May 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2012
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DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action
The chair of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee (1718 Committee), Ambassador José Filipe Moraes Cabral (Portugal), is expected to provide the Council with a regular quarterly briefing in informal consultations in May.

Following the Council’s 16 April presidential statement condemning the DPRK’s satellite launch on 12 April (S/PRST/2012/13), the Committee has been directed to designate additional entities (corporations) and items subject to the sanctions regime pursuant to resolution 1718. The Committee was requested to report back to the Council within fifteen days (by 1 May). 

By mid-May, the Panel of Experts is due to submit its final report to the Committee with its findings and recommendations. (After discussion with the Committee, the panel is to submit its final report to the Council.) The current mandate of the panel expires on 12 June.

Key Recent Developments
On 12 April, the DPRK attempted to launch an “earth observation” satellite into orbit using a long-range rocket. The DPRK announced the launch on 16 March. In response, several Council members indicated that such a launch would violate Council resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009). (These resolutions demanded, inter alia, that the DPRK not conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology.) The US described the plans as “highly provocative” and considered the launch a cover for developing ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. In contrast to its previous rocket launches, the DPRK invited foreign observers, including from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and media representatives to witness preparations. 

The day after the launch, 13 April, the DPRK’s official KCNA news agency announced in a terse press release that the satellite had “failed to enter its preset orbit.” (According to international media reports, the rocket broke up over the Yellow Sea within two minutes of take-off, and the debris appears to have fallen into the water.)

Following the failed launch, Council members met in consultations on 13 April, during which they were briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández-Taranco. Ambassador Susan Rice (US), in her capacity as Council President, delivered remarks to the press following the consultations, stating that the Council deplored the launch and considered it a violation of Council resolutions. On the same day, the Secretary-General stated that the launch defied “the firm and unanimous stance of the international community” and threatened regional security. 

The Council met again on 16 April following informal discussions among its members, including between the US and China. The resulting presidential statement (S/PRST/2012/13) strongly condemned the satellite launch and underscored that, however it was categorised, the DPRK’s use of ballistic missile technology was a serious violation of Council resolutions 1718 and 1874. The Council demanded that the DPRK not proceed with further launches and re-establish pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launches. It also expressed its “determination to take action” in the event of a further DPRK launch or nuclear test.

Paragraph 5 of the statement directed the 1718 Committee to:

   •   designate additional entities and items;
   •   update the list of entities, items and individuals subject to sanctions (and update it annually thereafter); and
   •   update the Committee’s annual work plan.

In order to undertake these tasks, the Committee met on 18 April to discuss proposals that some members had for additional designations. The US proposed more than a dozen entities and items. While not on the Council, both Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have also submitted proposals. 

The DPRK’s announcement of its intended rocket launch followed only two weeks after the so-called “Leap Day” agreement, reached between Washington and Pyongyang on 29 February. (The third round of “exploratory talks” was held in Beijing on 23-24 February.) The deal stipulated that the DPRK would suspend long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and activities at its major nuclear facility at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment. The DPRK also agreed to allow the return of IAEA inspectors to monitor the moratorium of enrichment activities at Yongbyon. In return, the US agreed to finalise the delivery of 240,000 tonnes of food to the DPRK, aimed specifically at benefiting those suffering from chronic malnutrition. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the agreement as a “first step” while the DPRK stated that it was in both sides’ “mutual interest to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

However, in response to the DPRK’s announcement that it would proceed with its launch, the US confirmed on 28 March that it would put plans to provide food aid to the DPRK on hold, citing a violation of the “Leap Day” agreement. (No food had yet been delivered.) Pyongyang countered by saying that the US decision was an “overreaction”, reiterating that its “scientific and technological satellite” was for peaceful purposes and criticising the US and other “hostile forces” for calling it a missile launch. Faced with international condemnation following the launch, the DPRK announced that it was no longer bound by the “Leap Day” agreement. This led to increasing concerns that the country might soon carry out a third nuclear test, possibly using highly enriched uranium for the first time.

On 19 April, the DPRK addressed a letter (S/2012/239) to the Council denouncing the “brigandish essence” and “unreasonable double standards” of the resolutions on the DPRK and criticising the “dastardly tricks” of the US.

On 19 April, the ROK’s defence ministry announced that it had added a cruise missile to its arsenal that had “the capability to hit any facility or personnel in all areas of DPRK.” The announcement, which was said to be in response to the DPRK’s recent “missile threat and military provocation,” was the first time that the ROK had publicly confirmed the deployment of the missile.

In other developments, the DPRK held its Fourth Conference of the Workers’ Party of Korea on 11 April. The conference elected the “dear respected” Kim Jong-un as the party’s “first secretary” (supreme leader). He also assumed the office of the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, previously held by his late father Kim Jong-il. The appointments were seen as solidifying Kim Jong-un’s leadership position and came amidst national celebrations commemorating the birth of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung. 

During a major military parade on 15 April, the DPRK appeared to showcase what analysts presumed to be a new long-range ballistic missile. The sophisticated transportable launcher carrying the missile was of interest to experts as it appeared similar to Chinese designs, raising questions as to whether the technology was provided in violation of UN sanctions. However, the launcher could also have been supplied by China (or a third country) for civilian purposes, such as construction. China said on 19 April that it abides by relevant Council resolutions and “practices strict control” of relevant exports. The US said that it took Beijing at its word on the matter.

Human Rights-Related Developments
In a resolution at its March session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) expressed very serious concern at the ongoing grave, widespread and systematic human rights violations in the DPRK. The resolution urged the government to ensure rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance. Although no HRC member called for a vote on the resolution, the Media Centre of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that neither China nor Russia participated in the decision. China explained, the Media Centre reported, that it was always in favour of appropriately resolving differences in human rights through dialogue and cooperation and was opposed to using resolutions for exerting pressure on certain countries. Russia regarded the draft resolution as undermining international cooperation and as failing to promote the constructive development of human rights. China and Russia thus dissociated themselves from the consensus on the resolution.

Key Issues
The key issue for the Council remains ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. To that end, the Council is concerned with preventing a further escalation of tensions due to the launch.

A fundamental issue for the Council is Pyongyang’s violation of Council resolutions demanding that it not conduct launches using ballistic missile technology. A related issue is how best to prevent future violations, including the possible detonation of a third nuclear test device, given that in 2006 and 2009 the DPRK responded to criticism of its launches with further provocative (nuclear) action.

A related issue for the Council is having the involved states return to the negotiating table where steps can be taken towards the ultimate resumption of the Six-Party Talks. (These talks, which include China, Japan, Russia, the US and both Koreas, have been stalled since December 2008.)

Underlying Problems
An underlying problem for the Council is that the 1718 Committee, which requires agreement among all 15 members to make decisions, has been gridlocked. (The Committee reached one agreement over the last year: to provide guidelines for the implementation of measures preventing the transfer of “luxury goods” to the DPRK.) 

However, the Council has effectively ensured that blocked consensus at the Committee level will not prevent action from being taken by announcing in its 16 April presidential statement that the Council itself will take action if the Committee does not act pursuant to its direction.

In addition to directing the Committee to reach agreement on the additional entities and items that should be designated, the Council could take further measures, as expressed in its presidential statement, if the DPRK conducts another launch or nuclear test. If this transpires, the Council could take as-yet unspecified steps, including broader sanctions, to isolate Pyongyang, bring it into line with the international community’s expectations or weaken its capacity to undertake provocative measures.

Council and Wider Dynamics
The three Six-Party Talks countries on the Council—China, Russia and the US—take the lead on DPRK issues. The US and China in particular seem to have worked closely in reaching agreement on the 16 April presidential statement. The strong condemnation of the DPRK’s launch and explicit reference to tightening sanctions, which went further than an equivalent statement in 2009, includes tougher language than expected by many, considering China’s relationship with the DPRK. (This statement might also seem surprising considering the inability of the Committee to agree to update designation lists in the past or publish its own Panel of Experts’ 2011 final report.) However, as evidenced by resolutions 1718 and 1874, it seems that behind closed doors China is prepared to agree to measures against its neighbour in the face of a resolute and otherwise united Council. It seems that Russia’s role in negotiations was less pronounced, and it had joined other Council members, including the UK and France, before the launch in trying to dissuade the DPRK from proceeding. 

Among elected members, several states emphasised the importance of the DPRK’s abiding by relevant Council resolutions. India—which is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and, on 19 April, test-fired its Agni V nuclear-capable missile—stressed that anything that could increase tension in the region should be avoided. (Pakistan, which is not a party to the NPT either, similarly launched a long-range missile on 25 April.) Some members also considered the Council’s firm dictate on the matter a long-overdue opportunity for the Committee to update information on individuals and corporations who had already been designated but were using different names or front companies.

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UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1985 (10 June 2011) extended the mandate of the panel of experts that supports the DPRK Sanctions Committee until 12 June 2012 and asked the panel to provide its midterm and final reports to the Committee a month before they are submitted to the Council, in order to allow for a discussion.
  • S/RES/1874 (12 June 2009) condemned the DPRK’s 25 May 2009 underground nuclear test, expanded the existing arms embargo and authorised inspection of cargoes to and from the DPRK, as well as vessels on the high seas. It provided for the creation of a panel of experts to assist the Committee.
  • S/RES/1718 (14 October 2006) expressed grave concern over the DPRK’s nuclear test, imposed sanctions and set up a sanctions committee.
Presidential Statement
  • S/PRST/2012/13 (16 April 2012) strongly condemned the DPRK’s launch as a serious violation of resolutions 1718 and 1874, directed the Committee to take steps to update and strengthen the sanctions regime and expressed determination to act in the event of another DPRK launch or nuclear test.
  • S/2012/235 (18 April 2012) was the letter from the US to the Secretary-General containing a list of items, materials, equipment, goods and technology related to ballistic missile programmes, which it anticipated discussing in relation to the PRST (above) of 16 April.
  • S/2012/236 (18 April 2012) was the letter from the US to the Secretary-General containing a list of chemical and biological items, materials, equipment, goods and technologies related to other weapons of mass destruction programmes which it anticipated discussing in relation to the PRST (above) of 16 April.

Other Relevant Facts

Chairman of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006)

Ambassador José Filipe Moraes Cabral (Portugal).

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