August 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2023
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DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In August, 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 the region have continued to escalate in recent months. On 12 July, the DPRK tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which, according to Japanese officials, flew for 74 minutes to an altitude of about 6,000 kilometres and a range of around 1,000 kilometres before landing approximately 250 kilometres to the west of Japan’s Okushiri Island in the Sea of Japan. DPRK state media subsequently reported that the country had tested a Hwasong-18, the first ICBM developed by the DPRK that utilises solid-fuel technology. (Solid-fuel ICBMs take less time to launch and are harder for missile defence systems to detect.)

The launch prompted Albania, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US to request an open briefing on the DPRK, which took place on 13 July. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari briefed, and both the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK) participated in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. The meeting marked the first time the DPRK has participated in a Council meeting on the DPRK since 2017. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 13 July.) During a media stakeout following the meeting, Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis (US) delivered a joint statement on the DPRK on behalf of Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the ROK, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US.

The 12 July test took place approximately six weeks after the DPRK’s failed attempt to launch a military satellite into orbit. On 31 May, DPRK state media reported that a “Chollima-1” rocket carrying a “military reconnaissance satellite” had been fired from a launching station in the northwestern part of the country and that it had crashed after losing thrust following the first and second stages of separation. This was the first time that the DPRK has acknowledged attempting to launch a satellite into space for military purposes. Several analysts have noted that the Chollima-1 appeared to use engines developed by the DPRK for ICBMs.

The failed satellite launch led the Council to convene for an open briefing on the DPRK on 2 June following a request from Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo briefed, and the ROK took part in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 2 June.)

The DPRK has also tested other types of weapons in recent months. On 15 June and 19 and 24 July, Pyongyang launched short-range ballistic missiles that flew eastwards before landing in the Sea of Japan. On 22 July, ROK authorities announced that the DPRK had fired several cruise missiles toward the Yellow Sea to the west of the Korean Peninsula.

The DPRK’s latest round of weapons tests have taken place as Japan, the ROK, and the US deepen ties and amid ongoing military exercises between the ROK and the US in the region, including air and sea drills involving a US aircraft carrier and B-1B and B-52 bombers. On 21 May, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol, and US President Joe Biden met on the sidelines of a G7 summit in Japan. In a statement issued after the meeting, the White House said that the three leaders “discussed how to take their trilateral cooperation to new heights, including with new coordination in the face of the DPRK’s illicit nuclear and missile threats, on economic security, and on their respective Indo-Pacific strategies”.

On 11 July, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, the top-ranking US military official, met with his Japanese and ROK counterparts in Hawaii. According to Milley’s spokesman, the DPRK’s 12 July ICBM test took place following the conclusion of this meeting. Kishida and Yoon also held a previously scheduled meeting on the sidelines of NATO’s Vilnius summit shortly after the ICBM test.

On 18 July, ROK and US officials convened for the first meeting of the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG), a bilateral mechanism announced in the 26 April Washington Declaration intended “to strengthen extended deterrence, discuss nuclear and strategic planning and manage the threat to the non-proliferation regime posed by the DPRK”. In a joint statement issued following the meeting, the ROK and the US said that they had established “a range of workstreams to bolster nuclear deterrence and response capabilities” and had discussed “joint planning and execution of ROK conventional support to US nuclear operations as well as how to enhance visibility of US strategic asset deployments around the Korean Peninsula”. On the same day, a US nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine docked in the ROK for the first time since the 1980s. The DPRK tested two short-range ballistic missiles shortly thereafter. Ballistic missile tests were also conducted by the DPRK on 24 July after a nuclear-powered US submarine arrived in the ROK on the same day.

The DPRK also appears to be seeking closer ties with Russia. In a statement reported by DPRK state media on 12 June, the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, called for “closer strategic cooperation” with Moscow and vowed to “hold hands firmly with the Russian president”. According to data provided to the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, Russia resumed exporting oil to the DPRK in December 2022 after ceasing such exports in September 2020. In a 12 June statement, a spokesperson for the US Department of State said that the US had confirmed that the DPRK had completed an arms delivery to Russia in November 2022 and noted that the US is “concerned that the DPRK is planning to deliver more military equipment to Russia”. On 25 July, a Russian defence delegation led by Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu arrived in the DPRK to take part in celebrations organised to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement. According to media reports, Shoigu attended a defence exhibition that included the DPRK’s ballistic missiles. A Chinese delegation led by Li Hongzhong, a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, also attended the celebrations.

On 21 July, G7 members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US, together with Australia, the EU, New Zealand, and the UK, sent a letter to Ambassador Zhang Jun (China) expressing concern over oil tankers using Chinese waters to “facilitate [the] trade of sanctioned petroleum products to the DPRK.” The letter also called on the Chinese government “to do more to identify and prevent these vessels from anchoring or loitering in Chinese territorial waters”, among other matters. In a 24 July tweet, China’s UN spokesperson said that “China has always been strictly implementing [Council] resolutions and seriously fulfilling international obligations.”

On 2 June, the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee approved updates to its seventh implementation assistance notice (IAN), titled “Guidelines for Obtaining Exemptions to Deliver Humanitarian Assistance to the DPRK”. The updated IAN incorporates relevant elements of resolution 2664 of 9 December 2022, which established a “humanitarian carve-out” to the asset freeze measures imposed by UN sanctions regimes. The IAN was first adopted on 6 August 2018 and last updated on 30 November 2020.

Key Issues and Options

The DPRK’s increasingly frequent weapons tests, 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 human rights and humanitarian situations 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 the DPRK’s cyber programmes and how they contribute to the country’s sanctions evasion efforts, while discussing 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.

Similarly, the Council could request an open briefing from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk regarding the human rights situation in the DPRK. Every December from 2014 to 2017, the Council held an open briefing with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on this topic; these briefings, however, have not been held since then because of insufficient support among Council members. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 16 March.)

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 it 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. China and Russia have also repeatedly blocked attempts to issue a Council product responding to missile launches conducted by the DPRK throughout 2022 and 2023. Other Council members, including Brazil and Gabon, have previously expressed apparent concerns about the overall efficacy of the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime. During the 13 July open briefing, Brazil said that “every new launch makes it clearer that a new approach is needed” and noted that Chapter VI of the UN Charter “gives the Council a wide toolbox that remains underexplored in this file.”

The US is the penholder on the DPRK.

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Sanctions Committee Documents
7 March 2023S/2023/171 This is the final report of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.

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