February 2022 Monthly Forecast

ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In February, 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 closed consultations on the 90-day report regarding the Committee’s work. The Committee is expected to discuss the final report of the Panel of Experts in February, following which the Panel is due to submit its final report to the Council by 25 February.

Key Recent Developments

Since the beginning of 2022, the DPRK has carried out a series of missile tests. These tests followed the fourth plenary meeting of the eighth central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), the DPRK’s ruling party, which took place from 27 to 31 December 2021. During the meeting, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un apparently vowed to bolster the DPRK’s military capability, according to media reports. A report on the meeting by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the DPRK’s state news agency, noted that “the military environment of the Korean peninsula and the trend of the international situation getting instable day after day demand that bolstering the state defence capability be further powerfully propelled without a moment’s delay”.

On 5 January, the Republic of Korea (ROK) military announced that the DPRK had launched a ballistic missile that landed in the Sea of Japan. The following day, the KCNA said that the missile was hypersonic and that it had struck a target approximately 700 kilometres away. ROK and Japanese officials disputed these claims, suggesting that the missile was not hypersonic and had travelled less than 700 kilometres. This test was the DPRK’s first missile launch since 19 October 2021, when it trialled a submarine-launched ballistic missile in waters off its east coast. Council resolutions prohibit the DPRK from conducting ballistic missile tests.

The 5 January test prompted Albania, France, Ireland, the UK, and the US to request a meeting regarding the DPRK. Closed consultations were subsequently held on 10 January. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari briefed. It seems that Khiari provided an overview of the missile launch, conveyed the Secretary-General’s concerns regarding this development, and called on the Council to present a united front in responding to the test. Most Council members apparently condemned the missile launch or expressed concern regarding the DPRK’s actions. It appears that Brazil, for example, condemned the launch and contended that it was incompatible with international humanitarian law. On the other hand, it seems that China and Russia neither expressed concern regarding the launch nor condemned it, focusing instead on the humanitarian effects of UN sanctions on the DPRK. In doing so, both countries voiced their support for a draft resolution easing sanctions on the DPRK that was circulated by China in late October 2021. It appears that negotiations on this draft resolution involving all Council members have not yet been scheduled.

Immediately before the 10 January meeting, Albania, France, Ireland, the UK, and the US, together with non-Council member Japan, issued a joint statement in which they condemned the DPRK’s actions and called on member states to fulfil their sanctions obligations under Council resolutions. The statement also called on the DPRK to abandon its prohibited weapons programmes and engage in meaningful dialogue regarding the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

The DPRK conducted another ballistic missile test on 11 January. The ROK military reported that this missile travelled more than 700 kilometres at a top speed of Mach 10, saying that it appeared to be more advanced than the missile that was tested on 5 January. The missile was fired to the east of the DPRK and landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The KCNA claimed that the missile made a 600-kilometre “glide jump flight” and engaged in 240 kilometres of “corkscrew manoeuvring” before hitting its target. Kim reportedly attended the test and subsequently stressed “the need to further accelerate efforts to steadily build up the country’s strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity and further modernise the army”, according to the KCNA.

On 12 January, the US imposed unilateral sanctions on six DPRK nationals, one Russian national, and a Russian firm, citing their involvement with the DPRK’s weapons programmes. Four of the DPRK nationals are based in China and two are based in Russia, according to media reports. In a 12 January tweet, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) announced that the US was “proposing UN sanctions following North Korea’s six ballistic missile launches since September 2021”. In line with this announcement, it appears that the US has written to the Chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee proposing new designations under existing Council resolutions. These designations apparently align with the unilateral sanctions imposed by the US on 12 January.

In a 14 January statement, the DPRK’s Foreign Ministry accused the US of “intentionally escalating the situation…with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring the DPRK’s just activity to the UN Security Council” and said that “if the US adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it”. On the same day, the DPRK launched two short-range ballistic missiles from the north-western part of the country. According to the ROK military, the missiles travelled approximately 430 kilometres to the east before crashing. The KCNA subsequently claimed that the missiles were launched from train cars and struck targets on an island off the DPRK’s east coast.

On 17 January, the DPRK tested another two short-range ballistic missiles. The ROK military reported that the missiles were launched from the Suan Airport near Pyongyang and flew approximately 380 kilometres to the east before landing. The KCNA described the weapons as “tactical guided missiles” and contended that they hit targets on an island on the DPRK’s eastern seaboard.

The Politburo of the WPK met on 19 January. According to the KCNA, the Politburo instructed DPRK officials “to promptly examine the issue of restarting all temporarily-suspended activities”, an apparent reference to the possible resumption of long-range and nuclear weapons tests.

On 20 January, Council members convened for closed consultations on the DPRK following a request from Albania, France, Ireland, the UK, and the US. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo briefed. Prior to the meeting, Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, Japan, the UAE, the UK, and the US issued a statement which said the DPRK’s behaviour “is a threat to international peace and security” and urged the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee to proactively support the implementation of Council resolutions concerning the DPRK. The statement also called on member states to take the necessary steps to implement UN sanctions in their jurisdictions. It appears that the US proposed press elements which, among other matters, would have urged the DPRK to comply with its obligations under Council resolutions and engage in dialogue on denuclearisation. China and Russia apparently opposed this proposal, and the elements were not agreed. It seems that China and Russia also blocked the new sanctions designations proposed by the US on 12 January.

The DPRK conducted an additional ballistic missile test on 27 January. According to the ROK military, the DPRK fired two short-range ballistic missiles from Hamhung, a city on its east coast, and the missiles travelled approximately 190 kilometres. Two days earlier, the DPRK reportedly launched two cruise missiles into the sea off its east coast. Cruise missile launches are not prohibited by Council resolutions concerning the DPRK.

Key Issues and Options

The ballistic missile tests conducted by the DPRK in 2022, which appear to contravene Council resolutions, are 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 ongoing refusal to engage in denuclearisation dialogue is another area of concern. Some Council members also contend that UN sanctions are having a negative humanitarian impact on the country.

In light of these issues, the Council may wish to consider adopting a formal outcome that condemns the missile tests, urges member states to comply with UN sanctions, and calls for the resumption of diplomatic talks. The Council could also request a briefing from OCHA regarding the humanitarian implications of UN sanctions on the DPRK. 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.

Council Dynamics

Council members remain divided regarding the DPRK. The P3 and other like-minded states regularly condemn its missile tests, arguing that they violate Council resolutions and destabilise the Korean Peninsula. These states also emphasise the importance of dialogue, maintaining the sanctions regime, and addressing sanctions evasion. 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 denuclearisation dialogue.

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.