May 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2021
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action  

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

Key Recent Developments 

After a one-year pause, the DPRK resumed ballistic missile testing on 25 March, launching two projectiles off its eastern coast into the Sea of Japan. The DPRK state news agency confirmed the tests and indicated that the missiles are part of newly developed weapons system. DPRK senior military official Ri Pyong Chol, who oversaw the tests, hailed the significance of the newly developed missiles in deterring existing threats to the country and strengthening the DPRK’s overall military power. Japan, the Republic of Korea and the US condemned the tests. During media remarks on 25 March, US President Joe Biden said that the DPRK’s missile tests violated resolution 1718. Biden said the US would respond accordingly should the DPRK escalate the situation, but he also emphasised that he is prepared to engage in diplomatic efforts on the condition that the DPRK denuclearises. 

The US called a meeting of the sanctions committee on 26 March to discuss the DPRK’s missile tests. During the meeting, the committee requested the Panel of Experts to examine the evidence on the tests and report back to the committee. Four days later, Council members discussed the issue in consultations under “any other business”. Estonia, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and France initiated the meeting. 

Since President Biden took office in January, his administration has indicated that it would conduct a full review of US policy towards the DPRK. The US State Department has signalled that the review process is entering its final stages and could be completed in the coming weeks. In several of his recent remarks to the media, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has emphasised that the main priority for the US remains the denuclearisation of the DPRK. He also said that the US would maintain strong sanctions pressure on the DPRK while leaving room for diplomacy. 

The Panel of Experts published its final report on 4 March, covering the period from 4 August 2020 to 5 February. While the DPRK did not conduct any nuclear or ballistic missile tests during the reporting period, it has continued to violate a range of other sanctions measures imposed by the Council. Most notably, the DPRK has continued to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The DPRK showcased its newly developed submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile systems during military parades in January of this year and in October 2020. The DPRK has continued to import refined petroleum products via illicit ship-to-ship transfers and direct deliveries. The panel noted that according to the data received from one member state, the DPRK has far exceeded its annual import limit of 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum products as set by resolution 2397. The final report also detailed instances of the DPRK’s engaging in malicious cyber activity aimed at obtaining financial assets (virtual and fiat) in violation of Security Council sanctions. The DPRK has also conducted cyberattacks against officials of Council member states.    

On 26 March, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2569, which extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 Sanctions Committee until 30 April 2022. The resolution set deadlines for the panel to submit its midterm and final reports to the Council by 6 September and 25 February 2022, respectively.    

Human Rights-Related Developments 

During its 46th session, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 46/17 on the human rights situation in the DPRK on 23 March without a vote. The resolution decided to continue to strengthen, for a period of two years, the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner, including its field-based structure in Seoul, so that it can implement relevant recommendations in the report by the Group of Independent Experts on Accountability. Those recommendations called for strengthening current monitoring and documentation efforts, establishing a central information and evidence repository, and having legal experts assess information and testimonies, all with the aim of developing possible strategies to be used in any future accountability process. It also extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK for one year.   

Key Issues and Options  

The DPRK’s violation of Security Council resolutions—including through testing and developing weapons systems—remains an ongoing issue. After a yearlong pause, the DPRK’s resumption of ballistic missile testing in March renewed the Council’s concerns over the security situation on the Korean Peninsula. Also, the DPRK has continued to develop new weapons systems, including intercontinental ballistic missilesAt present, the DPRK has shown no interest in engaging in diplomatic talks with either the US or the Republic of Korea.   

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. Should the DPRK escalate its missiletesting activity, an option for the Council would be to consider further tightening of sanctions measures. 

As evident from the final report of the Panel of Experts, violations of the sanctions regime remain an ongoing issue for the Council. In response, the Council could issue a statement calling on member states to adhere to existing sanctions measures.      

The ongoing dire human rights situation in the DPRK remains an issue. However, the Council broke its practice of holding an annual briefing with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on this topic in 2018. An option for the Council would be to explore the possibility of holding such a meeting this year.   

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 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. 

The new US administration is currently reviewing its policy towards the DPRK. Once completed, this could potentially have some impact on overall dynamics in the Council. Another factor that could play a role in changing the Council’s approach is whether the DPRK decides to reengage in diplomatic efforts with the US. These efforts remain at an impasse since the collapse of the February 2019 US-DPRK summit in Hanoi.   

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

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK

Security Council Resolutions
26 March 2021S/RES/2569 This resolution extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 30 April 2022.
22 December 2017S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
Security Council Letter
26 March 2021S/2021/296 This was letter from the president of the Security Council, containing the results of the vote on resolution 2569.
Security Council Letter
4 March 2021S/2021/211 This was the final report of the Panel of Experts.