March 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 February 2024
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ASIA

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. 

Additionally, the Chair of the 1718 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 tensions on the Korean Peninsula have shown no signs of abating in recent months. The DPRK has continued to test its missile technology and other weapons in violation of Security Council resolutions. At the same time, an absence of meaningful diplomatic progress continues to characterise inter-Korean relations.  

On 27 November 2023, the Council convened for an open briefing after the DPRK claimed that it had successfully launched a military reconnaissance satellite on 21 November. DPRK state media announced that a “Malligyong-1” reconnaissance satellite had been launched on a “Chollima-1” rocket from the DPRK’s Sohae satellite launch facility and had entered Earth’s orbit. At the briefing, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari noted that sovereign states have the right to engage in peaceful space activities; however, he emphasised that Council resolutions strictly prohibit the DPRK from using ballistic missile technology.    

On 18 December 2023, the DPRK launched a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) towards the Sea of Japan. According to the Japanese defence ministry, the missile flew for 73 minutes and reached an altitude of more than 6,000 kilometres before falling into the sea west of Hokkaido, outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. This was the fifth ICBM launch by the DPRK in 2023. A day later, the Council convened for an open briefing on the DPRK to discuss the launch.  

The situation on the Korean Peninsula has remained volatile in 2024. On 5 January, the DPRK fired around 200 artillery shells towards Yeonpyeong Island, part of the Republic of Korea (ROK). According to the ROK military, the shells landed in the buffer zone between the two countries and did not enter ROK territory. ROK’s military has reported that the DPRK fired more artillery shells towards the island on 6 and 7 January. In response, the ROK conducted live-fire artillery drills south of the maritime buffer zone between the two countries.      

On 14 January, the DPRK conducted its first ballistic missile launch this year. The DPRK announced that it had tested a new solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) equipped with a hypersonic warhead. According to media reports, the ROK’s Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that the missile was launched from an area north of Pyongyang. It travelled some 1,000 kilometres before landing in the Sea of Japan. On 18 January, Council members held closed consultations to discuss the incident.  

The DPRK has also conducted five cruise missile launches so far this year, including a 15 February test of a new anti-ship weapon known as “Padasuri-6”. At that launch, the DPRK’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, reportedly told DPRK state media that the country would boost its deployment of surface-to-sea missiles and strengthen its maritime defence posture in a more assertive challenge to the Northern Limit Line—the de facto maritime border separating the DPRK’s and ROK’s territorial waters, which the DPRK disputes.  

Those comments followed a recent change in the DPRK’s policy towards inter-Korean relations and unification. At the end-of-year meeting of the governing Workers’ Ruling Party in late December 2023, Kim classified relations between the two Koreas as hostile. Kim also instructed his military to prepare for war and the possible use of nuclear weapons in response to any attack by the ROK. Speaking in the DPRK parliament on 15 January, Kim called for constitutional changes that would classify the ROK as a hostile state. He also ruled out the possibility of Korean unification.      

There are growing concerns among some countries over alleged arms transfers between the DPRK and Russia. On 6 January, the US, together with 49 other member states and the High Representative of the EU, issued a joint statement condemning the export of ballistic missiles to Russia by the DPRK and contending that these arms transfers contravene several Council resolutions. During a 10 January Council briefing on Ukraine, several Council members—Japan, the ROK, Slovenia, the UK, and the US—expressed concern over Russia’s alleged use of ballistic missiles from the DPRK in Ukraine. Russia rejected these claims and accused the US of spreading misinformation. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 9 January.)  

On 27 February, the ROK and the US announced that the 2024 edition of the countries’ annual joint military exercise “Freedom Shield” would take place between 4 and 14 March. 

Key Issues and Options 

The DPRK’s frequent weapons tests, many of which violate Council resolutions, remain 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. Illustrating this challenge, a recent report by the UK-based investigative organisation Conflict Armament Research analysed a recovered DPRK-made ballistic missile that Russia fired against Ukraine in January and found that 75 percent of its components were linked to US companies and 16 percent to European companies, marking the first public identification of the DPRK’s reliance on non-domestic technology for its missile programme.  

The Council may seek to address these issues when extending the Panel of Experts’ mandate. For instance, Council members could add language condemning the DPRK’s recent missile tests and urging member states to comply with existing sanctions. They could also request the panel to provide the 1718 Sanctions Committee with periodic briefings on the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Further, members could add language clarifying that the panel may provide the committee with incident reports concerning specific events that might violate Council resolutions on the DPRK—an authority that has been subject to dispute under the current mandate. Given the allegations raised by the US regarding possible arms transfers from the DPRK to Russia, the committee could also consider specifically requesting the panel to investigate the US claims and provide a stand-alone report outlining its findings to the committee. 

In addition, Council members may consider adding language addressing the potential unintended adverse impact of sanctions on the civilian population of the DPRK. In this context, they could note recommendations to the Council contained in the panel’s most recent midterm report, dated 12 September 2023. These include conducting more active outreach with civil society organisations providing humanitarian assistance in the DPRK to facilitate implementation of Council resolution 2664 of 9 December 2022, which established a standing humanitarian exemption to the asset freeze measures imposed by UN sanctions regimes, and considering exemptions for certain exports currently under sanctions, the proceeds of which might be used to finance humanitarian supplies. 

Council Dynamics 

Deep divisions among Council members continue to shape its dynamics on the DPRK. The P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded countries take a more active role in drawing the Council’s attention to and condemning the DPRK’s ballistic missile tests, which they consider destabilising for 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 also repeatedly blocked attempts to issue a Council product responding to missile launches conducted by the DPRK throughout 2022 and 2023.  

These dynamics prevented Council agreement on substantive changes to the Panel of Experts’ mandate during last year’s renewal, resulting in a straightforward extension. (For more on those negotiations, see our What’s in Blue story of 23 March 2023.) Despite the change in the Council’s composition this year, Council dynamics are unlikely to be affected significantly. Among the current non-permanent members of the Council, Japan and the ROK have a major stake in non-proliferation and security issues on the Korean Peninsula.    

The US is the penholder on the DPRK.  

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UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK
 
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.
Security Council Meeting Records
31 DECEMBER 2023S/PV.9514 This was an open briefing on the DPRK.
27 NOVEMBER 2023S/PV.9485 This was an open briefing on the DPRK.
Sanctions Committee Document
12 SEPTEMBER 2023S/2023/656 This is the midterm report of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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