What's In Blue

Posted Thu 24 Mar 2022

DPRK (North Korea): Panel of Experts Mandate Renewal*

Tomorrow (25 March), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee.

Council members are also expected to hold an open meeting, followed by closed consultations, tomorrow to discuss the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test conducted by the DPRK today (24 March).

Draft Resolution

The draft text in blue extends the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 30 April 2023 and requests that the Panel submit its midterm report to the Council by 6 September 2022 and its final report by 3 February 2023. Apart from amendments to relevant dates and document numbers, the draft resolution is identical to resolution 2569 of 26 March 2021, which extended the Panel’s mandate until 30 April 2022.

The US, the penholder on the DPRK, circulated the initial draft of the resolution to all Council members on 11 March after discussing the draft with the other P5 members (China, France, Russia, and the UK). The first round of negotiations involving all Council members was held on 15 March and a revised draft was circulated on 18 March. A second round of negotiations took place on the same day, following which the penholder engaged in bilateral consultations with several Council members. The US subsequently distributed a further draft on 21 March and placed it under silence until 2 pm on Tuesday (22 March). Silence was broken by China and Russia, and the penholder then engaged in bilateral negotiations with these members before placing a draft in blue today (24 March). The vote was originally scheduled for today but was postponed to tomorrow (25 March) to allow more time for deliberations on the text.

It appears that the negotiations were somewhat contentious, with several Council members proposing language that was not agreeable to other members. It seems that the penholder tried to reconcile the differences over some of these proposals. Consensus could not be reached, however, which led the penholder to put a draft in blue that contains no new language.

The preparation of incident reports by the Panel of Experts was discussed during the negotiations. Mexico apparently proposed language which noted that the Panel can issue incident reports concerning events that may contravene Council resolutions following a request from individual Council members or small groups of members. It appears that this proposal was made because the Panel did not issue incident reports on some of the DPRK’s recent missile tests after two of the Panel’s experts questioned the Panel’s authority to prepare such reports when the request is not supported by all Council members. In the past, the Panel has regularly issued incident reports after being asked to do so by individual members or a smaller group of members. It seems that Mexico’s proposal was supported by most Council members but opposed by China and Russia. Following Mexico’s proposal, Russia apparently suggested that the Panel should issue biannual reports on the humanitarian impact of sanctions in the DPRK. With the exception of China, it appears that this suggestion was not supported by other Council members.

It seems that the confidentiality of the Panel’s work was another issue for the Council. The Panel’s final report, which was due to be submitted to the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee by 28 January, was apparently leaked to the media before being provided to all Council members. As a result of this and similar incidents, China proposed adding text that expressed concern over repeated leaks of the Panel’s reports and underscored the importance of avoiding their unauthorised disclosure before publication. While this language was included in the initial draft circulated by the US and appeared to have broad support among Council members, it was not in the draft that was put under silence until 2 pm on 22 March, which led China and Russia to break silence.

During the bilateral negotiations that took place after silence was broken, China apparently insisted that the language on leaks of the Panel’s reports should be included in the draft, while the US said that this was not acceptable unless the text on incident reports was also included. It seems that the vote was postponed for a day to allow time for this issue to be resolved. China and the penholder were unable to find common ground, however, and neither the proposed language on leaks nor the text on incident reports was incorporated in the draft resolution in blue.

In addition, China apparently sought new text regarding the confidentiality obligations of experts on the Panel. This suggestion was resisted by a majority of Council members, who argued that the confidentiality obligations of the Panel’s experts are an employment issue that should be managed by the UN Secretariat rather than the Council.

The methodology for preparing the Panel’s reports was also a point of contention. It appears that China argued that the draft resolution should include text regarding transparency, documentary evidence, confidential sources, and corroboration of assertions that was drawn from the methodological standards for reports of sanctions monitoring mechanisms outlined in a 2006 report of the Informal Working Group of the Security Council on General Issues of Sanctions (S/2006/997). Although this proposal was supported by Russia, it was rejected by other Council members, who apparently contended that language from this report should not be used selectively and out of context.

Recent Developments

On 27 February, the Republic of Korea (ROK) military announced that the DPRK had launched a ballistic missile from Sunan, near the capital, Pyongyang, that flew 299 kilometres to the east and reached an altitude of 619 kilometres. This was the tenth ballistic missile test conducted by the DPRK this year and the first since 30 January. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the DPRK’s state news agency, subsequently claimed that the DPRK had tested a reconnaissance satellite system. On 28 February, Council members discussed the launch under “any other business”. Following the meeting, Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US, together with non-Council members Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the ROK, issued a joint statement that condemned the launch and called on Council members to speak with one voice in denouncing the DPRK’s behaviour, among other matters.

On 5 March, the ROK military announced that the DPRK had launched another ballistic missile from Sunan. According to the announcement, the missile travelled a similar distance and trajectory to the missile that was tested on 27 February. Following the launch, the KCNA said on 6 March that the DPRK had conducted “another important test” concerning a reconnaissance satellite. On 7 March, Council members discussed the 5 March launch under “any other business”. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari briefed. After the meeting, Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US, together with non-Council members Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the ROK, issued a statement which said that “each ballistic launch that results in inaction by the Council erodes the credibility of the [Council] itself in addressing the DPRK and undermines the global non-proliferation regime”, among other matters.

During a 10 March press conference, a US official said that the DPRK had tested components of an ICBM system during the 27 February and 5 March launches and claimed that the DPRK had attempted to conceal the true nature of the tests. The official described the tests as a “serious escalation” and called for a united response from the international community. On 11 March, the US announced that it had imposed new sanctions on two Russian nationals and three Russian entities linked to the DPRK’s missile programs. According to ROK officials, the DPRK has also begun restoration work at Punggye-ri, a nuclear test site that was closed and partly demolished in 2018.

On 16 March, the ROK military announced that the DPRK had tested another projectile, and that it appeared to have exploded in mid-air shortly after being launched. In a 20 March statement, the ROK said that the DPRK appeared to have fired a short-range multiple rocket launcher toward its west coast. Some analysts consider certain multiple rocket launchers to be ballistic missile systems.

Today (24 March), Japan announced that the DPRK had conducted its first ICBM test since November 2017, ending a self-imposed moratorium on testing ICBMs that began in 2018. Japanese officials described the ICBM as a “new type” and said that it flew for 71 minutes, reaching an altitude of approximately 6,000 kilometres and travelling about 1,100 kilometres to the east before landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. According to ROK officials, the missile appeared to be more powerful than the last ICBM tested by the DPRK, the Hwasong-15. US and ROK officials have recently warned that the DPRK has been preparing a test of the Hwasong-17, which several analysts believe to be the world’s largest mobile ICBM. In a 24 March statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the launch was a “brazen violation of multiple [Security Council] resolutions” which “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilising the security situation in the region”. Psaki also emphasised that the US remains willing to engage in diplomacy but said that the DPRK must “immediately cease its destabilising actions”.

In response to the DPRK’s ICBM launch, the ROK fired ballistic missiles off its east coast on 24 March. These tests involved the Hyunmoo-2 missile, the Army Tactical Missile System, and JDAM bunker-buster missiles. According to media reports, the ROK’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the tests were intended to demonstrate that the ROK has the “capability and readiness” to strike missile launch sites and other strategic targets in the DPRK if necessary.

In other developments, the results of the ROK’s presidential election were finalised on 10 March, when the governing party’s candidate, Lee Jae-myung, conceded to Yoon Suk-yeol, his conservative opponent. According to several analysts, Yoon is expected to adopt a more hawkish stance toward the DPRK than Moon Jae-in, the outgoing president.

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*Post-script: On 25 March, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2627, which extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 30 April 2023.

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