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 in northeast Asia have continued to rise in recent months. On 24 August, DPRK state media announced that the DPRK had unsuccessfully attempted to launch a reconnaissance satellite into orbit. According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a DPRK state news outlet, the rocket carrying the satellite “failed due to an error in the emergency blasting system during the third-stage flight”. The launch, which was the DPRK’s second failed attempt to put a satellite into orbit this year, prompted Japan to issue an emergency warning to some residents in southern Okinawa, ordering them to evacuate. The Secretary-General condemned the launch in a 24 August statement.
On 25 August, the Council convened for an open briefing on the DPRK to discuss the failed satellite launch following a request from Albania, Ecuador, France, Malta, Japan, the UK, and the US. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari briefed. The DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK) participated in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Less than a week later, on 30 August, the DPRK fired two short-range ballistic missiles into waters off its east coast. The launches took place hours after the US deployed B-1B bombers during joint drills with Japan and the ROK. The drills were part of the Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises, an 11-day training event that ran from 21 to 31 August.
The missile launches came amid growing concerns regarding possible arms transfers from the DPRK to Russia. On 30 August, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the US had “shared new information that arms negotiations between Russia and [the] DPRK are actively advancing” and noted that “any arms deal between the DPRK and Russia would directly violate a number of Security Council resolutions.”
DPRK leader Kim Jong-un subsequently visited Russia from 12 to 17 September, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and toured military and technology sites. While hosting Kim during a 13 September tour of a space launch facility, Putin reportedly responded to a media question regarding whether Russia would assist the DPRK in building satellites by saying: “that’s why we came here. The leader of the DPRK shows great interest in rocket engineering; they are also trying to develop space.” According to media reports, Putin also said that there were “possibilities” for military cooperation between the DPRK and Russia, while Kim told Putin that the DPRK would offer “full and unconditional support” to Russia. During an 18 October visit to Pyongyang, which included a meeting with Kim, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reportedly thanked the DPRK for its support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, while Kim pledged to “work out a stable forward-looking, far-reaching plan for the DPRK-Russia relations in the new era by faithfully implementing the agreements” between the two countries.
Hours before the September meeting between Putin and Kim, the DPRK fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast. The launch marked the first occasion the DPRK carried out a missile test while Kim was outside the country since he took power in 2011.
On 13 October, White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby said that the DPRK has delivered over 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions to Russia for use in Ukraine, adding that “in return for support, we assess that Pyongyang is seeking military assistance from Russia including fighter aircraft, surface to air missiles, armoured vehicles, ballistic missile production equipment, or other materials and other advanced technologies”. The US has also released images that it claims prove the containers were shipped from the DPRK to Russia and imposed sanctions on individuals and entities for their involvement with potential arms deals between the DPRK and Russia.
Japan, the ROK, and the US have also bolstered ties amid the escalating tensions in the region. On 18 August, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol, and US President Joe Biden held a trilateral summit at Camp David. The summit was the first time that leaders from the three countries have gathered for a standalone meeting. Following the summit, Japan, the ROK, and the US issued a joint statement in which they committed to coordinate responses to regional challenges, conduct annual trilateral military exercises, exchange real-time missile warning data and establish a trilateral working group on the DPRK’s cyber activities, among other matters. On 22 October, the three countries carried out their first-ever joint aerial exercises, including drills involving a US B-52 strategic bomber, while a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier visited a ROK port on 12 October.
On 29 September, Council members convened for closed consultations to discuss “developments related to the DPRK’s continued pursuit of [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missiles in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions”. Council members received a briefing from Khiari during the meeting, which was requested by Albania, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US. It appears that Albania, the president of the Council in September, circulated proposed press elements to all Council members after the consultations. China and Russia opposed the proposal, apparently indicating that they could not support press elements unless they referred to US military exercises in the region, and the elements were not agreed upon.
The Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee issued its midterm report on 12 September. Among other matters, the report notes that the DPRK is “flout[ing] Security Council sanctions in many areas” while developing nuclear weapons and producing nuclear fissile materials. The report also observes that the DPRK has “continued to successfully target cryptocurrency and other financial exchanges” after utilising cybertheft to steal an estimated $1.7 billion in 2022.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 17 October, a group of UN experts issued a statement expressing alarm over reports that China has “forcibly repatriated hundreds of escapees from the [DPRK], the vast majority of whom are women, despite appeals repeatedly made by multiple international human rights bodies to refrain from doing so”. The experts emphasised that “long-standing and credible reports” demonstrate that escapees returned to the DPRK are subjected to “torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, among other serious human rights violations, and urged the government of China to “abide by its international legal obligations and not forcibly repatriate DPRK escapees”.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Elizabeth Salmón, conducted her second official visit to the ROK from 4 to 12 September. During a press conference that followed her visit, Salmón said that the international community “cannot work on peace and security” issues with the DPRK “without discussing human rights”. Salmón also said that human rights should be “included in every talk and process when we discuss peace and security” with the DPRK and noted that the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK sanctions committee has found that sanctions have “unintended consequences” for humanitarian relief efforts in the DPRK.
Key Issues and Options
The DPRK’s frequent weapons tests, many of which violate Council resolutions, are a major issue for the Council. Sanctions evasion is also an 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.
Given the allegations raised by the US regarding possible arms transfers from the DPRK to Russia, the 1718 Sanctions Committee could consider specifically requesting the Panel of Experts assisting the Committee to investigate the US’ claims and provide a standalone report outlining its findings to the Committee.
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. These 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. They 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 a 13 July open briefing on the DPRK, 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.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|12 September 2023S/2023/656||This is the midterm report of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.|