November 2019 Monthly Forecast

ASIA

DPRK (North Korea) 

Expected Council Action

In November, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen (Germany), is expected to brief Council members in consultations on the 90-day report about the committee’s work.

The mandate of the Panel of Experts expires on 24 April 2020. 

Key Recent Developments 

In recent months, the DPRK has conducted multiple ballistic missile tests and further jeopardised diplomatic efforts on the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. In the latest tests, the DPRK fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile on 2 October from the waters off the eastern coast of the country. The DPRK’s state-run media confirmed the missile test and declared it successful. According to information provided by the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Defense, the projectile reached an altitude of 565 miles while covering a distance of 280 miles. Japan said that one part of the missile fell in the waters of its exclusive economic zone.

One week later, Council members discussed the incident under “any other business”. France, Germany and the UK requested the meeting, citing serious concern over the missile test. These members, together with Belgium, Germany, Poland, and incoming Council member Estonia, made a joint statement at the media stakeout condemning the DPRK’s actions as provocative. Stressing that the missile test constitutes a violation of Security Council resolutions, these members called on the DPRK to abandon the development of weapons of mass destruction. The DPRK also conducted short-range missile tests in August and September. Council members met twice in August under “any other business” following each of the tests that month.

On the diplomatic front, there has been only limited engagement between the US and the DPRK and no meaningful progress since the collapse of the February US-DPRK summit in Hanoi. In June, US President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un met briefly in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas, and agreed to continue negotiations on denuclearization. In September, the DPRK indicated its willingness to engage in wide-ranging talks but stressed that the US needs to approach such talks with new ideas and proposals.

On 5 October, the US and the DPRK negotiating teams met in Sweden in the first official working-level meeting of the two sides since the February summit in Hanoi. In statements issued afterwards, both sides offered varying perceptions of the encounter. The DPRK said it ended the talks because the US failed to make any concessions. The US presented a more positive view of the meeting and signalled its intention to continue the talks in the upcoming weeks. In a statement issued a day later, the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it would not engage in further negotiations unless the US changed its approach and abandoned its hostile policy towards the DPRK. The DPRK has also accused the US of using the negotiations for domestic political purposes.

No details were released formally about the specifics of the negotiations in Sweden. According to some media reports, the US offered temporary sanctions relief on some sectors of the economy in exchange for verifiable denuclearisation.

After initial discussions in the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, the midterm report of the Panel of Experts was published on 30 August. The report described the DPRK’s continued violations of the sanctions imposed by the Council. The panel acknowledged that diplomatic efforts on denuclearisation had generally contributed to an easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula. The DPRK has, however, continued to improve its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities in violation of Council resolutions. Some of the areas in which sanctions evasions were most prominent include illicit ship-to-ship transfers, the proliferation of weapons, and increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks.  The panel noted that the DPRK actors have engaged in cyber-attacks on financial institutions and infrastructure. The country also engaged in illegal transfer of crypto-currencies and money laundering. The panel has stressed that the DPRK’s use of cyber-attacks provides an opportunity for sanctions evasion involving minimal resources while offering low-risk, high-reward opportunities. According to some estimates, the DPRK has managed to generate around $2 billion using cyber-attacks, which represents a significant portion of the DPRK’s revenue stream. This illustrates the importance of full implementation of sanctions measures and the need for the Council to address the new methods the DPRK uses to evade sanctions.

Human Rights-Related Developments 

During its 42nd session, the Human Rights Council adopted without a vote the outcome of the universal periodic review for the DPRK (A/HRC/42/10) on 20 September (A/HRC/DEC/42/108). Recommendations for the country in the report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review included cooperating with OHCHR and allowing access to special procedure mandate holders, allowing direct and unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance providers, abolishing the death penalty, and taking concrete measures to improve conditions of detention.

Key Issues and Options 

Since 2006, the Council has adopted a series of resolutions, imposing and gradually escalating sanctions on the DPRK. Nevertheless, the country has not significantly changed its behaviour: it has continued to test ballistic missiles and to violate the sanctions regime. While diplomatic efforts over the past two years have resulted in the easing of some tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the latest series of ballistic missile tests by the DPRK and the lack of progress on the diplomatic front present a serious concern for the Council.

An issue for the Council is finding the right balance between applying pressure through sanctions and simultaneously encouraging the diplomatic track. An option is to explore ways to modify the sanctions on the DPRK to encourage further engagement on the diplomatic front.

Some Council members are concerned about the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. The Council could seek more regular interaction with OCHA to obtain detailed information for its consideration of humanitarian exemptions. Another option would be to consider having the Panel of Experts assisting the sanctions committee add an expert on humanitarian issues who could analyse the impact of sanctions on the civilian population.

The ongoing dire human rights situation in the DPRK remains an issue. Every December from 2014 through 2017, the Council held a briefing with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on this topic.  Although no such meeting was held in 2018, an option would be for the Council to hold a meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK before the end of 2019.

Council Dynamics

The Council remains divided on the role of sanctions in addressing the nuclear threat posed by the DPRK. The US continues to emphasize the importance of sustaining the policy of maximum pressure on the DPRK until it takes concrete steps towards denuclearization. The EU members of the Council have generally been supportive of this approach. On the other hand, Russia and China have suggested on several occasions that they would be open to considering some sort of sanctions relief, arguing that some sanctions relief should accompany any potential positive developments on the diplomatic front. Russia has also emphasized that the Council should address the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK.

Over the past several months, Germany, France, and the UK have taken the initiative in drawing the Council’s attention to the ballistic missile tests conducted by the DPRK, initiating three meetings (two in August and one in October) under “any other business” to address the issue of ballistic tests. The US administration has downplayed recent missile tests and has focused mostly on the sanctions pressure and diplomatic efforts.

Although cautious in their optimism, Council members are unanimous in their support for the US-DPRK and inter-Korean diplomatic efforts. Council members are concerned about the recent escalation of missile tests by the DPRK and its potential to further derail the diplomatic efforts. Some members have shown interest in a new approach to the Council’s relationship with the DPRK—including responding to positive developments through Council outcomes and other means of showing support for a serious dialogue about the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula—but there has been little movement in this direction.

The US is the penholder on the DPRK, and Germany chairs the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.

UN Documents On The DPRK

Security Council Resolutions
10 April 2019S/RES/2464 This resolution extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2020.
22 December 2017S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
Security Council Presidential Statements
29 August 2017S/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
10 April 2019S/PV.8507 The Council adopted the resolution renewing the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2020.
27 September 2018S/PV.8363 This was ministerial-level meeting on denuclearization the DPRK.
26 September 2018S/PV.8362 This is a summit-level meeting on countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, chaired by US President Donald Trump.
Sanctions Committee Documents
30 August 2019S/2019/691 This was the midterm report of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.