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 closed consultations on the 90-day report regarding the Committee’s work.
Key Recent Developments
Since 25 September, the DPRK has conducted nine tests involving ballistic or cruise missiles. It has now carried out 27 such tests so far this year, a record number.
On 4 October, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) announced that the DPRK had fired a ballistic missile over Japanese territory for the first time since 15 September 2017. The missile—which was reportedly launched from Mupyong-ri in the northern province of Jagang, near the DPRK’s border with China—travelled approximately 4,600 kilometres to a height of about 1,000 kilometres and flew directly over northern Japan, prompting the Japanese government to suspend some train services in the region and order residents to evacuate. According to a statement issued by the White House, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke by phone and jointly condemned the test, describing it as a clear violation of Security Council resolutions and confirming that they will “continue to closely coordinate their immediate and longer-term response bilaterally, trilaterally with the ROK, and with the international community”.
The following day, on 5 October, the Security Council convened for an open briefing to discuss the DPRK’s 4 October missile test. The meeting, which was followed by closed consultations, was requested by Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari briefed. Japan and the ROK participated under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. It seems that the US circulated a draft press statement ahead of the meeting that condemned the 4 October test and encouraged efforts to engage in dialogue, among other matters. While the majority of Council members appeared to support the draft statement, it was not issued because of opposition from China and Russia.
The latest round of tests began two days after a US aircraft carrier arrived in the ROK for joint drills with the ROK military for the first time in four years. Shortly after the tests began, US Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to meet ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol and visit the demilitarised zone (DMZ). In a 29 September speech delivered after her tour of the DMZ, Harris said that the “commitment of the [US] to the defence of the [ROK] is ironclad” and that the US “will do everything in our power to ensure that it has meaning … includ[ing] our extended deterrence commitment which is supported by the full range of US military capabilities”. The tests have also prompted the ROK and the US to impose fresh sanctions on the DPRK, while Japan has flagged its intention to do the same.
Japan, the ROK and the US have engaged in a series of joint military exercises in recent weeks, including “real-world day and night manoeuvres simulated to counter [the DPRK’s] nuclear, missile and other various threats”. The DPRK has appeared to use these drills to justify its latest missile tests, reportedly describing the tests as a “normal, planned self-defence measure to protect our country’s security and regional peace from direct US military threats”. It has also responded to the exercises with military action of its own, including by firing artillery shells into a buffer zone established by a 2018 inter-Korean agreement designed to reduce military tensions and by conducting further missile tests.
On 10 October, DPRK state media claimed that its latest missile tests were designed to simulate a nuclear attack on the ROK and involved “tactical nuclear operation units”, which demonstrated that its “nuclear combat forces” are ready “to hit and wipe out the set objects at the intended places in the set time”.
The DPRK’s recent missile tests are the latest of several developments that have escalated tensions on the Korean peninsula. In a speech delivered on the ROK’s National Liberation Day (15 August), Yoon offered to provide the DPRK with different forms of aid, including a large-scale food programme and assistance with infrastructure projects, if the DPRK agrees to take steps toward denuclearisation. In a 19 August statement responding to Yoon’s proposal, Kim Yo-jong, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, reportedly said that “it would have been more favourable for his image to shut his mouth, rather than talking nonsense”.
Several weeks later, on 9 September, the Supreme People’s Assembly, the DPRK legislature, passed legislation that appears to authorise a pre-emptive nuclear strike in certain circumstances, including when an imminent attack against “important strategic objects” or the DPRK’s leadership is detected. The legislation also describes the DPRK as a “nuclear weapons state” and provides that a nuclear strike will be launched “automatically and immediately” if “the command-and-control system over the state nuclear forces is placed in danger”.
On 28 September, two ROK parliamentarians who received a briefing from the ROK intelligence services regarding a possible nuclear test by the DPRK spoke to reporters. The legislators said that they were told that the DPRK had completed its preparations for a nuclear test and that it might be carried out between 16 October and 7 November.
After initial discussions in the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, the midterm report of the Panel of Experts was issued on 7 September. Among other matters, the report describes continued violations of the sanctions imposed by the Council. The Panel noted that illicit imports of oil and exports of coal continued, and found that the same entities, networks and vessels have used the same methodologies in the same places to evade sanctions. The report also observed that the DPRK’s cyberactivity remains a problem, with two major cyberattacks taking place so far this year, leading to the theft of cryptocurrency assets worth hundreds of millions of US dollars. The Panel referred to reports by UN agencies of a continuing humanitarian crisis and concluded that there is “little doubt” that UN sanctions have unintentionally affected the humanitarian situation. The report also confirmed that the DPRK has made preparations at its nuclear test site.
Key Issues and Options
The record number of missile tests conducted by the DPRK in 2022 have created a significant issue for the Council. Sanctions evasion is another important issue, 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 and has shown little inclination to scale back its weapons programmes. The DPRK’s ongoing refusal to engage in dialogue and the humanitarian situation in the country are also problems for the Council to consider.
In light of these issues, the Council could issue a product that condemns the recent missile tests, urges member states to comply with existing Council resolutions and calls on the DPRK to return to the negotiating table. Council members may also wish to consider convening an informal interactive dialogue with humanitarian actors providing assistance to the DPRK, with a view to better understanding the humanitarian problems facing the country.
The dire human rights situation in the DPRK remains an issue. Every December from 2014 to 2017, the Council held an open briefing with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on this topic. Although the Council has not held an open meeting on this issue since December 2017, convening such a meeting before the end of 2022 is an option for the Council. Council members discussed the human rights situation in the DPRK under “any other business” in December 2020 and December 2021.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 2 September, the new special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Elizabeth Salmón, released a statement during her first official visit to the ROK from 29 August to 3 September. Salmón, who assumed this position on 1 August, said that a priority during her mandate would be to take a victims-centred approach. She highlighted several concerns around food and health, women and girls, and separated families, and said she would “seek engagement opportunities with the DPRK authorities through concrete issues such as women and girls’ rights”.
The Council remains sharply divided over 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. These members are generally supportive of using sanctions to manage the threat posed by the DPRK and often urge the country to engage in dialogue and abandon its weapons programmes while emphasising that it is responsible for raising tensions in the region.
China and Russia, on the other hand, blame the US for escalating the situation and accuse it of not doing enough to incentivise the DPRK to participate in denuclearisation talks. China and Russia have also contended that sanctions should be eased because of their impact on the humanitarian situation and continue to express their support for a draft resolution circulated by China in October 2021 that would provide sanctions relief to the DPRK if adopted. Other Council members, including Brazil, Kenya, Mexico, and Gabon, have expressed apparent concerns about the overall efficacy of the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime.
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.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|31 October 2022S/2022/668||This was the midterm report of the 1718 Panel of Experts.|