February 2013 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2013
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In February, Ambassador Sylvie Lucas (Luxembourg), the new chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, is scheduled to provide a 90-day report to Council members.

These quarterly briefings on the Committee’s work tend to be technical in nature, and no Council action is expected following the meeting.

Key Recent Developments

Significant developments have taken place since Council members received their last briefing on the DPRK sanctions on 29 November 2012. In keeping with its earlier announcements, on 12 December the DPRK launched the second version of what it called a Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite into orbit. The launch took place amidst widespread calls from the international community for Pyongyang not to proceed and warnings that it would be in violation of Security Council resolutions. (Following a DPRK nuclear test on 25 May 2009, resolution 1874 demanded that Pyongyang not conduct “any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology” and stated that the country must “suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme.”)

Unlike a failed 13 April 2012 attempt, the DPRK’s most recent launch successfully entered its satellite into orbit. In a 13 December news release, the KCNA news agency quoted Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un as saying that the launch showed the “unshakeable stand” of the DPRK to exercise its right to use space for peaceful purposes and to develop its science, technology and economy.

The launch was widely and swiftly condemned. The US said that the rocket used ballistic missile technology expressly prohibited by Council resolutions, threatened regional security, violated resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 and undermined the global non-proliferation regime. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon—whose own nation, the Republic of Korea (ROK), is still technically at war with its northern neighbour and is serving a two-year term on the Council—deplored the launch. China expressed “regret”, while Russia said the action flouted the opinion of the international community.

As for the Council, consultations were held on 12 December to discuss the launch. The private meeting—to which the five incoming members, including the ROK, were invited as observers—saw a robust exchange of ideas, with differences reportedly most pronounced between China and the US.

Following the meeting, the Council President (Morocco) read out “elements” to the press that had been agreed by members. The remarks condemned the launch as a “clear violation” of resolutions 1718 and 1874. The statement also recalled the 16 April 2012 presidential statement (S/PRST/2012/13) in which the Council demanded that the DPRK not proceed with further launches and expressed its “determination to take action accordingly in the event of a further DPRK launch.” Finally, the statement noted that Council members would “continue consultations on an appropriate response.”

Following what Washington described as “intense deliberations” between China and the US, reports emerged on 18 January that a tentative agreement had been reached. The US had stated that the launch warranted a strong Council pronouncement and favoured a resolution further sanctioning the DPRK. China was more cautious, long favouring a “proportional” response to actions by its neighbour in violation of the sanctions regime. (In the past, it has only given its consent to the adoption of Council resolutions sanctioning Pyongyang following its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.) While China said that it was working “constructively” on an appropriate response, it noted that the Council’s reaction should be “prudent, moderate, and conducive to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula” and should prevent the situation from escalating further.

The end result was a compromise, with China and the US agreeing that the Council pronouncement would be a resolution, as Washington had sought. However, rather than imposing another round of sanctions on the DPRK, the two agreed that the text would simply strengthen the existing sanctions. Following the announcement that a deal had been struck, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin (Russia) said that he both expected his country to support the text and that members would not have any “serious problems” with it. On 21 January, the US circulated the draft resolution among all Council members.

The text, which was adopted on 22 January as resolution 2087, condemned the launch, noting that it used ballistic missile technology and violated existing resolutions. The resolution demanded that Pyongyang not proceed with further prohibited launches and that it suspend activities related to its ballistic missile programme. (In the penultimate paragraph, the Council expressed its determination to take “significant action in the event of a further DPRK launch or nuclear test.”) The resolution also contained two annexes. The first listed four DPRK individuals to be subject to the existing travel ban and asset freeze; the second annex designated six entities—five in the DPRK and one in Hong Kong—to be subject to an asset freeze. This included the “Korean Committee for Space Technology”, which—according to the resolution—“orchestrated the DPRK’s launches on 13 April 2012 and 12 December 2012.”

The Council also directed the 1718 Committee to issue an implementation assistance notice concerning the authorised inspections of vessels relevant to the sanctions regime.

Pyongyang’s response to the 22 January resolution was swift. In a 24 January statement it said that the Council had turned into a “defunct marionette international body on which no hope can be pinned.” It singled out the US as the “sworn enemy of the Korean people” and held Washington and its “hostile policy” primarily responsible for what it deemed to be an encroachment of its sovereignty. Most notably, Pyongyang said that it would launch further long-range rockets and conduct “a nuclear test of higher level.”

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 14 January, Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for an independent international inquiry into serious human rights crimes committed over decades in the DPRK, urging the international community to focus more on the deplorable human rights situation in the country. She expressed dismay at the living conditions and practices surrounding political prison camps, deplored the use of the death penalty for minor offenses after inadequate judicial processes and highlighted the need to clarify the fate of ROK and Japanese citizens who have been abducted by DPRK agents over the years.

Key Issues

The principal concern for the Council is that events do not further escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula to the point where the fragile peace and stability is gravely jeopardised.

Preventing the DPRK from continuing to flout Council resolutions, in particular by undertaking another nuclear test, is a key related concern for the Council.

A broader issue is whether Council pronouncements tightening the sanctions regime against the DPRK are effective in dissuading Pyongyang from taking prohibited actions.

Options

The Council could wait and see if Pyongyang follows through on its assertion that it will launch additional rockets and test a nuclear device and then determine what “significant action” it should take. (This could involve implementing a third round of sanctions against the DPRK or adding further designations.)

Another option would be for the Council to take a different approach—using “carrots” rather than “sticks”—and undertake easing existing sanctions if the DPRK commits no further violations, say, by the end of 2013.

One unlikely option would be for the Council to recommend the DPRK’s suspension from the UN, pursuant to Article 5 of the UN Charter or, if it deems that Pyongyang has “persistently violated” the principles of the Charter, it could recommend to the General Assembly that it be expelled (Article 6).

It is more likely that efforts to influence the DPRK’s conduct will be pursued at the regional level among key actors.

Council Dynamics

Some analysts considered China’s acquiescence to resolution 2087 a significant blow to Pyongyang, given Beijing’s traditionally close ties to the DPRK. But behind closed doors China has in the past accepted the need to condemn its neighbour’s prohibited acts, and recent negotiations with the US seemed destined to result in additional designations, although China would seemingly have preferred a presidential statement. The DPRK-related dynamic within the Council has been dominated in recent times by the differences between China and the US, and these states have opted to reach agreement bilaterally and then present a draft text to Council members for adoption.

Council members across the board have acknowledged that if Pyongyang violates its obligations, the Council should take action. Though several members reiterate that sanctions ought to not be an end in themselves, there is a prevailing view that the Council should tighten measures in cases of non-compliance. Non-proliferation matters are of interest to all Council members and several elected members would like to take a more integral role in the discussion of appropriate responses.

Following the inauguration on 25 February of Park Geun-hye as President of the ROK, significant attention will be paid to the ROK’s approach towards its neighbour, both within and outside the Council.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK
Security Council Resolutions  
22 January 2013 S/RES/2087 This resolution condemned the DPRK’s 12 December 2012 launch and added designations to the sanctions regime.
Security Council Letters  
31 December 2012 S/2012/982 This letter transmitted the report of the 1718 Sanctions Committee covering the Committee’s activities during the period from 1 January to 31 December 2012.