November 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 October 2021
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In November, 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 regarding the Committee’s work.

Key Recent Developments

Following a six-month pause, the DPRK resumed missile tests. On 13 September, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the DPRK’s state news agency, announced that the DPRK had successfully launched long-range cruise missiles. According to media reports, the missiles struck targets 1,500 kilometres away after travelling for two hours. After the tests, the DPRK said that the cruise missiles are a “strategic weapon of great importance” and that their development was part of an arms build-up announced at the January congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Cruise missile launches are not prohibited by the 1718 sanctions regime. The test followed moves by the DPRK to resume the operation of a reactor at its primary nuclear complex, Yongbyon, a development documented in the annual report on the DPRK by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

On 15 September, the KCNA announced that the DPRK had launched two ballistic missiles off its east coast. The missiles landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan. Ballistic missile tests are prohibited by the 1718 sanctions regime. This test prompted Council members to discuss the DPRK under “any other business” on 16 September following a request from France and Estonia. There was no briefer during the discussion, and several Council members requested the 1718 Panel of Experts to analyse evidence concerning the tests and provide a report to the 1718 Sanctions Committee.

In a 21 September statement delivered to the General Assembly during high-level week, Republic of Korea (ROK) President Moon Jae-in repeated his call for a formal declaration ending the Korean War. Moon proposed “that three parties of the two Koreas and the US, or four parties of the two Koreas, the US and China come together and declare that the war on the Korean Peninsula is over”. In response, Kim Yo-jong, the sister of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un, issued a statement in which she appeared to suggest that the DPRK might be open to formally ending the war if certain conditions were met. Kim said “the declaration of the termination of the war is an interesting and admirable idea. …But it is necessary to look into whether it is the right time now and whether there are conditions ripe for discussing this issue”. Kim reportedly suggested that the DPRK would be willing to attend an inter-Korean summit but reiterated an earlier call for the ROK to end its “hostile policy” toward the DPRK. The ROK subsequently welcomed the prospect of a summit and urged the DPRK to restore the hotline between the two states.

On 28 September, the DPRK launched a missile while its ambassador to the UN, Kim Song, was delivering a speech to the General Assembly. During the speech, Kim said that the US should give up its “hostile policy” toward the DPRK if it wants the Korean War to end. Kim also indicated that the DPRK intended to continue its nuclear program. In the aftermath of the launch, the KCNA claimed that the DPRK had successfully tested a hypersonic ballistic missile. On 30 September, the KCNA announced that the DPRK had also tested an anti-aircraft missile and said that this missile had improved range, speed and accuracy. The same day, Kim Jong-un ordered the hotline between the DPRK and the ROK to be reopened and condemned US offers to begin dialogue as “nothing more than a façade to mask their deception and hostile acts and an extension of hostile policy from past administrations”, while ROK Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong called on the US to give specific details of the incentives it could offer the DPRK if it enters negotiations.

The hypersonic missile test led Council members to discuss the DPRK under “any other business” on 1 October. France, the UK, and the US requested the discussion, which included a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Mohamed Khaled Khiari. Several Council members asked the 1718 Panel of Experts to analyse the tests and submit a report to the 1718 Sanctions Committee. It appears that France also circulated draft press elements regarding the hypersonic missile launch; however, China and Russia indicated that they did not support the French proposal. The draft elements apparently noted that the Council had discussed the test and emphasised the importance of the DPRK abiding by its obligations under Council resolutions and engaging in dialogue. In a 3 October statement, the DPRK warned that the Security Council “had better think what consequences it will bring in the future in case it tries to encroach upon the sovereignty” of the DPRK.

On 19 October, the DPRK conducted a test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile for the first time in two years. The KCNA claimed that this missile had “lots of advanced control guidance technology”. Following the launch, Council members discussed the DPRK under “any other business” on 20 October at the request of Estonia, France, Ireland, the UK, and the US. Khiari briefed and several Council members again asked the Panel of Experts to review evidence regarding the test and submit a report to the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee. In a statement before the meeting, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) urged all countries to fully implement UN sanctions and reiterated that the US remained willing to engage in dialogue with the DPRK. Estonia, France, and Ireland also issued a joint press statement in which they called on the international community to comply with UN sanctions and for the DPRK to engage in dialogue as proposed by the ROK and the US.

Sanctions evasion remains a concern. In a 26 September statement, UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace announced that the UK had collected evidence of breaches of UN sanctions by multiple vessels from different states. In its midterm report, which was issued on 8 September, the 1718 Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts noted that maritime exports of sanctioned commodities from the DPRK have continued this year, albeit at a reduced level. The report also indicated that the DPRK’s importation of oil products fell substantially in the first half of 2021.

Sanctions against the DPRK continue to have an impact on the humanitarian situation in the country. In a report presented to the General Assembly on 22 October, Tomás Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the DPRK, called for the easing of UN sanctions. Quintana argued that “sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council should be reviewed and eased when necessary to both facilitate humanitarian and lifesaving assistance and enable the promotion of the right to an adequate standard of living of ordinary citizens”.

On 24 October, Sung Kim, the US Special Representative for the DPRK, met with the ROK’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, Noh Kyu-duk. At a press conference following the meeting, Kim called on the DPRK to “cease [their] provocations and other destabilising activities and instead engage in dialogue” and said that the US remains “ready to meet with the DPRK without preconditions”. He added, “we have made clear that the US harbours no hostile intent toward [the] DPRK”. At the same press conference, Kyu-duk noted that the meeting included “serious” discussion of the ROK’s proposal to formally end the Korean War.

Key Issues and Options

The flurry of missile tests conducted by the DPRK in recent weeks is a major issue for the Council. Sanctions evasion and the overall effectiveness of the sanctions regime are also important issues, particularly given that the DPRK is widely believed to have increased the number of nuclear weapons in its arsenal since the sanctions regime was introduced. The DPRK’s refusal to entertain offers made by the US and the ROK to engage in dialogue is another area of concern, as is the humanitarian impact of UN sanctions.

In light of these issues, the Council could consider adopting a formal outcome that condemns the missile tests, urges member states to comply with the sanctions and calls for the resumption of diplomatic talks. The Council may wish to consider implementing temporary and targeted sanctions relief that mitigates the humanitarian impact of UN sanctions. Council members could also convene an informal interactive dialogue with key regional stakeholders to discuss new ways of addressing the security threat posed by the DPRK. Another option is to receive a briefing from the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the human rights situation in the DPRK. The Council received such a briefing every December from 2014 to 2017, but it has not taken place in recent years.

Council Dynamics

Council members remain divided regarding the DPRK. The P3 and other like-minded states, such as Estonia and Ireland, regularly condemn its missile tests, arguing that they are in contravention of Council resolutions and suggesting that they risk destabilising the Korean Peninsula. These states also emphasise the importance of dialogue, maintaining the sanctions regime, and addressing sanctions evasion. Other Council members, including the “A3 plus one” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), express concern that the DPRK is contravening Council resolutions and tend to emphasise the need for constructive dialogue. China and Russia, on the other hand, often argue that more information is needed to determine whether particular missile tests violate Council resolutions and also contend that sanctions should be eased because of their humanitarian impact. China and Russia have also suggested that easing sanctions may entice the DPRK to engage in dialogue with the US and the ROK.

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.
Sanctions Committee Document
8 September 2021S/2021/777 This was the midterm report of the 1718 Panel of Experts.