March 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 26 February 2021
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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 30 April. 

Key Recent Developments 

In line with the provisions of resolution 2515, the Panel of Experts provided the Committee with the final report on its work in early February. During its meeting on 24 February, the committee discussed the report’s key findings. If approved by all committee members, the panel’s final report is expected to be circulated to the Council by 5 March.   

According to some media outlets claiming to have seen the report, the DPRK has continued its unabated violation of the sanctions regime, most notably through illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil and coal, the proliferation of weapons and cyber-attacks. The DPRK has reportedly engaged in a wide range of cyber operations, targeting financial institutions and virtual currency exchanges and resulting in the theft of $316.4 million. Other media reports have pointed to the DPRK’s continued development of nuclear and ballistic missile programs and evidence of cooperation between the DPRK and Iran on projects involving the development of long-range missiles. These findings seem to be similar to the conclusions of the panel’s reports during the past several years. The panel has drawn attention in the past to the increased sophistication of the DPRK’s use of cyber-attacks. In its August 2019 report, the panel estimated that the DPRK’s cyber actors had, by then, generated around $2 billion in revenue.  

On 15 January, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un showcased the country’s latest weapons systems, including a new submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), during a night-time military parade in Pyongyang. Aa similar military parade in October 2020, the DPRK displayed what it claimed was its largest ICBM to date. 

At his confirmation hearing before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken indicated that the new US administration would conduct a full review of the US approach toward the DPRK. The new US president, Joe Biden, has been a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump’s approach, especially his summitlevel meetings with Kim. During a 12 February press briefing, State Department spokesperson Ned Price emphasised that lack of engagement with the DPRK should not be interpreted as an indication that the relationship with the DPRK is not a priority for the US administration. He stressed that the US would remain committed to the denuclearisation of the DPRK.  

In 2017, the Council adopted resolution 2397, which imposed an annual cap of 500,000 barrels on the DPRK’s imports of refined petroleum. A persistent issue at the committee level has been its members inability to agree on a ton/barrel conversion rate, which would help the committee determine with more precision the permitted amount of imported petroleum products. China and Russia notify the committee of their shipments of refined petroleum to the DPRK in tons while other members use barrels. After numerous attempts to resolve this issue, committee members reached an agreement on the conversion rate in January.  

Human Rights-Related Developments 

On 9 March, during its 46th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) is expected to hold an interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, and consider his report (A/HRC/46/51). On 11 March, the HRC is expected to consider the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on promoting accountability in the DPRK (A/HRC/46/52). The report concludes that “[a]nalysis of available information continues to confirm that there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed and may be ongoing”. The High Commissioner said in a statement on 2 February that, seven years since the report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK (A/HRC/25/63), “not only does impunity prevail, but human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity continue to be committed”. She called for a reinvigorated effort to bring justice to victims of gross human rights violations in the DPRK. 

Key Issues and Options 

The security situation on the Korean peninsula, which remains volatile despite the absence of ballistic missile or nuclear tests over the past several months, is an ongoing issue for the Council. As evident from the January military parade, the DPRK has continued to develop new weapons systems, including ICBMs, in violation of Security Council resolutions. Initial diplomatic efforts and a period of US-DPRK rapprochement in 2018-19 resulted in the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. In 2020, the DPRK appeared to abandon the diplomatic track and engaged in heightened rhetoric aimed at the Republic of Korea and the US. There is also some uncertainty over how the DPRK will react to the change in the US administration, given that Biden criticised the US engagement with Kim during Trump’s presidency.   

An option for the Council would be to convene an informal interactive dialogue with key regional stakeholders to discuss new ways of addressing the security threat posed by the DPRK. The Council could also consider adopting a formal outcome addressing the need for stability on the Korean peninsula and calling for the resumption of diplomatic talks. 

In light of the DPRK’s persistent violations of the sanctions regime, the effectiveness of the regime remains an issue for the Council. These violations have been well documented in the Panel of Experts reports. In renewing the mandate of the Panel of Experts, the Council could include stronger language on the need for member states to adhere to the existing sanctions measures. It could also request the DPRK sanctions committee to provide a report on ways to more strictly enforce the sanctions 

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 maximum pressure policy until the DPRK takes concrete steps towards 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. In December 2019, they circulated a draft resolution providing partial sanctions relief for the DPRK, but the proposal was not put to a vote and remains stalled because of insufficient support from other Council members. 

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

It seems unlikely that there will be a significant shift in Council dynamics because of changes in the Council’s composition as of 1 January and the new US administration. During the Trump administration, the US was reluctant to draw too much attention to the DPRK’s ballistic missile testing, possibly fearing negative consequences for its diplomatic efforts. It focused mostly on sanctions pressure and diplomatic effortswhile the Council’s European members took the lead in the Council’s response to the DPRK’s ballistic missile activities. The Biden administration has signalled that it would increase pressure on the DPRK to force it to come to the negotiating table and abandon nuclear weapons. 

The US is the penholder on the DPRK, and Ambassador Mona Juul (Norway) chairs the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee. 

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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/2020/270 This contained the written procedure voting record from 30 March on resolution 2515 that extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.
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.
Sanctions Committee Document
28 August 2020S/2020/840 This was the midterm report of the Panel of Experts.

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