DPRK (North Korea)
Expected Council Action
In August, 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
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have continued to escalate significantly in recent months. Since early May, the DPRK has conducted a number of ballistic missile tests in spite of Council resolutions that prohibit the DPRK from launching ballistic missiles.
On 4 May, the Republic of Korea (ROK) military announced that the DPRK had fired a ballistic missile eastward into the Sea of Japan from Sunan, a northern district of Pyongyang. The missile travelled approximately 470 kilometres and reached an altitude of about 780 kilometres.
On 7 May, the ROK reported that the DPRK had fired a short-range ballistic missile from a submarine in waters near Sinpo, a city on the DPRK’s east coast. The test, which was conducted three days before the 10 May inauguration of ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol, marked the first time the DPRK has trialled a submarine-launched ballistic missile since October 2021 and came approximately two weeks after DPRK leader Kim Jong-un vowed to expand the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal “at the fastest possible speed”. Yoon has promised to adopt a tougher stance toward the DPRK than his predecessor, Moon Jae-in.
On 12 May, the ROK announced that the DPRK had launched three short-range ballistic missiles from Sunan and said that the missiles flew approximately 360 kilometres to an altitude of about 90 kilometres before landing in the Sea of Japan.
US President Joe Biden visited Japan and the ROK in late May. In a 21 May joint statement, the ROK and the US reaffirmed the US commitment to “deploy strategic assets in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary” and “identify new or additional steps to reinforce deterrence in the face of DPRK destabilising activities”. The statement also referred to expanded cooperation between the ROK and the US in a range of areas, including cyber security, nuclear energy, regional security, and supply chains.
On 24 May, the ROK reported that the DPRK had fired three ballistic missiles from Sunan toward the Sea of Japan. The first missile appeared to be the Hwasong-17, the DPRK’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and reportedly travelled approximately 360 kilometres to a maximum altitude of about 540 kilometres. The second missile failed mid-flight, and the third was a short-range ballistic missile that flew about 760 kilometres and reached a maximum altitude of approximately 60 kilometres. On the same day, the ROK’s deputy national security adviser Kim Tae-hyo said that the DPRK also appeared to have conducted multiple experiments with a detonation device in preparation for a nuclear test.
In a 5 June statement, the ROK announced that the DPRK had fired eight short-range ballistic missiles from Sunan. The test came a day after the ROK and the US ended joint military drills in the region, including exercises involving a US aircraft carrier. The missiles flew between 110 to 600 kilometres at altitudes from 25 to 90 kilometres. The launch took place during a visit to Seoul by US Special Representative for the DPRK Sung Kim and prompted a joint ROK-US missile test in response, as well as a joint military exercise between Japan and the US.
On 7 June, Kim warned that the DPRK could conduct a nuclear test “at any time” and said that the DPRK has shown “no interest” in returning to negotiations. The previous day, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi told the IAEA’s board that the DPRK has moved to expand key facilities at Yongbyon, its main nuclear site.
During the fifth plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (the DPRK’s ruling party), which ran from 8-10 June, Kim Jong-un announced plans to boost the country’s military power and defence research. The next day, the ROK announced that the DPRK had fired multiple artillery shots into the Sea of Japan.
During a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid on 29 and 30 June, Japan, the ROK and the US reportedly agreed to explore further means to reinforce “extended deterrence” against the DPRK. This marked the first time that Japan and the ROK have attended a NATO summit.
On 5 July, Seoul announced that six US F-35A stealth fighters had arrived in the ROK for the first time since October 2017. The fighters engaged in joint military drills with the ROK air force. On 10 July, the ROK announced that it had detected “flight trajectories” suspected to be shots fired by multiple rocket launchers from the DPRK.
In a 28 July speech, Kim Jong-un reportedly said that the DPRK’s “nuclear war deterrent is also ready to mobilise its absolute power dutifully, exactly, and swiftly in accordance with its mission”. Kim also described Yoon as a “confrontation maniac” and accused the US of “demonising” the DPRK.
The Council voted on a US-initiated draft resolution updating and strengthening the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime on 26 May. The draft resolution was vetoed by China and Russia, with the remaining 13 Council members voting in its favour. The following day, the US imposed sanctions on two Russian banks, a DPRK company and an individual based in Belarus for their involvement with the DPRK’s weapons programmes.
At a 31 May press conference, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) said that the US will push for additional sanctions again if the DPRK conducts a nuclear test. A Reuters article published on 9 June noted that Ambassador Zhang Jun (China) has warned against making presumptions about how China will react if the DPRK conducts a nuclear test, reportedly saying, “let’s see what will happen, but I think we should not prejudge what will happen with a nuclear test”.
On 8 June, the General Assembly held a debate on China and Russia’s use of the veto. The debate was the first time the General Assembly acted in accordance with resolution A/RES/76/262, which stipulates that the President of the General Assembly shall convene a formal meeting of the General Assembly within ten working days of a veto being cast by a permanent member of the Council.
On 12 May, the DPRK reported its first official case of COVID-19, describing the outbreak as the “gravest national emergency” and ordering a nationwide lockdown. Although very few cases of COVID-19 were officially confirmed due to a lack of testing equipment, DRPK authorities have reported a number of cases involving fever symptoms. On 19 May, the DRPK reported 263,370 new fever cases. In a 2 June video briefing, Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme Michael Ryan said that the WHO has had “real issues in getting access to the raw data and to the actual situation on the ground” in the DPRK. Ryan also said the WHO assumes “the situation is getting worse, not better”. On 18 July, the DPRK authorities reported only 250 cases of fever.
Despite the apparent severity of the outbreak, the DPRK has largely rebuffed offers of foreign aid made by the US and others, including offers to provide COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies. According to media reports, a 30 June statement issued by the DPRK’s foreign ministry described the US offer as “foolish” and accused the US of seeking to water down international criticism of its approach to the DPRK.
Key Issues and Options
The missile tests conducted by the DPRK in 2022 have dramatically escalated tensions throughout Northeast Asia and created a significant issue for the Council. The DPRK has carried out at least 18 tests so far this year, a marked increase compared to previous years.
Sanctions evasion is another important issue for the Council, as is the overall effectiveness of the sanctions regime, particularly given that the DPRK is widely believed to have increased its nuclear arsenal since the regime was introduced in 2006. The DPRK’s ongoing refusal to return to denuclearisation talks and the humanitarian situation in the country are also important issues for the Council to consider.
In light of these issues, the Council could consider a product that condemns the recent missile tests, urges member states to comply with existing Council resolutions and calls for the DPRK to return to the negotiating table. At the committee level, the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee could request a report on options for strengthening sanctions enforcement from the Panel of Experts.
Council members may also wish to consider convening an informal interactive dialogue with key regional stakeholders and disarmament experts to discuss new ideas for addressing the DPRK’s nuclear activities.
Council members are sharply divided on the DPRK. The P3 (France, the UK, and the US), along with other like-minded members, regularly condemn its ballistic missile tests and argue that they violate Council resolutions and destabilise the Korean peninsula. China and Russia, on the other hand, often argue that more information is needed to determine whether particular missile launches violate Council resolutions and also contend that sanctions should be eased because of their impact on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. China and Russia have also suggested that easing sanctions may encourage the DPRK to engage in dialogue and have criticised the US for not offering the DRPK incentives to return to negotiations. Both states continue to express support for a draft resolution circulated by China in October 2021 that would provide sanctions relief to the DPRK.
Other Council members have also expressed concerns about the efficacy of the DPRK sanctions regime and its humanitarian consequences. In its 26 May explanation of vote on the draft resolution vetoed by China and Russia, Brazil said that it shares “concerns about the humanitarian impact of sanctions and their effectiveness in changing states’ behaviour, especially in cases of comprehensive sanctions regimes that tend to last indefinitely…”. During its explanation of vote on 26 May, Kenya noted that it regrets “the current policy of protracted sanctions”. At a 25 March open meeting, Mexico said that “it is clear that the sanctions that the Council has imposed to curb the nuclear and ballistic missile program 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”.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK
|Security Council Resolution|
|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.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|26 May 2022S/PV.9048||This was the meeting at which China and Russia vetoed a draft resolution that would have updated and strengthened the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime.|
|25 March 2022S/PV.9004||This was a meeting at which resolution 2627 was adopted, extending the mandate for the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 30 April 2023. The Council also received a briefing from Under Secretary General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo on the ballistic missile tests carried out by the DPRK in 2022, including the ICBM test conducted on 24 March.|
|Sanctions Committee Document|
|1 March 2022S/2022/132||This was the final report of the 1718 Panel of Experts.|
|26 May 2022S/2022/431||This was a draft resolution proposed by the US and vetoed by China and Russia that would have updated and strengthened the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime.|