposal around the UN Security Council that would grant its Navy unprecedented powers to use "all necessary measures" to hunt down North Korean ships at sea, the New York Times reports.
The resolution would let the US stop all shipments of crude oil, petroleum, and natural gas to North Korea, according to The Times.
Such a step would cause many in North Korea to freeze over the winter, which can hit harshly in much of the country.
The US Navy would have to intercept and board North Korean ships and inspect them, a process that would require cooperation from the belligerent nation and make it extremely likely that violence would break out between the countries.
North Korean cargo vessel Dai Hong Dan. Photo from US Navy.
The US's proposed resolution would allow all UN member nations to "designate vessels for non-consensual inspections" of North Korean ships and "to inspect on the high seas any vessel designated by the committee," according to The Times.
While North Korea does have some anti-ship weaponry on its surface navy, it also fields as many as 70 submarines that could become a factor in any confrontations at sea.
Though the move stops short of a full-on blockade of North Korea, which would basically qualify as an act of war, it recalls the US's 1941 oil embargo on Japan, a prelude to the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor that dragged the US into World War II.
The proposed resolution comes while the US, South Korea, and Japan jockey to get China, North Korea's main trading partner, to crack down on Pyongyang.
Aerial port side view of a North Korean Navy T-Class patrol combatant. Photo from US Navy.
While China has agreed broadly to increased UN action, it's unclear if Beijing would back a move that could cause the death of many ordinary North Koreans and possibly cause an influx of refugees. Historically, China has agreed to sanctions on North Korea in the wake of nuclear tests.
Russia, another member of the UN Secruity Council, has expressed unwillingness to engage in further sanctions. North Korea has preemptively said it would offer "powerful counter measures" if US-backed sanctions went through.
A resolution that seems destined to create violent encounters at sea could easily escalate into a large-scale confrontation, as North Korea has viciously attacked South Korean vessels in the past and the US has recently promised "massive" and "overwhelming" responses to aggression from Pyongyang.