Consultations and Possible Response to DPRK (North Korea) Launching Missiles
This afternoon during informal consultations, Security Council members are scheduled to discuss a possible response to the 26 March launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) of two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles into the East Sea, between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is expected to brief on the situation on the Korean Peninsula. It appears that the US called for the meeting and has indicated that it would like the Council to adopt a presidential statement condemning the missile launch, but it was unclear whether all Council members would agree to this approach. At press time, it seemed the US was conducting bilateral negotiations with China, seeking its support for a strong response.
The DPRK has recently launched a number of short-range missiles – including Scud launches on 27 February and 3 March – without any reaction from the Council. However it had not previously fired any similar medium-range missile since 4 July 2009. At that time, following informal consultations on 6 July 2009, the president of the Council made a statement that Council members condemned the launch and that it constituted a violation of Council resolutions. Although the oral statement was not issued as a formal press statement, just three weeks before, on 12 June 2009, the Council had adopted resolution 1874, which significantly expanded sanctions against the DPRK in response to a 25 May nuclear test.
Several Council members have already separately condemned the 26 March missile launches as a breach of relevant Council resolutions against the DPRK. The language in the relevant resolutions seems quite clear in this regard, with its most recent—resolution 2094 adopted on 7 March 2013—stating that the Council “decides that the DPRK shall not conduct any further launches that use ballistic missile technology, nuclear tests or any other provocations.” In its first resolution on the DPRK, resolution 1695 adopted on 15 July 2006, the Council demanded that the DPRK “suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme, and in this context re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching.” Subsequent Council resolutions have contained similar provisions banning missile launches by the DPRK.
The Secretary-General has also voiced his concern about the successive reports of new launches of ballistic missiles by the DPRK, urging it to cease its ballistic missile activities and focus instead on dialogue and diplomacy.
It is expected that the US will propose a presidential statement largely along the lines of the statement made by the president of the Council following the 4 July 2009 missile launch. At that time, in addition to condemning the launch as a violation of Council resolutions and a threat to regional and international security, Council members reiterated that the DPRK must comply fully with relevant resolutions, appealed to all parties to refrain from any action that could aggravate the security situation, and emphasised the importance of the work of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee. It also expressed its intention to closely monitor the situation and act as appropriate. While most Council members are likely to be supportive of a strong response, it was unclear at press time whether such a presidential statement would also be acceptable to China and Russia. Both countries have stressed diplomatic and political approaches to the DPRK over sanctions. As an alternative, the Council could issue instead a press statement or elements to the press, and possibly continue negotiating a stronger response.
While tensions on the Korean peninsula in recent months seemed to ease with the resumption of family reunions in February (the first since 2010), the DPRK has continued to use the same rhetoric as before. It has protested in particular against the annual US-Republic of Korea (ROK) joint military exercises which are ongoing. In a 15 March letter to the Council (S/2014/194) to clarify its “stand on US hostile policy towards it”, the DPRK stated that the hostile policy and moves aimed at strangling it politically, economically and militarily “have reached such a grave phase that they can no longer be overlooked”. The 26 March missile launch coincided with a meeting in The Hague on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit between US President Barack Obama, ROK President Park Geun-Hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.
In a separate development, the final report from the Panel of Experts assisting the Sanctions Committee was released publicly on 6 March (S/2014/147). It concluded that “there have been no signs that the DPRK intends to respond to the Security Council’s calls to abandon its nuclear, ballistic missile or other weapons of mass destruction programmes. On the contrary, it is persisting with its arms trade and other prohibited activities in defiance of Security Council resolutions.” The Committee will continue to discuss the report and its recommendations in April.