May 2018 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2018
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DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In May, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Karel van Oosterom (Netherlands), is due to provide Council members with his 90-day briefing on the work of the committee.

Key Recent Developments

Following the participation of the DPRK in the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea (ROK), in February, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity. On 6 March, senior ROK envoys and DPRK’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-Un, met and agreed to an inter-Korean summit of the leaders of the DPRK and ROK, which took place on 27 April in Panmunjom. This was the first summit since 2007. ROK envoys and US President Donald Trump held a meeting on 9 March, during which Trump accepted an invitation from Kim, conveyed through ROK National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong, to meet to discuss the DPRK’s nuclear programme. Preparations are now underway for this meeting of the two leaders, but the date and venue have not been confirmed. As part of the lead-up to this meeting, the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo—who has been nominated to be the next Secretary of State—met with Kim in late March.

Kim visited Beijing from 25 to 28 March and met with China’s President, Xi Jinping. This was Kim’s first foreign trip since assuming power in 2011. According to media reports, the two leaders discussed diplomatic developments in the last few months as well as denuclearisation. It seems that Xi has accepted an invitation to visit Pyongyang later this year.

On 19 April, ROK President Moon Jae-in said that the DPRK was not asking for the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean peninsula as a precondition for denuclearisation. On 20 April, Kim announced that the DPRK would immediately suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests and dismantle its main nuclear test site.

Sanctions-Related Developments

The final report of the Panel of Experts was circulated to the Council on 1 March. The report, which was sent to the committee on 1 February, was discussed in the committee on 21 February. One of the overall conclusions of the report is that the DPRK is accessing the global financial system through deceptive practices that have been combined with “critical deficiencies in the implementation of financial sanctions”. It notes that the expansion of the sanctions regime over the last year has not been matched by the “requisite political will, international coordination, prioritization and resource allocation necessary to drive effective implementation”. The committee is expected to meet at the end of April to discuss the recommendations further.

The final report highlighted the multi-million-dollar business of illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum and the continued export of commodities under sanctions, which generated an estimated $200 million in revenue between January and September 2017. It also covered how the DPRK has managed to continue to illegally export coal despite the sanctions. The recent designations are largely attributed to violations of DPRK sanctions that have occurred on the high seas, such as ship-to-ship transfers, fuel acquisitions, and transfer of banned DPRK coal.

On 30 March, the committee added one person and 21 entities to the sanctions list. It also designated 27 vessels. So far, 80 persons and 75 entities have been listed by the UN.

On 21 March, the Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the sanctions committee until 24 April 2019.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 12 March, the Human Rights Council (HRC) considered the report of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana (A/HRC/37/69), as part of its 37th session. The report describes instances in which sanctions may have had a nreegative impact on civilians, including reduced access to chemotherapeutic products for cancer patients and delays and blockages in the import of disability equipment. The report also reiterated the call for a comprehensive assessment of the unintended impact of Security Council sanctions on human rights in the country, in particular economic, social and cultural rights. On 23 March, the HRC adopted without a vote a resolution extending the mandate of the special rapporteur for one year (A/HRC/RES/37/28).

Key Issues and Options

The overarching issue for the Council continues to be how best to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. The recent and anticipated upcoming diplomatic activity has provided the first glimmer of hope in years of a way forward in reaching this goal. Much of this activity is currently taking place outside the Council, and the Council’s role will be largely determined by how these larger geo-political developments play out. If there are positive developments following the inter-Korea and US-DPRK summits, one option is for the Council to consider a formal product encouraging further similar engagements.

Finding the right balance between applying pressure through sanctions and exploring the diplomatic track will remain an increasingly relevant issue, especially over the next few months. In light of the current diplomatic activity, the Council may need to consider whether it needs a new approach to the DPRK that provides both a “carrot” as well as a “stick”.

An issue for the Council, keeping in mind its powers under Chapter VIII, is whether it should encourage regional organisations, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to develop confidence-building mechanisms that could support positive diplomatic developments.

The key issue for the committee continues to be the implementation of the sanctions. The committee still has not reached agreement on the recommendations in the panel’s final report. An option would be for the chair of the committee to direct his energy to more active outreach, including more open briefings and meetings with regional groups. Providing member states with practical information to facilitate better understanding of the available tools to help them implement sanctions could lead to improvements in the implementation rate by member states.  

A continuing issue is the need to mitigate the humanitarian impact of sanctions. Following a concerted effort by the sanctions committee to publicise the conditions for humanitarian exemptions, UN agencies and international organisations now have a better understanding of this issue. The committee could continue to work with OCHA and other relevant organisations to ensure that it gets the information it needs for humanitarian exemptions. 

A future issue is what the Council’s role might be if an agreement is reached on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula following the upcoming summit meetings. It is unclear at this point if any such agreement would require adjustments to UN sanctions, but Council members may wish to consider what they would be comfortable with regarding sanctions relief.

A related future issue is the role of the Council regarding any follow-up to a denuclearisation agreement. While UN agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency would take the lead role, there may be a need for the Council to continue to monitor the process through regular briefings.

Council Dynamics

Council members are aware that there will be some significant events in the next few months that could fundamentally change the Council’s consideration of this issue. They have generally been surprised by the change in the DPRK’s behaviour since the beginning of the year. For years the approach to the DPRK has been that of the “stick” rather than the “carrot”. Since 2006, the Council has regularly reacted to violations, such as missile and nuclear tests, through punitive measures. While many are still cautious and unsure if some of the recent announcements will be followed through, some members are beginning to think about whether a new approach is needed to the Council’s relationship with the DPRK, including a greater response to positive developments through Council outcomes and other possible means of showing support for serious dialogue on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. However, others, particularly the US, still believe it is important to continue the “maximum pressure” approach to the DPRK. Whether there is a narrowing of these different positions may depend on developments following the two upcoming summits.

The Netherlands, which is the chair of the sanctions committee for 2018, has shown in the last few months that it wants to play an active role as chair. It has been focused particularly on outreach to member states as a way of trying to improve implementation of the sanctions. It has also been working with member states to try to get agreement on the recommendations of the final report of the Panel of Experts.

It is hard to predict how developments over the next few months will impact Council dynamics on this issue. For many years, it was taken for granted that China and the US would negotiate resolutions on the DPRK with little involvement from the rest of the Council. Although Russia has become a more active player on this file over the last year, China was seen as the main interlocutor with the US because of the leverage it is perceived to have with the DPRK. While China is still a key player on this issue, it is possible that direct talks between the US and the DPRK might result in a re-calibration of the long-standing dynamic on this issue.

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Security Council Resolutions
21 March 2018 S/RES/2407 This was a resolution, unanimously adopted, extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2019.
22 December 2017 S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
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
22 December 2017 S/PV.8151 The Council adopted resolution 2397 tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
Sanctions Committee Documents
5 March 2018 S/2018/171 This was the final report of the Panel of Experts which included its findings and recommendations for the Council.
30 March 2018 SC/13272 This was a press statement on the addition of one individual, 21 entities and the designation of 27 vessels.

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