February 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2023
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DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In February, the Chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl (Switzerland), is scheduled to brief Council members in closed consultations on the 90-day report on the Committee’s work.

Key Recent Developments

The DPRK conducted a record number of missile tests in 2022, leading to a significant escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

This trend appears set to continue in 2023. On 1 January, the Republic of Korea (ROK) military announced that the DPRK had fired a short-range ballistic missile from Pyongyang. The missile travelled approximately 400 kilometres before landing in waters off the DPRK’s east coast. The test was the fourth carried out by the DPRK in the space of two weeks.

During the sixth plenary meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), which ran from 26 December to 31 December 2022, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un reportedly called for “a mass production of tactical nuclear weapons”, an “exponential increase” in the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal, and the development of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system “whose main mission is quick nuclear counterstrike”. In a 1 January statement, the ROK’s defence ministry said that the DPRK “will meet its end” if it uses nuclear weapons and that “it must realise that the only way to improve the lives of its people is through denuclearisation”.

This exchange of rhetoric came less than a week after five drones from the DPRK crossed into ROK airspace on 26 December 2022. In response to the incursion, the ROK scrambled jets and attack helicopters and unsuccessfully attempted to shoot down the drones. ROK surveillance aircraft also flew over the DPRK and photographed military installations. The ROK military subsequently apologised for failing to bring the drones down, while ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol warned that the ROK could withdraw from a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement if the DPRK violates ROK airspace again. Among other matters, the agreement calls for an end to “all hostile acts” and a no-fly zone around the border between the DPRK and the ROK.

On 11 January, Yoon told officials from the ROK’s defence and foreign ministries that the ROK could consider obtaining its own nuclear weapons, reportedly saying “it’s possible that the problem gets worse and our country will introduce tactical weapons or build them on our own”. On the same day, ROK Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup announced that the ROK is planning tabletop exercises with the US in February and May “on operating means of extended deterrence under the scenario of the DPRK’s nuclear attacks”. Yoon later appeared to resile from his 11 January comments, telling The Wall Street Journal that “the ROK’s realistic and rational option is to fully respect the [non-proliferation treaty] regime … I’m fully confident about the US’ extended deterrence”.

Increased tensions throughout the region appear to have prompted Japan to increase its defence spending. In late November 2022, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio reportedly instructed Japan’s defence and finance ministers to boost spending on defence to two percent of GDP by 2027. On 16 December 2022, Japan adopted a new national security strategy that includes plans to develop a pre-emptive strike capability and obtain cruise missiles. Japan’s budget for the 2023/24 fiscal year, which was announced on 23 December 2022, outlined record levels of military expenditure.

At a 21 November 2022 open briefing on the DPRK, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) announced that the US intended to pursue a presidential statement on the DPRK’s weapons programmes. It seems that a draft of the presidential statement was circulated by the US on 15 December and discussed by all Council members during an informal meeting on 16 December. It appears that China and Russia both raised concerns regarding the consequences of issuing a presidential statement during the 16 December meeting. At the time of writing, no further drafts have been circulated and no further rounds of negotiation have been scheduled.

On 9 December 2022, after Council members discussed the human rights situation in the DPRK under “any other business”, 31 member states issued a joint statement regarding human rights in the DPRK. Among other matters, the statement described several examples of human rights violations in the DPRK and urged all Council members to support an open briefing in 2023 “where we can discuss the human rights violations and abuses committed by the DPRK, the implications for peace and security, and explore ways to incorporate human rights into the peace and security diplomacy in the Korean Peninsula”. Among current Council members, Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US were signatories to the statement.

On 23 January, the White House announced the appointment of Julie Turner as the US special envoy for human rights in the DPRK. Turner is currently the director of the Office of East Asia and the Pacific in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the US Department of State. The appointment marked the first time the post has been filled since 2017.

In a 22 December 2022 statement, Thomas-Greenfield said the US “can confirm that the DPRK has completed an initial arms delivery to the Russian private military company known as Wagner” for use in Ukraine and accused Wagner of “giving the DPRK funds it can use to further develop its prohibited” weapons programmes. On 20 January, John Kirby, a spokesperson for the US National Security Council, announced that the US had provided information regarding Wagner’s arms transfers from the DPRK to the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee. On 26 January, the US formally designated the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organisation.

The DPRK continues to experience high levels of food insecurity. According to the World Food Programme’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2022, an estimated 10.7 million people—more than 40 percent of the population—are undernourished and require humanitarian assistance.

In remarks delivered during the 12 January open debate on the promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security, Secretary-General António Guterres described the DPRK’s nuclear weapons programme as “a clear and present danger” and said that the onus is on the DPRK to return to the negotiating table.

On 30 January, Council members discussed the DPRK under “any other business”. The meeting was requested by the US and was called to give Council members an opportunity to take stock of developments on the file over the past year and discuss possible options for the Council. There was no briefer during the meeting.

Key Issues and Options

The record number of missile tests conducted by the DPRK in 2022 has 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 denuclearisation dialogue and the humanitarian situation in the country are also problems facing the Council.

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 a private briefing with humanitarian organisations focusing on the DPRK. Such a meeting could provide an opportunity to better understand the humanitarian problems facing the country and discuss potential strategies for addressing them.

If the DPRK continues to test ballistic missiles or conducts another nuclear test, the Council could consider updating and strengthening the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime to exert further pressure on the DPRK.

Council Dynamics

The Council remains sharply divided over the DPRK. The P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded members regularly condemn its ballistic missile tests and argue that they destabilise the Korean Peninsula and increase tensions throughout the region. 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 escalating tensions.

China and Russia, on the other hand, blame the US for heightening tensions 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 and Gabon, have expressed apparent concerns about the overall efficacy of the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime.

The US is the penholder on the DPRK.

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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
7 September 2022S/2022/668 This was the midterm report of the 1718 Panel of Experts.