August 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2020
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action   

In August, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen (Germany), is expected to brief Council members on the 90-day report of the committee’s work. Because of the temporary measures adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the briefing is expected to be held as a closed videoconference (VTC)   

Key Recent Developments  

Over the past several months, the security situation on the Korean peninsula has been marked by persistent instability and a deepening rift between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK). The tensions between the two escalated in early June when the DPRK denounced the ROK for allowing defectors from the north to disseminate propaganda leaflets across the border. In retaliation, the DPRK announced that it would cut all communication channels with the ROK and abandon commitments made during the 2018 inter-Korean summits.   

DPRK leader Kim Jong-un and ROK President Moon Jae-in held three summits in 2018, during which they agreed on a series of measures to improve relations between the two nations and promote reunification of Korea through diplomatic means. One of the outcomes of the rapprochement was the establishment of the inter-Korean liaison office in the city of Kaesong on the DPRK side of the border. In an escalatory move on 16 June, the DPRK used explosives to completely demolish the liaison office while the military announced plans to move troops into the demilitarised zone between the two countries. After meeting with the Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission on 23 June, Kim called off the military plans against the ROK but provided no details about the decision.  

On the diplomatic front, the efforts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula have remained at an impasse ever since the collapse of the February 2019 US-DPRK summit in Hanoi. The US Special Representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, visited Seoul from 7 through 9 July and held talks with senior ROK officials. He expressed support for the cooperation between the two Koreas and said that the US was ready to engage with the DPRK on denuclearisation issues. In various remarks to the media, US President Donald Trump has indicated that he would be open to meeting Kim in another summit. The DPRK, however, has shown little interest in meeting with the US. The last time the US and the DPRK negotiating teams met in a working-level session was in October 2019 in Sweden. That session ended without an outcome, and since then, there has been no direct engagement between the two sides.   

The DPRK has taken strict measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 from neighbouring countries. Starting in January, the DPRK closed its borders, banned international tourism, and imposed mandatory quarantines on those suspected of having been in contact with anyone who could be infected with the virus that causes the disease. The DPRK officials have reported no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, a claim that is disputed by many international observers. On 26 July, the DPRK reported its first suspected case of COVID-19 in the city of Kaesong by an individual who illegally crossed the border from the ROK. No further details were provided. The DPRK has started easing some restrictive measures over the past several weeks. Commercial activity between the DPRK and its main trading partner, China, has declined substantially as a result of the restrictions, causing a sharp rise in the price of food and other consumer goods in the DPRK. International aid agencies have warned that this development is likely to contribute to greater food insecurity and to have negative consequences for the humanitarian situation.  

On 28 July, the Council met under “any other business” to discuss the situation in the DPRK. The meeting focused on issues related to cap oil exports to the DPRK and a technical issue of ton/barrel conversion rate. The meeting was initiated by Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, and the UK. 

Human Rights-Related Developments 

At its 43rd session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted without a vote resolution 43/25 which renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in DPRK for a year. The resolution commended the Special Rapporteur for his work, particularly given “his continued efforts in the conduct of his mandate despite the lack of access to the country”. Resolution 43/25 also urges the government of DPRK to “promote, respect and protect the human rights of workers”, including those workers who had been repatriated to DPRK in accordance with Security Council resolution 2397 which stipulated that DPRK workers had to be repatriated no later than 22 December 2019. 

Key Issues and Options   

This year, and particularly in recent months, there has been a steady increase in tensions on the Korean peninsula, as evidenced by the DPRK’s heightened rhetoric. The DPRK has resumed testing ballistic missiles and shown no interest in continuing the inter-Korean dialogue and diplomatic talks with the US on denuclearisation. Given the volatile security environment, the Council is primarily concerned with maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula. An option for the Council would be to consider issuing a formal outcome addressing the need for stability and the resumption of diplomatic talks.   

As is clear from the final report of the Panel of Experts, the effectiveness of the sanctions regime in light of continued sanctions violations by the DPRK remains an ongoing issue for the Council. In addressing this, the Council could consider other ways of securing stricter enforcement or consider issuing a statement calling on member states to adhere to existing sanctions measures.   

A related issue for the Council, and especially for some members, is the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the country. The global COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these concerns. While the DPRK has said that it has no confirmed cases, the potential impact of the pandemic on the DPRK could be severe. Should the COVID-19 pandemic affect the DPRK, the Council could consider options for temporary and targeted sanctions relief to mitigate the impact.      

Council Dynamics   

Members continue to be divided over 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 and in December 2019 circulated a draft resolution providing partial sanctions relief for the DPRK. The proposal remains stalled because of insufficient support from other Council members.   

Council members have been generally united in their concern about potential consequences of spread COVID-19 for the DPRK. On this front, there has been broad support among 1718 Committee members for accelerating the process for considering humanitarian exceptions 

The US has been reluctant to address the DPRK’s ballistic missile tests in the Council in light of its diplomatic efforts. Several other Council members, particularly European members, have pushed for discussions following the recent tests.  

The US is the penholder on the DPRK, and Ambassador Christoph Heusgen (Germany) chairs the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee. 

UN DOCUMENTS ON DPRK   

Security Council Resolutions
30 March 2020S/RES/2515 This resolution extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the work of the 1718 Sanctions Committee until 30 April 2021.
22 December 2017S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
Security Council Letters
31 March 2020S/2020/266 This letter from the president of the Security Council contained both the draft resolution and letters received in reply from Council members indicating their national positions on the draft resolution.
30 March 2020S/2020/246 This was a letter by the president of the Security Council containing the results of the vote on resolution 2515.
Security Council Meeting Record
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.
Sanctions Committee Documents
2 March 2020S/2020/151 This was a final report of the Panel of Experts.
20 December 2019S/2019/971 This was the annual report of the 1718 Sanctions Committee.