Souring Relations Between the United States and Russia May Impact North Korea Diplomacy

The Security Council is reportedly close to a new draft resolution ramping up sanctions on North Korea. The new round of diplomacy kicked off in earnest last month after North Korea tested a ballistic missile on July 4.

Since then, relations between two veto-wielding Security Council members — the United States and Russia — have continued to deteriorate.

Now, a key question surrounding possibly UN-action on North Korea is whether or not acrimony between the United States and Russia will meaningfully affect the Council’s ability to impose new sanctions on North Korea.

According to the latest news reports, China and the United States are close to agreeing on a draft resolution. Typically, that is all it would take for a Council resolution on North Korea to pass.  Once those two countries agree on a draft, they formally present it to the full 15 member body for a rubber stamp.

Informally, the United States generally shares updates with the UK and France through the negotiating process. Likewise, China usually keeps Russia posted on key elements of the draft before it’s formally shared and negotiated between the whole Council. But when China and the United States agree, the other veto wielding members generally let them own the process and take the lead.

What is different this time around is that Russia has been signaling that it may object to whatever China and the United States agree. From Michelle Nichols of Reuters:

“Even if there is an agreement between the U.S. and China, it doesn’t mean there is an agreement between the P5 members,” said Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who met with Liu earlier on Thursday and discussed a possible resolution.

“Maybe there is a bilateral agreement (between Beijing and Washington), but that’s not a universal one,” he said, adding that while he was aware of what might be in the resolution he had not seen “the draft as it stands now.”

If Russia does, indeed, decide to throw a wrench in this process it would be an aberration to how diplomacy on North Korea generally proceeds at the Security Council. It would also be a fairly obvious sign that souring relations between the United States and Russia, including the decision by the United States to impose new sanctions on Russian entities is having a demonstrable effect on North Korea diplomacy at the Council.