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
On 18 February, the DPRK tested a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). According to Republic of Korea (ROK) officials, the missile travelled approximately 900 kilometres at a maximum altitude of 5,700 kilometres. In an 18 February press briefing, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that the ICBM landed in waters west of Hokkaido in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The following day, Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the DPRK’s ICBM launch while the ROK and the US held joint air exercises involving strategic bombers in response to the test. On 20 February, the DPRK fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast.
The 18 February ICBM test prompted Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US to request an open briefing, which took place on 20 February. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Mohammed Khaled Khiari briefed. During the meeting, the US indicated that it will pursue a presidential statement on the DPRK.
The briefing came four days after Council members convened for closed consultations on the DPRK on 16 February. Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US requested the meeting to discuss the DPRK’s weapons programmes and how the Council can address the threat they pose to international peace and security. Khiari and Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi briefed during the consultations. On 17 February, the DPRK’s foreign ministry said that it would consider additional military action if the Council continues to pressure the DPRK.
The Panel provided its final report to the Committee on 3 February. The Committee discussed the report, which is due to be provided to the Council by 3 March, on 22 February. According to media outlets claiming to have seen the report, it notes that the DPRK has “used increasingly sophisticated cyber techniques both to gain access to digital networks involved in cyber finance, and to steal information of potential value, including to its weapons programmes”. Media reports also say that the report describes ongoing sanctions evasion by the DPRK and indicates that hackers linked to the DPRK stole a record $630 million in cryptocurrency assets in 2022. On 10 February, the ROK announced that it had imposed sanctions on individuals and entities linked to the DPRK’s cyber activities for the first time. On 27 February, Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl (Switzerland) briefed Council members in closed consultations on the 90-day report regarding the committee’s work.
On the evening of 8 February, the DPRK staged a military parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of its armed forces. According to media reports that analysed images of the parade released by DPRK state media, at least 15 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were on display, including as many as 11 Hwasong-17s, the DPRK’s most advanced ICBM. Several analysts have noted that the ICBMs paraded by the DPRK could potentially overwhelm US missile defence systems if fired simultaneously. Analysts have also noted that the DPRK may have revealed a new land-based, solid-fuel ICBM during the parade. (Solid-fuel ICBMs take less time to launch and are harder for missile defence systems to detect.)
Days earlier, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un reportedly ordered the country’s military to expand its combat drills and bolster its preparedness for war during a 6 February meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). The meeting came shortly after ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 3 February. In a press conference following that meeting, Park said that the ROK and the US are “committed to strengthening extended deterrence while maintaining a robust combined defence posture”. Park and Blinken’s meeting followed a 31 January visit by US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin to Seoul, where he met with ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol and ROK Minister of National Defence Lee Jong-sup. During the trip, Lee told reporters that the ROK and the US had pledged “to expand the scale and elevate the level of [their] combined exercises and training”. The following day, the ROK and the US carried out a series of air drills involving long-range strategic bombers and stealth fighters in the Yellow Sea off the ROK’s west coast.
In a 2 February statement, the DRPK’s foreign ministry said that the military and political situation on the Korean peninsula had reached an “extreme red line” because of the expansion of military exercises between the ROK and the US and warned that the DPRK was prepared to respond with the “most overwhelming nuclear force”.
On 13 February, DPRK authorities announced the “expansion and reorganisation” of “many” of its military units due to the “new situation” in the region. Several experts have commented that the announcement, taken together with photos of the 8 February parade that show a new flag attached to an ICBM, appears to suggest that the DPRK has created a new military unit specifically responsible for operating ICBMs.
The ROK released its latest biennial defence white paper on 16 February. The document described the DPRK as the ROK’s “enemy” for the first time since 2016 and reported that the DPRK has increased its stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium to approximately 70 kilograms, a 40 percent increase over the 50 kilograms estimated in the previous white paper. It also said that the DPRK holds “substantial amounts of highly enriched uranium” and possesses a “significant level of capability” to miniaturise nuclear weapons.
The prospects of the DPRK engaging in denuclearisation dialogue remain dim. In its 2 February statement, the DPRK’s foreign ministry said that “the DPRK is not interested in any contact or dialogue with the US as long as it pursues its hostile policy and confrontational line”. The statement also described the US’ offers to resume talks as “shameless” and an attempt to “gain time”. During a 27 January news conference, ROK Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said that the ROK intends to promote civilian efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the DPRK with the aim of “reopen[ing] a path for dialogue between the two countries”. The DPRK has strongly rejected similar offers in the past. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 5 October 2022.)
Food insecurity in the DPRK appears to be worsening. On 6 February, DPRK state media reported that the WPK Politburo had scheduled a plenary meeting of the party’s Central Committee to discuss the “correct strategy for the development of agriculture” and “take relevant measures for the immediate farming … to promote the overall development of socialist construction”. On 15 February, the ROK’s unification ministry noted that the DPRK rarely schedules such meetings and said that the food situation in the DPRK “seems to have deteriorated”. According to media reports published on the same day, Kwon told the ROK parliament that the DPRK had requested assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) but talks between the organisation and the DPRK were unsuccessful due to disagreements regarding aid monitoring. The meeting of the WPK Central Committee began on 26 February.
Key Issues and Options
Sanctions evasion, together with the overall effectiveness and impact of the 1718 sanctions regime, are important issues for the Council, 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 Council could pursue several options. In extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts, Council members could add language urging member states to comply with existing sanctions. The Council could also request that the Panel provide the Committee with a report on sanctions enforcement that specifically considers whether there are any steps the Council could take to counter sanctions evasion.
Council members may also wish to consider convening an informal briefing by cybersecurity experts on the DPRK’s cyber activities. Such a meeting could provide an opportunity to better understand how the DPRK conducts cyber espionage and discuss whether there is anything the Council can do to address the problem.
The Council could also hold an informal interactive dialogue with humanitarian organisations focusing on the DPRK with a view to better understanding the impact that sanctions are having on the humanitarian situation in the country.
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. The two countries 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.
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 could change, however, if the DPRK conducts a nuclear test.
The US is the penholder on the DPRK. Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl (Switzerland) chairs the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.
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.|
|Sanctions Committee Document|
|7 September 2022S/2022/668||This was the midterm report of the 1718 Panel of Experts.|