August 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 August 2012
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DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In August, the Council will hold regular 90-day consultations on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and be briefed by Ambassador José Filipe Moraes Cabral (Portugal), the chair of the DPRK Sanctions Committee (1718 Committee).

No Council action is expected.

Key Recent Developments

In June, this year’s final report of the Panel of Experts (PoE), which assists the 1718 Committee, was made publicly available. The report had first been submitted to the Committee and was accompanied by an 11 May letter signed by all seven of the experts. It was submitted by the PoE to the Council on 11 June and circulated through a presidential note of 14 June (S/2012/422). The publication of the report is notable because the equivalent report from 2011 remains an “internal document” of the Council due to concerns China had at the Committee level. (One of the experts, Xiaodong Xue [China] never signed last year’s final report.)

This year’s final report states that the DPRK continues to “reject and violate” Council resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009). (These resolutions, which imposed sanctions on Pyongyang, were respectively adopted following the DPRK’s two nuclear tests.) The PoE report notes ongoing investigations into several illicit shipments of arms-related materiel originating in the DPRK, some of which date back several years. Two of these shipments were reportedly destined for Syria. One of the cases involved containers of chemical protection equipment that “bore clear traces of manufacture” in the DPRK. The report notes that the US has designated the intended recipient in Syria for suspected involvement in Syrian weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes.

A second case was reported by France in April this year following the seizure in November 2010 of an illicit shipment of goods used to manufacture artillery munitions, originating from the DPRK. The shipment, which the PoE report said contained “aluminium alloy tubes usable for making rockets”, was also destined for Syria.

Regarding the transfer to or from the DPRK of prohibited nuclear or other WMD and ballistic missile items, the PoE notes that there have been no new reported incidents of non-compliance. However, it states that investigations of previous incidents continue, including possible military cooperation with Myanmar, prohibited under resolution 1718.

The report also refers to the military parade on 15 April in Pyongyang, which showcased several ballistic missiles. One newly revealed missile was on an eight-axle transporter erector launcher, which the DPRK had “not previously demonstrated its capacity” to build. The panel said it would further examine the issue. Although not mentioned in the report, the launcher is believed to be of Chinese origin. How the matter was referenced in the report seems to have been a matter of discussion; it appears that the equipment was exported to the DPRK Ministry of Forestry for civilian-use activities.

Under resolution 1718, the Council also decided that member states should not sell or transfer “luxury goods” to the DPRK. The PoE’s recent report notes that the implementation of this sanction “remains deeply problematic.” Because there is no definitive list of what constitutes “luxury goods”, it is left to member states’ discretion.  The DPRK is accordingly able to exploit differences in member states’ interpretations to acquire desired goods.

Concerning the panel itself, in a letter of 27 June (S/2012/493) the Secretary-General noted that—after consulting the Committee—he had reappointed the seven experts. During the reappointment process, Pakistan noted that it would be desirable to have broader geographic representation on the panel—a point supported by Guatemala. (At present, the panel comprises nationals from each of the P5 countries, Japan and the Republic of Korea [ROK].)

On 22 June, the US and the ROK conducted military exercises near the latter’s border with the DPRK. The land manoeuvres, which were accompanied by three-day naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, were the allies’ biggest since the Korean War. In response, Pyongyang asserted that it would “further bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defence” and said that the use of its flag in the exercises to represent an enemy command post was “an extremely grave military action and politically motivated provocation.”

On 30 May, English-language media reports indicated that changes made to the DPRK’s constitution earlier this year for the first time proclaimed the country a “nuclear-armed” nation.

Human Rights-Related Developments

The DPRK announced on 18 July that its leader, Kim Jong-un (who is in his late twenties), had been given the title of “Marshal.” This top military rank in the country was held by both his predecessors. The announcement came shortly after news that Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, who had been promoted to Chief of the General Staff and Politburo under Kim Jong-il, had been dismissed from his posts due to “illness”. Analysts speculated whether the high-level reshuffle was part of a wider move by Kim Jong-un to establish his own leadership style and embark on a generational shake-up of the military, which has had a dominant role in the political and economic direction of the country.

Key Issues 

A key issue for the Council is the DPRK’s flouting of previous Council resolutions and the threat of an escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. 

A related issue is whether Kim Jong-un is steering the DPRK in a different direction from that of his father and if this path might be compatible with reinvigoration of talks with the international community concerning the country’s nuclear programme.  


Council members could receive the briefing in consultations and make statements but take no action at this point.

One option might be discussing the benefits of the chair of the 1718 Committee briefing the wider membership later in the year on the work of the Committee and the PoE, similar to the briefing on 9 July by the chair of the Iran Sanctions Committee.

Council Dynamics

Long-standing divisions exist among the P5 on how front-footed the Council should be in condemning the DPRK’s continued violation of the sanctions regime against it. These differences manifested themselves following Pyongyang’s failed missile launch on 13 April, when the US and China in particular had divergent views as to the scope of additional sanctions measures. In the absence of a third nuclear test by the DPRK or further similarly provocative action, it seems unlikely that the Council would agree to action designating additional DPRK entities or individuals.

Council members are likely to closely follow signs coming out of the DPRK in the coming months. These may indicate whether the country’s long-standing military-first emphasis and premium on the principle of self-reliance are still being promoted, or if the youthful new leader might focus more on economic reforms, as has been reported.   

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UN Documents
Security Council Resolutions  
12 JUNE 2012
This resolution extended the mandate of the PoE until 12 July 2013. 
12 JUNE 2009
This resolutioned condemned the DPRK’s 25 May 2009 underground nuclear test, expanded the sanctions regime and established a PoE.
14 October 2006
This resolution expressed grave concern over the DPRK’s nuclear test, imposed sanctions and set up the 1718 Committee.
Presidential Note  
14 JUNE 2012
This note contained the PoE’s 2012 final report. 
27 JUNE 2012
This letter was from the Secretary-General reappointing the PoE.