What's In Blue

Posted Wed 5 Jul 2017

Council Meeting Following DPRK’s Latest Missile Launch

This afternoon the Security Council will be briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav JenĨa on the 4 July launch of a ballistic missile, possibly of intercontinental range, by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The meeting is being held at the request of Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the US. The US is expected to propose an outcome, most likely a presidential statement which would condemn the missile launch and possibly express the Council’s intention to seek further measures. At press time a draft had not been circulated, and members were unsure if it would be adopted at this afternoon’s meeting. Breaking with past practice, the briefing will be held in public, as opposed to closed consultations, with members generally expected to make strong statements condemning the test.

On Tuesday, the DPRK state news agency announced that the DPRK successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that had flown for 933 km (580 miles), reached an altitude of 2,802 km (1,741 miles), and was in the air for almost 40 minutes. The Pentagon confirmed that the launch was of a rudimentary two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile, one that in theory could travel more than 4,000 miles and thus reach Alaska and far western Canada.

Immediate reactions from China, Russia and the US seem to suggest continuing divisions over how best to deal with the DPRK. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned the test and called for tougher new sanctions through the Security Council. He was also critical of countries that host DPRK guest workers, provide any economic or military benefits, or fail to fully implement Council resolutions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who were meeting in Moscow this weekend, issued a joint statement reiterating their desire for the DPRK, the ROK and the US to begin negotiating a solution to the regional crisis. They suggested that the US should refrain from military exercises that could inflame tensions on the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, the ROK and the US this morning conducted a joint exercise and fired missiles into ROK territorial waters in reaction to the DPRK’s missile launch.

This was the tenth ballistic missile test conducted by the DPRK this year. The most recent was on 14 May and involved a newly developed mid/long-range strategic ballistic rocket. Prior to its response to this missile launch, Council members had previously reacted by issuing press statements condemning the DPRK’s actions and expressing its readiness to take further significant measures, including sanctions. On 2 June, the Council adopted a new resolution (S/RES/2356) condemning “in the strongest terms” the series of ballistic missile launches and other prohibited activities conducted by the DPRK in “flagrant disregard” of relevant Council resolutions since 9 September 2016, (the date of Pyongyang’s last nuclear test). It did not include any new sanctions measures, however, and was narrowly focused on the designation of additional individuals and entities as subject to the targeted measures under the DPRK sanctions regime. It seems that China was not ready to agree to new elements proposed by the US, including measures such as restrictions on the DPRK’s crude oil supply and cutting off the DPRK’s revenue from workers abroad. It is unclear if China might now be willing to accept new measures as a result of the most recent missile launch, which represents a significant breakthrough in the DPRK’s missile programme. China has continued to stress the need for a dual-track approach focusing on dialogue and engagement as well as denuclearisation. It has been pushing a “suspension-for-suspension” proposal which would allow for the suspension by the DPRK of its nuclear and missile related activities and the suspension by the ROK and the US of any joint military exercises.

It is also unclear whether Russia would support any new strong measures. It appears to be more sensitive to further sanctions on the DPRK following the imposition of US sanctions on two Russian firms for aiding the DPRK’s weapons programme and was highly critical of some aspects of resolution 2356 in a statement following its adoption, although it voted in favour.