February 2020 Monthly Forecast

ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In February, 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

During the second half of 2019, the DPRK gradually resumed testing ballistic missiles and associated technologies. Since May 2019, the DPRK has conducted over a dozen ballistic missile tests in violation of Security Council resolutions. However, for more than two years, since it first started talks with the US, the DPRK has refrained from testing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The DPRK indicated that it would give the US until the end of 2019 to make concessions in negotiations; otherwise, it would resume ICBM tests and ditch further diplomatic engagement with the US.        

On 1 January, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un delivered his traditional New Year’s address. In it, he announced that the DPRK would no longer be constrained by the self-imposed moratorium on testing ICBMs and nuclear weapons. He said the DPRK would soon unveil a new “strategic weapon”. Kim did not completely abandon the diplomatic track but said that any future engagement will depend on the US approach to the DPRK. He did not provide further specifics.

Following a US request, the Council held a meeting on 11 December 2019 to address non-proliferation issues on the Korean peninsula in light of the recent series of ballistic missile tests. Council members were united in their support for the resumption of the US-DPRK diplomatic talks and the need for the DPRK to halt missile tests. China and Russia, however, expressed criticism of the Council’s approach towards sanctions on the DPRK. They emphasised the need to adjust the sanctions regime in order to facilitate diplomatic efforts. Most other Council members stressed the need to preserve sanctions until the DPRK takes concrete steps toward denuclearisation.

On 16 December, China and Russia circulated to Council members a draft resolution that called for a partial lifting of sanctions on the DPRK. Subsequently, two rounds of expert-level negotiations were held on the draft in December, but it did not advance in light of the widespread view that any easing of sanctions would be premature.

In other developments, the DPRK’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, was relieved of his responsibilities, according to media reports. Ri played a notable role during the latest diplomatic outreach between the US and the DPRK as well as during the inter-Korean talks in 2018.  

Every December from 2014 to 2017, the Council held an annual meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK. Each time, the proposed agenda item “the situation in the DPRK” required a procedural vote in order to be included in the programme of work. For the second year in a row, the proponents of this meeting could not gather nine members in 2019 to sign the letter requesting the meeting. (The veto does not apply to Council decisions of a procedural nature.)

Human Rights-Related Developments

The special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, visited Japan from 2 to 4 December 2019. During the visit, he exchanged views on human rights issues in the DPRK with government officials, families of abduction victims, persons who went to the DPRK as part of a resettlement programme between the 1950s and 1984 and later returned to Japan, and members of civil society and the academic community. He will report his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council during its 43rd session in March.

Key Issues and Options

Over the past 14 years, the Council has maintained and gradually increased sanctions pressure on the DPRK. While there was a period of eased tensions, especially in 2018, the country has not significantly changed its behaviour: it has continued to test ballistic missiles and to violate the sanctions regime. The Council is primarily concerned about the recent proliferation of ballistic missile tests by the DPRK and the stalled diplomatic talks on denuclearisation.

An ongoing 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 diplomatic engagement.

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.

The ongoing dire human rights situation in the DPRK remains an issue. Given that, as noted previously, the December briefing on this subject has not been held for two years in a row, the Council could continue to explore the possibility of holding such a meeting.  

Council Dynamics

The Council dynamics are shaped in large part by diverging views on the role of sanctions in addressing the nuclear threat posed by the DPRK. The US has been a strong proponent of maintaining the policy of maximum pressure until the DPRK takes concrete steps toward denuclearisation. The EU members of the Council are generally supportive of this approach. On the other hand, China and Russia have shown more interest in considering some form of sanctions relief, as was evident during the 11 December 2019 meeting on non-proliferation and when they circulated a draft resolution on partial sanctions relief for the DPRK. It appears that the proposal does not have sufficient support from other Council members. 

When the DPRK resumed testing ballistic missiles in the second half of 2019 after a self-imposed moratorium that lasted over a year, Germany, France, and the UK brought the issue to the Council’s attention, initiating several meetings under “any other business” to address the DPRK’s missile tests. Given its focus on diplomatic efforts, the US administration has generally downplayed recent missile tests. 

In December 2019, an interesting dynamic emerged over the issue of the human rights situation in the DPRK. The US, which held the December presidency and initially had signalled its plans to hold the human rights briefing, decided to drop the initiative. It appeared that eight members had signed a letter requesting the meeting, anticipating that the US would also lend its support to the initiative. Without US support, however, the issue would not pass the procedural vote threshold, and the idea was abandoned. Council members are more consistent in their support for the US-DPRK and inter-Korean diplomatic efforts. There is a shared concern among members that the resumption of ballistic missile tests and heightened rhetoric has the potential to disrupt 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
11 December 2019S/PV.8682 The Council was briefed by Mohamed Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific on non-proliferation related issues in DPRK .
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
20 December 2019S/2019/971 This was the annual report of the 1718 Sanctions Committee.
30 August 2019S/2019/691 This was the midterm report of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.