May 2022 Monthly Forecast

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 closed consultations on the 90-day report regarding the Committee’s work.

Key Recent Developments

On 24 March, Japan announced that the DPRK had conducted its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test since November 2017, ending a self-imposed moratorium on testing ICBMs that began in 2018. The following day, Council members held an open meeting, followed by closed consultations, to discuss the test. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo briefed, and Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) participated in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. 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 upon.

In a report delivered to the ROK’s National Assembly on 29 March, the country’s Ministry of National Defense said that the DPRK’s 24 March ICBM test involved the Hwasong-15 missile, rather than the more powerful Hwasong-17 that the DPRK claimed to have tested. The report also linked the test to a failed launch on 16 March, saying of the DPRK’s intentions that “now that Pyongyang citizens had witnessed the failure, they needed to send a message of success and do so quickly in order to prevent rumours from spreading and to ensure regime stability…so they launched a Hwasong-15 model whose reliability had been confirmed through a test in 2017”. Prior to the publication of the report, several analysts queried the veracity of the DPRK’s claim that it had tested the Hwasong-17.

According to media reports, both US and ROK officials have expressed concern that the DPRK will soon conduct a nuclear test for the first time since 2017. The DPRK has reportedly resumed restoration work at Punggye-ri, a nuclear test site that was closed and partly dismantled in 2018, and on 28 March, the DPRK’s state news agency reported Kim Jong-un as saying that he plans to develop more “powerful striking capabilities”.

On 1 April, the US imposed new sanctions on five entities linked to the DPRK’s weapons programmes. This followed its 24 March decision to sanction two Russian companies and a DPRK entity for their involvement in the DPRK’s missile programme.

Although Kim Jong-un and outgoing ROK president Moon Jae-in sent each other “letters of friendship” during the week commencing 17 April, the DPRK and the ROK have otherwise exchanged inflammatory rhetoric in recent weeks. In a 1 April statement, ROK Defense Minister Suh Wook said that the ROK military has missiles that can “accurately and quickly hit any target in the DPRK”. On 5 April, Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister, reportedly warned that the DPRK would use nuclear weapons in response to an attack by the ROK. The following day, advisers to ROK president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol told reporters that during a recent visit to Washington they had asked the US to redeploy strategic assets to the ROK, including nuclear bombers and submarines.

In the lead-up to the 15 April celebrations of the 110th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, a US Navy spokesperson said on 12 April that the US had sent a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to international waters between the ROK and Japan, the first deployment of such a carrier to these waters since November 2017. During a 23 April visit to the carrier, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi promised that Japan would “significantly strengthen” its defence capabilities and work closely with the US to maintain regional security.

On 17 April, the ROK military announced that the DPRK had tested two short-range missiles, launching them from Hamhung, a city on the DPRK’s east coast. The missiles reportedly travelled for 110 kilometres and reached an altitude of 25 kilometres. Earlier on the same day, DPRK state media said that Kim Jong-un had overseen a test of a “new-type tactical guided weapon” that was of “great significance” in “enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes”.

The following day, the US began scheduled military drills with the ROK. US Special Representative for the DPRK Sung Kim said that the US and the ROK would maintain “the strongest possible joint deterrent” in response to the DPRK’s “escalatory actions”. Kim also noted that it was “extremely important for the [Security Council] to send a clear signal to the DPRK that we will not accept its escalatory tests as normal”.

A delegation of foreign policy aides to ROK president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on 26 April. According to media reports, Kishida said that “there is no time to waste to improve ties between Japan and [the ROK]”, while the head of the ROK delegation noted that they had agreed to work towards forward-looking relations and for their mutual interests.

On 26 April, the DPRK held a large military parade to celebrate the 90th anniversary of its armed forces. In remarks delivered during the parade, Kim Jong-un said that the DPRK’s nuclear weapons “can never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent”, before adding “if any forces try to violate the fundamental interests of our state, our nuclear forces will have to decisively accomplish an unexpected second mission”. Some analysts have speculated that this rhetoric may suggest that the DPRK is willing to use nuclear force pre-emptively. Kim also said that the DPRK would expand its nuclear arsenal “at the fastest possible speed” during this speech.

Cryptocurrency and cyberattacks appear to be playing a growing role in the DPRK’s efforts to evade sanctions. On 18 April, the FBI, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the US Department of Treasury issued a joint advisory regarding the risk of cyber threats involving cryptocurrency from the DPRK. The advisory indicated that hackers linked to the DPRK had successfully targeted different organisations in the cryptocurrency industry. In its 1 March final report, the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee noted that cyberattacks on cryptocurrency assets “remain an important revenue source for the [DPRK]”.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 21 March, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, and considered his report (A/HRC/49/74). In his statement, the special rapporteur emphasised that it is imperative for the government to cease its ongoing crimes against humanity. He noted that efforts should be made to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or to create an ad hoc tribunal or comparable mechanism to determine individual criminal responsibility. He added that alternatives based on principles of universal or extraterritorial jurisdiction should also be pursued, while the preservation of information that may be used in future processes needed to continue.

On 1 April, the HRC adopted resolution 49/22 on the situation of human rights in the DPRK without a vote. The resolution extends the mandate of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK for one year. Among other things, it requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights “to include additional options for strengthening, institutionalising and further advancing work on accountability in the DPRK” in a report to be submitted to the HRC at its 52nd session.

Key Issues and Options

The DPRK’s recent missile tests have escalated tensions throughout northeast Asia and created a major issue for the Council. The DPRK has now conducted 13 missile tests in 2022, a dramatic increase compared to the previous two years. At the public meeting following the 24 March ICBM launch, the US announced that it would introduce a draft Chapter VII resolution “to update and strengthen the sanctions regime”. Deciding whether to adopt this resolution is the Council’s main priority on the DPRK file. At the time of writing, negotiations concerning the resolution were ongoing.

Sanctions evasion is another important issue. In its final report, the Panel of Experts noted that “sophisticated evasion of maritime sanctions continued, facilitated by deliberately obfuscated financial and ownership networks”. The overall effectiveness of the sanctions regime is also a problem for the Council, particularly given that the DPRK is widely believed to have increased its nuclear arsenal since the regime was introduced. Other issues for the Council are the DPRK’s continuing refusal to return to the negotiating table and the humanitarian situation in the country.

If the US-initiated draft resolution updating the sanctions regime is not adopted, the Council could instead choose to pursue a product that condemns the recent missile tests, urges member states to comply with Council resolutions on the sanctions regime, and calls for the DPRK to return to diplomatic talks. At the committee level, the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee may wish to consider requesting a report from the Panel of Experts that analyses whether stricter sanctions enforcement is possible.

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 are sharply divided regarding the DPRK. The P3 (France, the UK and the US), together with other like-minded states, frequently 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 sanctions should be eased because of their effect on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. China and Russia have also suggested that easing sanctions may entice the DPRK to engage in dialogue and have criticised the US for not offering the DPRK incentives to return to negotiations.

In line with these positions, and with the exception of China and Russia, there appears to be general support among Council members for the US draft resolution on the sanctions regime. Some Council members have, however, expressed concern regarding the overall efficacy of sanctions in their public statements. At the 25 March meeting, for example, Mexico said, “it is clear that the sanctions that the Council has imposed to curb the nuclear and ballistic missile programme of the [DPRK] are not working”, while Gabon noted that “lessons must be urgently drawn from the inability of sanctions to offer an appropriate and effective response”.

In October 2021, China circulated a draft resolution that would provide sanctions relief to the DPRK, citing their humanitarian consequences. Although Russia is in favour of this draft resolution, it appears to have little support among other members. Despite this lack of support, China and Russia have both continued to advocate for this initiative. A previous attempt by China and Russia to promote a draft resolution easing sanctions on 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
25 March 2022S/RES/2627 This resolution extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 30 April 2023.
22 December 2017S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
Sanctions Committee Document
1 March 2022S/2022/132 This was the final report of the 1718 Panel of Experts.