March 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2022
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In March, the Security 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

The Panel of Experts provided its final report to the Committee on 4 February. The Committee discussed the report when it met on 23 February. Under the terms of resolution 2569, the Panel of Experts was due to submit the report to the Council no later than 25 February.

According to media outlets claiming to have seen the report, it notes that the DPRK has continued to evade maritime sanctions and maintain and develop its nuclear and ballistic missile infrastructure, “including through cyber means and joint scientific research”. Media reports also say that the report indicates that cyber-attacks are an important source of revenue for the DPRK and that the DPRK stole more than $50 million from at least three cryptocurrency exchanges in North America, Europe and Asia between 2020 and mid-2021.

At a 19 January meeting of the Politburo of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), DPRK officials were reportedly instructed “to promptly examine the issue of restarting all temporarily-suspended activities”. Several analysts have suggested that this instruction appears to be a reference to the possible resumption of long-range and nuclear weapons tests by the DPRK, which have been the subject of a self-imposed moratorium since 2017.

On 30 January, the Republic of Korea (ROK) announced that the DPRK had tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile. According to ROK officials, the missile travelled approximately 800 kilometres before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The following day, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the DPRK’s official state news agency, said that the test was conducted to verify the accuracy of the Hwasong-12 missile, which it last tested in 2017. Council resolutions prohibit the DPRK from testing ballistic missiles.

On 4 February, Council members convened for closed consultations to discuss the 30 January test. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo briefed. It appears that DiCarlo emphasised the importance of Council unity in responding to the DPRK’s recent missile tests and said that such unity will help the Council find a solution to the problem. A majority of Council members condemned the missile launch and expressed concern regarding the DPRK’s behaviour, and it seems that several members urged the Council to respond formally. China and Russia, however, did not condemn the test and apparently blamed the US for not engaging in dialogue with the DPRK. It appears that China and Russia also focused on the humanitarian impact of sanctions and the need to provide sanctions relief to the DPRK, while some African members noted that sanctions were negatively affecting the humanitarian situation in the country and said that this should be addressed.

The US circulated a draft press statement prior to the consultations. Among other matters, the statement apparently condemned the 30 January test, noted that the test violated Council resolutions, called on member states to implement sanctions, and urged the DPRK to engage in meaningful negotiations. It appears that the press statement was blocked by China.

Before the meeting, Ambassador Zhang Jun (China) told the media that the US should show “more sincerity and flexibility” and that it should “come up with more attractive and more practical, more flexible approaches, policies and actions”. Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, Japan, Norway, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US issued a joint statement after the meeting that condemned the 30 January launch and called on the Council to speak with one voice in responding to it. The statement also urged “all member states, and particularly our fellow Council members” to play a constructive role in implementing UN sanctions and called for the DPRK to return to dialogue.

On 12 February, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and the ROK’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chung Eui-yong, in Hawaii. In a press conference following the meeting, all three officials condemned the DPRK’s recent spate of missile tests and said that their governments were open to dialogue.

On 24 February, Council members convened for closed consultations to discuss the 90-day report on the work of the 1718 Sanctions Committee. Ambassador Mona Juul (Norway) briefed.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During the 49th session of the Human Rights Council, which is scheduled to run from 28 February to 1 April, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet will provide an oral update on possible strategies for any future accountability process in the DPRK.

In an 11 February statement, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, would conduct an official visit to the ROK from 15 to 23 February. Ojea Quintana will meet with ROK government officials, members of the National Assembly and DPRK escapees, among others. Despite repeated requests, the DPRK has not granted him access to the country. Ojea Quintana will report his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in March.

Key Issues and Options

The DPRK’s recent missile tests have dramatically escalated tensions on the Korean peninsula and created a major issue for the Council. It appears that the DPRK tested nine ballistic missiles in January, the most in any one-month period in the history of its weapons programmes.

Sanctions evasion is another important issue. In its 8 September 2021 midterm report, the Panel of Experts noted that maritime vessels and “the management and ownership structures supporting them” have demonstrated increasing sophistication in their efforts to evade sanctions. The overall effectiveness of the sanctions regime is also a concern for the Council, particularly given that the DPRK is believed to have increased its nuclear arsenal since the sanctions regime was introduced. Other issues for the Council are the DPRK’s ongoing refusal to engage in denuclearisation dialogue and the humanitarian impact of UN sanctions.

In light of these issues, the Council could consider adopting a formal outcome that condemns the recent missile tests, urges member states to comply with sanctions and calls for the resumption of diplomatic talks.

In extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts, Council members could include stronger language on the need for member states to adhere to existing sanctions. It could also request a report on sanctions enforcement that considers whether stricter enforcement is possible or add language that emphasises the importance of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee’s role in considering humanitarian exemption requests.

Another option is to 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 (France, the UK and the US) and other like-minded states regularly condemn its ballistic missile tests, arguing that they violate Council resolutions and destabilise the Korean Peninsula. These members 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 UN 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.

It is possible that members’ divergent views will lead to contentious negotiations on the resolution extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts. The overall dynamic may change, however, if the DPRK’s behaviour should escalate and it were to test an intercontinental ballistic missile or a nuclear weapon.

In October 2021, China circulated a draft resolution on easing sanctions on the DPRK, citing their humanitarian consequences. Although Russia is in favour of this resolution, it appears to have little support among other Council members. A previous attempt by China and Russia to promote a draft resolution providing partial sanctions relief for the DPRK in December 2019 was unsuccessful because of insufficient support from other Council members.

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

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK

Security Council Resolutions
22 December 2017S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
Sanctions Committee Documents
8 September 2021S/2021/777 This was the midterm report of the 1718 Panel of Experts.

 

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