March 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2020
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council is expected to extend the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions committee.

The panel’s mandate expires on 24 April.

Key Recent Developments

The New Year’s speech by DPRK leader Kim Jong-un signalled a possible new direction for the country in 2020. He called on the population to be ready to be self-reliant, possibly marking the end of an opening-up that had led to an almost two-year rapprochement between the US and the DPRK. He also announced that the DPRK would no longer be constrained by a self-imposed moratorium on testing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear weapons.

In the past two years, diplomatic activity has generally taken centre stage. In the second half of 2019, however, the DPRK stepped up both its hostile rhetoric and its ballistic missile testing. Since May 2019, the DPRK has conducted over a dozen ballistic missile tests in violation of Council resolutions. In December 2019, it carried out ground tests that could bolster its nuclear deterrent capacity. The DPRK conducted what it called a “very important” test at one of its launching stations, which it said would help change the country’s strategic position. Since starting talks with the US in 2018, however, the DPRK has refrained from testing ICBMs.

In March 2019, the vote on the draft resolution for the Panel of Experts’ mandate renewal was postponed for several weeks. The US and Russia disagreed over mentioning the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK and Russia’s request that OCHA periodically report to the Council on this issue. As a compromise, committee members agreed to address the humanitarian situation in the DPRK within the committee and hold briefings by OCHA every six months. During the informal consultations held on 2 December 2019, OCHA briefed the committee.

This concern over the humanitarian impact of sanctions was evident in a draft resolution China and Russia circulated on 16 December 2019. It called for a partial lifting of sanctions, for ensuring the unobstructed and timely provision of aid, and for members to intensify their efforts in providing humanitarian assistance to the DPRK. Following two rounds of expert-level negotiations in December, the draft resolution was not actively pursued in light of members’ widespread view that any easing of sanctions would be premature.

At press time, the chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen (Germany), is expected to brief Council members in consultations on 27 February on the 90-day report about the committee’s work. The committee has discussed the final report, which is expected to be circulated to the Council by 5 March, if approved by all members.

Key Issues and Options

For the last two years, the Council has maintained a relatively low profile on the DPRK, with most diplomatic activity taking place outside its purview. Following Kim’s threat to resume testing of ICBMs and nuclear weapons, a key issue is whether the Council needs to pay closer attention to the potential destabilisation of the peninsula. An option would be for Council members to issue a statement addressing the need for stability to be maintained on the peninsula, for diplomatic talks to resume, and for sanctions to be implemented.

A continuing issue is the effectiveness of sanctions on the DPRK. While the panel’s reports regularly detail violations, divisions among Council members have made it difficult for the committee to adopt the panel’s stronger recommendations. An option, particularly if the March report reveals significant breaches of sanctions, is for the Council to consider ways of ensuring stricter sanctions enforcement.

In the last two years, the Council has tried to balance the pressure of sanctions with providing space for diplomatic activity. With the stalemate between the US and the DPRK since the Hanoi summit in February 2019, the Council may need to consider alternative diplomatic strategies, including encouraging talks with regional players and the UN.

Although the DPRK has not reported any cases, an emerging issue is the potential impact of a novel coronavirus outbreak on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK and how to manage humanitarian exemptions around this.

Council Dynamics

Members continue to be divided over their approach to 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 interest in considering some form of sanctions relief. It is possible that members’ divergent views will result in difficult negotiations of the draft resolution renewing the Panel of Experts.

The US has been reluctant to address the DPRK’s ballistic missile tests in light of its diplomatic efforts. On the other hand, several other Council members, particularly European members, have pushed for discussions following the tests last year. It remains to be seen whether the US position will change if it becomes clear that the diplomatic track is closed and the DPRK conducts further tests.

Although the March report is unlikely to be blocked by any member, China and Russia may question the methodology used, as they have in the past, and request further evidence for some of the panel’s findings. Although the report has not been published and is meant to be confidential, it has been leaked to the press, and China has expressed its unhappiness and concern over the leak. Responding to media accounts based on the report that China has been involved in violating the coal sanctions, it has stressed that it fulfils its international obligations related to resolutions on the DPRK.

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

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK

Security Council Resolution
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.
Security Council Presidential Statement
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.
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.