What's In Blue

DPRK (North Korea): Closed Consultations

This afternoon (20 January), Security Council members will convene for closed consultations on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief. Albania, France, Ireland, the UK, and the US requested the meeting, citing recent missile tests by the DPRK. Today’s meeting will be the second time Council members consider the DPRK this month; they previously convened for closed consultations on 10 January to address a missile test conducted by the DPRK on 5 January.

Since the beginning of 2022, the DPRK has carried out a series of missile tests. These tests followed the fourth plenary meeting of the eighth central committee of the Workers Party of Korea (WPK), the DPRK’s ruling party, which took place between 27 December 2021 and 31 December 2021. According to media reports, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un apparently vowed to bolster the DPRK’s military capability during this meeting. A report on the meeting prepared by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the DPRK’s state news agency, noted that “the military environment of the Korean peninsula and the trend of the international situation getting instable day after day demand that bolstering the state defence capability be further powerfully propelled without a moment’s delay”.

On 5 January, the Republic of Korea (ROK) military announced that the DPRK had launched a ballistic missile that landed in the Sea of Japan. The following day, the KCNA said that the missile was hypersonic and that it had struck a target approximately 700 kilometres away. These claims were disputed by officials from the ROK and Japan, who suggested that the missile was not hypersonic and had travelled less than 700 kilometres. This test was the DPRK’s first missile launch since 19 October 2021, when it trialled a submarine-launched ballistic missile in waters off its east coast.

The 5 January missile test prompted Albania, France, Ireland, the UK, and the US to request a meeting regarding the DPRK. Closed consultations were subsequently held on 10 January. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari briefed. It seems that Khiari provided an overview of the missile launch, conveyed the Secretary-General’s concerns regarding this development, and called on the Council to present a united front in responding to the test. Most Council members apparently condemned the missile launch or expressed concern regarding the DPRK’s actions. It appears that Brazil, for example, condemned the launch and contended that it was incompatible with international humanitarian law.

On the other hand, it seems that China and Russia neither expressed concern regarding the launch nor condemned it, focusing instead on the humanitarian effects of UN sanctions in the DPRK. In doing so, both China and Russia voiced their support for a draft resolution easing sanctions on the DPRK, which was circulated by China in late October 2021. It appears that negotiations on this draft resolution involving all Council members have not yet been scheduled. During the 10 January consultations, China apparently suggested that providing sanctions relief may entice the DPRK to return to denuclearisation negotiations with the US.

Immediately before the 10 January meeting, Albania, France, Ireland, the UK, and the US, together with non-Council member Japan, issued a joint statement in which they condemned the DPRK’s actions and called on member states to fulfil their sanctions obligations under Council resolutions. The statement also called on the DPRK to abandon its prohibited weapons programmes and engage in meaningful dialogue regarding the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. These Council members are likely to echo these positions during today’s meeting.

The DPRK conducted another ballistic missile test on 11 January. The ROK military reported that this missile travelled more than 700 kilometres at a top speed of Mach 10, saying that it appeared to be more advanced than the missile which was tested on 5 January. The missile was fired to the east of the DPRK and landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The KCNA claimed that the missile made a 600-kilometre “glide jump flight” and engaged in 240 kilometres of “corkscrew manoeuvring” before hitting its target. Kim reportedly attended the test and subsequently stressed “the need to further accelerate efforts to steadily build up the country’s strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity and further modernise the army”, according to the KCNA.

On 12 January, the US imposed unilateral sanctions on six DPRK nationals, one Russian national, and a Russian firm, citing their involvement with the DPRK’s weapon programmes. Four of the DPRK nationals are based in China and two are based in Russia, according to media reports. In a 12 January tweet, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) announced that the US is “proposing UN sanctions following North Korea’s six ballistic missile launches since September 2021”. In line with this announcement, it appears that the US has written to the Chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee proposing new designations under existing Council resolutions. These designations apparently align with the unilateral sanctions imposed by the US on 12 January.

In a 14 January statement, the DPRK’s Foreign Ministry accused the US of “intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring the DPRK’s just activity to the UN Security Council” and said that “if the US adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it”. On the same day, the DPRK launched two short-range ballistic missiles from the north-western part of the country. According to the ROK military, the missiles travelled approximately 430 kilometres to the east before crashing. The KCNA subsequently claimed that the missiles were launched from train cars and struck targets on an island off the DPRK’s east coast.

On 16 January, the DPRK tested two short-range ballistic missiles. The ROK military reported that the missiles were launched from the Suan Airport near Pyongyang and flew approximately 380 kilometres to the east before landing. The KCNA described the weapons as “tactical guided missiles” and contended that they hit targets on an island on the DPRK’s eastern seaboard.

The Politburo of the WPK convened for a meeting yesterday (19 January). According to the KCNA, the Politburo instructed DRPK officials “to promptly examine the issue of restarting all temporarily-suspended activities”, an apparent reference to the possible resumption of long-range and nuclear weapons tests.

At today’s meeting, Council members are likely to be interested in hearing DiCarlo’s analysis of the DPRK’s actions since Council members last discussed the issue on 10 January. Some members are expected to condemn the recent missile tests, urge the DPRK to engage in dialogue, and call on all member states to comply with the 1718 sanctions regime. At the time of writing, it appears that the US is considering proposing press elements regarding recent developments on the file.

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