December 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2017
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In December, the Council is expected to hold a ministerial-level meeting on the threat and challenges posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to international peace and security.

It is also expected to hold a meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK. As in previous years, China is expected to object to the meeting, thus prompting a procedural vote. At press time it was unclear whether there would be enough votes to proceed with the meeting. The item, “The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” was placed on the Council agenda through a procedural vote on 22 December 2014 and discussed also in 2015 and 2016, each time following a procedural vote. (Council decisions of a procedural nature need nine affirmative votes for a decision to be adopted, and the veto does not apply.)

Key Recent Developments

The last meeting on denuclearisation of the DPRK was held during the US presidency in April. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who chaired the meeting, said that the time had come “to put new pressure on North Korea to abandon its dangerous path” and urged the Council to act. Secretary-General António Guterres, who briefed during the meeting, said that he was alarmed by the risk of a military escalation in the region, including by a miscalculation or misunderstanding. He said that while the onus was on the DPRK to comply with its international obligations, the international community also needed to step up its efforts to manage and reduce tensions.

There has been an increase this year in the pace of missile tests conducted by the DPRK, with signs of significant technological advances in the development of intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles. In response, the Council has increased the intensity of its attention on the DPRK, holding briefings shortly after a missile test and agreeing to an outcome in a shorter timeframe than in the past.

On 28 November, the DPRK launched an inter-continental ballistic missile. This was the first ballistic missile test in about two months. According to the DPRK, the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) reached an altitude of about 4,475km (2,780 miles)and flew 950km in 53 minutes, before falling into the Sea of Japan. It has claimed that the missile was a Hwasong-15, which if true, would mark the launch of a new type of missile for the DPRK. The other launches in 2017 have been of older ICBMs. On 29 November, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman briefed at a public meeting on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) following its launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile on 28 November.

Following two ballistic missile launches by the DPRK on 4 and 9 July, on 5 August the Council adopted resolution 2371, which imposed a ban on the export of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, and seafood from the DPRK, among other measures. After the DPRK launched a ballistic missile over Japan on 28 August, later that day (29 August in New York) the Council adopted a presidential statement condemning the launch and the multiple ballistic missile tests conducted by DPRK on 25 August. 

On 4 September, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed the Council on the DPRK’s 2 September nuclear test. On 11 September, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2375, expanding sanctions to additional sectors of the North Korean economy. The resolution prohibits the import of textiles produced in North Korea, bans gas exports, and sets a limit on exports of petroleum products and crude oil. It also includes new tools to stop high seas smuggling of prohibited goods. Furthermore, it strengthened prohibitions on employing North Korean workers abroad and demanded that joint ventures with North Korea be closed, with certain exceptions to be determined by the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee. In addition, the resolution froze the assets and imposed a travel ban on one individual and three entities.

Three days after resolution 2375 was adopted, on 14 September, the DPRK launched a ballistic missile that again flew over Japan. The Council held consultations on 15 September, and issued a press statement later that day. The statement summarised the most recent provocative actions by the DPRK and the Council’s response in each case. It condemned the recent launches and the DPRK’s “outrageous actions”, and demanded that it immediately cease all such actions and comply with all UN resolutions. It expressed grave concern that by conducting such a launch over Japan, as well as by its other recent actions and public statements, the DPRK was deliberately undermining regional peace and stability, and that these actions were not just a threat to the region but to all UN member states. 

At the end of October, the US and the Republic of Korea conducted joint naval exercises, which included US naval submarines and aircraft carriers.

On 20 November, US President Donald Trump designated the DPRK a state sponsor of terrorism. The following day the US imposed new sanctions on the DPRK.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 18 September, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, submitted his report to the General Assembly (A/72/394). The report found that patterns of grave human rights violations continue in the country and highlighted concerns over the situation of persons in detention and abductees, access to food, corruption, and freedom of information. In presenting the report to the Third Committee on 26 October, Ojea Quintana appealed to members to ensure that human rights were not overlooked amidst the tensions regarding the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme, and urged a comprehensive review of sanctions imposed on the regime to avoid possible collective punishment of ordinary North Koreans.

On 14 November, the Third Committee adopted, without a vote, a resolution on the human rights situation in the DPRK. The resolution condemned the “long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights” in the country. It said that more than half of North Korean citizens face a shortage of food and medical services, and denounced North Korea for applying its resources to the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles instead of the welfare of its people. There was a particular emphasis on abuse of non-citizens by the DPRK. American student Otto Warmbier’s death earlier this year following more than a year in custody in the DPRK for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster may have sparked particular interest in highlighting the treatment of foreigners in the DPRK. Canada, Argentina, all members of the EU, Japan, South Korea, and the US, among others, sponsored the resolution.

Issues and Options

The Council has adopted nine resolutions on the DPRK since 2006, strengthening sanctions over the years. Despite this, the DPRK has continued to develop its nuclear capabilities and ballistic missiles in violation of the resolutions. A key issue is finding the right combination of pressure and incentives to persuade the DPRK to stop its nuclear activity. The Council could use the meeting in December as an opportunity to explore possible options.

Another significant issue is the humanitarian impact of the sanctions. The Council could request a report from the Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK with an in-depth analysis of the impact of sanctions.

In the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, ensuring strict implementation of the sanctions continues to be a key issue although there are signs that China is more willing now than before to ensure implementation of Council resolutions. 

Regarding a Council meeting on human rights in the DPRK, among the key issues is how to properly assess the threat to international peace and security posed by human rights violations in the DPRK, given the lack of access. Ojea Quintana has had to conduct investigations into the matter from outside the country because North Korean authorities have barred him entry.   

A continuing issue is how to balance the two-track approach of promoting dialogue while at the same time pressing for accountability.

Council and Wider Dynamics

There are differences among members on some aspects of this issue, but members have been united in condemning the missile tests. Negotiations on the draft resolutions, while still largely between China and the US, have seen Russia playing an increasingly active role. Elected members are also less willing to be sidelined and have pushed for more and earlier information on the recent drafts. 

The main differences continue to be between those who want to combine more punitive actions with dialogue, and those who are focused mainly on increasing sanctions. Those who believe strongly in the sanctions track are optimistic that the effects of the tougher measures are beginning to be felt. The US under the Trump administration has also made clear that it does not rule out a military option, something that most other members do not favour.

China and Russia, as well as a number of other Council members, have stressed the importance of finding a diplomatic solution, and the 11 September resolution included new language urging further work to reduce tensions in order to “advance the prospects for a comprehensive settlement” and underscoring the “imperative of achieving the goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner”. 

China has continued to advocate its “freeze-for-freeze” position, by which the DPRK would halt further nuclear and missile development in exchange for a freeze on joint US-Republic of Korea (ROK) military exercises. The recent improvement in bilateral relations between China and ROK, following a strain in the relationship over the deployment of a US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System in 2016, may open up the prospect of greater regional cooperation.

Positions on the human rights situation in the DPRK have not changed greatly. China continues to be opposed to the discussion of the human rights situation, holding firmly to its position that the Council is not the place to address this issue. A number of other members, including Bolivia, Egypt and Russia, share this position. 

The US is the penholder on the DPRK. 

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK

 

Security Council Resolutions
11 September 2017 S/RES/2375 This resolution expanded sanctions to additional sectors of the North Korean economy in response to the DPRK’s nuclear test.
5 August 2017 S/RES/2371 This resolution condemned the 3 and 28 July ballistic missile launches.
2 June 2017 S/RES/2356 This was a resolution condemning the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development activities, including missile launches, conducted by the DPRK in flagrant disregard of relevant Council resolutions since 9 September 2016.
Security Council Presidential Statements
29 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/16 Condemned the launch of a missile over the territory of Japan and urged the DPRK to comply with previous Council resolutions and presidential statements.
Security Council Meeting Records
4 September 2017 S/PV.8039 The Council was briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on the DPRK’s 2 September nuclear test.
28 April 2017 S/PV.7932 This was a meeting on the situation in the DPRK, chaired by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Security Council Press Statements
15 September 2017 SC/12994 Council members strongly condemned the launches, condemned further the DPRK for its outrageous actions, and demanded that it immediately cease all such actions and comply with all UN resolutions.
Other
18 April 2017 S/2017/337 This letter transmitted the concept note for the 28 April Council meeting on the denuclearisation of the DPRK.