May 2023 Monthly Forecast


DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In May, 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

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula and throughout Northeast Asia have continued to escalate significantly in recent weeks. On 13 April, Republic of Korea (ROK) military officials announced that the DPRK had fired a “new type of ballistic missile with an intermediate or intercontinental range” that had been launched on a high angle before travelling approximately 1,000 kilometres and landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The launch prompted Japan to issue an emergency alert for residents in parts of Hokkaido prefecture, which was subsequently retracted after officials determined that the missile would not land on Japanese territory.

On 14 April, DPRK state media announced that the test involved a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which it referred to as the Hwasong-18, and claimed that the Hwasong-18 utilised solid-fuel technology. (Solid-fuel ICBMs take less time to launch and are harder for missile defence systems to detect.) According to media reports, ROK officials later confirmed that the DPRK had tested a solid-fuel ICBM and said that the DPRK would “need more time and effort before completing its development”.

The 13 April test prompted Albania, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US to request an open briefing, which took place on 17 April. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari briefed. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 17 April.) Before the open briefing began, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) delivered a joint statement on behalf of Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the ROK, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US. Among other matters, the statement called on the DPRK to return to denuclearisation dialogue and said that the Council must overcome its prolonged silence, act on its responsibility to effectively address the security threat posed by the DPRK, and promote peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

The open briefing was followed by closed consultations, which were requested by the US to provide Council members with an opportunity to have a frank and constructive discussion regarding a possible Council product on the DPRK. It appears that the US circulated a draft presidential statement on the DPRK to all Council members following the consultations. At the time of writing, negotiations concerning the draft were still ongoing.

The 13 April launch was the second ICBM test conducted by the DPRK in less than a month. On 16 March, the DPRK fired an ICBM that travelled approximately 1,000 kilometres to the east of the DPRK and reached an altitude of around 6,000 kilometres before landing in waters outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The test was conducted a day after the ROK and the US began a series of joint military exercises known as “Freedom Shield 23”. The joint drills involved field exercises and computer simulations and were reportedly the largest carried out by the two allies since 2017. Following the test, Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US requested an open briefing, which was held on 20 March. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia, and the Americas Miroslav Jenča briefed. (For more information, see our 19 March What’s in Blue story.)

The 16 March ICBM launch came hours before Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol met at a summit in Tokyo to discuss economic and security ties between the two states. In a joint statement following the summit, which was the first meeting between leaders of the two countries in 12 years, Kishida announced that Japan and the ROK had agreed to resume bilateral security talks and regular high-level visits, while Yoon stressed that their two countries must work closely together to counter the threat posed by the DPRK. Several analysts have described the summit as a landmark breakthrough in Japan-ROK relations.

The DPRK has carried out multiple tests of other weapons in recent weeks, including short-range ballistic missiles, strategic cruise missiles, and what it described as a nuclear attack drone. On 28 March, the DPRK released images purporting to unveil smaller nuclear warheads capable of being fitted to short-range missiles for the first time.

Japan, the ROK, and the US have conducted trilateral anti-submarine drills in the region as well as separate air exercises involving US B-52 bombers. The ROK and the US have also engaged in naval drills and staged an amphibious assault. On 22 March, ROK officials announced that ROK and US forces will hold their largest live-fire drills ever in June.

The final report of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee was issued on 7 March. Among other matters, the report described continued violations of the sanctions imposed by the Council. The Panel noted, for example, that refined petroleum products continue to be illicitly provided to DPRK tankers in its exclusive economic zone and also found continuing ship-to-ship imports of other cargo in DPRK territorial waters and ship-to-ship exports of DPRK coal, both of which are prohibited by the sanctions regime. The Panel further observed that the DPRK has used increasingly sophisticated cyber techniques to gain access to digital networks and steal information of potential value, including for its weapons programmes, and concluded that DPRK actors stole a higher value of cryptocurrency assets in 2022 than in any previous year. Regarding the humanitarian impact of UN sanctions, the Panel noted that their relative role is impossible to disaggregate from other factors but determined that they have had an unintended effect on the humanitarian situation in the country.

In a 30 March announcement, the White House said that it has new evidence that Russia is seeking weapons from the DPRK for use in Ukraine. US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters that “as part of this proposed deal, Russia would receive over two dozen kinds of weapons and munitions from Pyongyang”, adding that “we also understand that Russia is seeking to send a delegation to [the DPRK] and that Russia is offering the DPRK food in exchange for munitions”.

On 30 March, the ROK’s Ministry of Unification published a report on human rights in the DPRK. According to media reports, the report concluded that thousands of DPRK workers remain in China and Russia and noted that the DPRK “has found various ways to evade sanctions and continue to send workers to Russia and China, including sending them out on student and tourist visas”.

Yoon met with US President Joe Biden in Washington on 26 April. On the same day, US officials told reporters that the two countries had agreed the Washington Declaration, by which the US promised to give the ROK a central role in strategic planning for the use of nuclear weapons in any conflict with the DPRK in exchange for the ROK agreeing not to develop its own nuclear arsenal. The Washington Declaration also said that the US “will further enhance the regular visibility of strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula” and referred to “an upcoming visit of a US nuclear ballistic missile submarine to the ROK”, the first such visit since the 1980s.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 4 April, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights in the DPRK (A/HRC/52/L.9). Among other matters, the resolution extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK for one year and urged the DPRK to “acknowledge its crimes, abuses and human rights violations” and to take “all steps necessary to end” them. The annual resolution, which has been adopted every year since 2003, was co-sponsored by the ROK for the first time since 2016.

On 28 March, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report highlighting allegations of human rights violations that may constitute enforced disappearances committed in and by the DPRK. The report draws on 80 interviews with victims of enforced disappearances. In a statement regarding the report, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk noted that the “anguish, sorrow and reprisals that families […] have had to endure are heart-breaking”. The report calls for renewed efforts for truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence.

Women, Peace, and Security

On 20 March, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK Elizabeth Salmón—the first woman to be appointed to this position—presented her first report to the HRC. The report, which focused on the human rights of women and girls, concluded that discrimination against women and girls continued in the DPRK and that “[w]idespread gender stereotypes in the country are the root cause of discrimination against women.” Among other issues, the report focused on the situation of women in detention in the DPRK, noting that women are held in “inhumane conditions and deprived of food” and are subjected to “torture and ill-treatment, forced labour and gender-based violence, including sexual violence by State officials”. The report highlighted that, with the emergence of informal markets in the DPRK, women have developed opportunities to earn income and become the primary breadwinners for their families. Due to inadequate legal and economic reforms that created an “uncertain legal environment” for people carrying out “low-level market activities”, however, women have been exposed to corruption, abuse, and sexual exploitation.

Key Issues and Options

The DPRK’s increasingly frequent weapons tests, many of which violate Council resolutions, are a major 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. The Council could also consider updating and strengthening the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime to exert further pressure on the DPRK.

Council members may 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.

Council Dynamics

The Council remains sharply divided regarding the DPRK. The P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded countries regularly condemn its ballistic missile tests and argue that they destabilise the Korean Peninsula and increase tensions throughout the region. These members generally support using sanctions to manage the threat posed by the DPRK and call on member states to comply with existing Council resolutions. They often urge the country to engage in dialogue and abandon its weapons programmes, while emphasising that it is responsible for escalating tensions. Some of these members also call for the Council to show unity and respond to the DPRK’s weapons tests and argue that China and Russia have emboldened the DPRK by blocking Council action on the file.

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 members 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. Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl (Switzerland) chairs the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.

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Security Council Resolution
23 March 2023S/RES/2680 This resolution extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 30 April 2024.