DPRK (North Korea): Yesterday’s Vote on a Sanctions Resolution
Yesterday (26 May), the Security Council voted on a draft resolution updating and strengthening the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) sanctions regime. The draft resolution was not adopted because China and Russia both cast a veto. The remaining 13 Council members voted in favour of the resolution. Pursuant to General Assembly resolution A/RES/76/262 of 26 April, which stipulates that the President of the General Assembly shall convene a formal meeting of the General Assembly within ten working days of a veto being cast by a permanent member of the Council, the General Assembly is scheduled to hold a debate on the DPRK on 8 June. This will be the first time that the General Assembly has acted in accordance with resolution A/RES/76/262.
The DPRK has conducted an unusually high number of tests this year, including a ballistic missile test that was carried out on 7 May, three days before the inauguration of Republic of Korea (ROK) President Yoon Suk Yeol. On 25 May, the DPRK tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and two other ballistic missiles. The launch marked the second time that the DPRK has tested an ICBM this year and came shortly after US President Joe Biden concluded a trip to the region.
During the 25 March open briefing regarding the DPRK’s 24 March ICBM test, the US, the penholder on the DPRK, announced that it would introduce a draft Chapter VII resolution “to update and strengthen the sanctions regime”. During the ensuing weeks, the US apparently engaged in bilateral negotiations with China regarding the text of the resolution, before sharing a draft with all Council members on 12 April. Following several rounds of negotiations involving all Council members, written comments, and four revised drafts, a fifth draft was put in blue on 26 May without a silence procedure.
Overall, the negotiations regarding the draft resolution were difficult. During the first round of negotiations, which took place on 14 April, China and Russia apparently said that they did not support the draft resolution. It seems that both members argued that strengthening the sanctions regime will not help to resolve tensions on the Korean peninsula and suggested that further sanctions will have a negative effect on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. China and Russia apparently said that they would support a presidential statement rather than the draft resolution proposed by the US, while also promoting the draft resolution that they circulated in October 2021, which would ease sanctions on the DPRK rather than strengthening them. Both members apparently restated this position during subsequent negotiation rounds and did not otherwise engage with the US-proposed draft text. It seems that China and Russia also did not attend the final round of negotiations involving all Council members. Although China and Russia both pushed for a presidential statement, particularly during the later stages of the negotiations, it appears that neither member circulated a draft text nor indicatied what their proposed presidential statement would entail.
With the exception of China and Russia, it seems that there was broad support for the US-proposed resolution during the negotiations. While it appears that some Council members were more active than others, a majority of the remaining members engaged with the text and suggested amendments to address their specific concerns.
The draft in blue proposed significant changes to the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime, including by extending the existing prohibition on ballistic missile tests by the DPRK to cruise missiles “or any other delivery system capable of delivering nuclear weapons”. It also imposed sanctions on several individuals and entities that had not previously been designated under the 1718 sanctions regime, such as the Lazarus Group, a cyberthreat group reportedly controlled by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the DPRK’s primary intelligence agency. The Lazarus group has been linked to several major cyberattacks, including a destructive attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014 and the 23 March theft of over $600 million of cryptocurrency from Ronin, a blockchain project that is used to power a popular online game.
Among other matters, the draft resolution amended the oil cap for the 1718 sanctions regime by reducing the amount of oil that member states can supply to the DPRK by 25 percent and also banned the importation of tobacco to the DPRK by member states. It further sought to streamline the current procedure for humanitarian exemptions to the 1718 sanctions regime by directing the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee to issue a list of “well-defined categories of items” that would be exempt from the regime on humanitarian grounds, subject to certain conditions.
New language concerning the DPRK’s cyber activities was also added to the draft in blue. The draft text called on member states to take appropriate measures to prevent the DPRK and its nationals from using their territories to conduct malicious information and communication technology (ICT) activity, including by repatriating DPRK nationals engaged in such activity and by closing any businesses associated with them. The draft also decided that the DPRK shall halt the use of ICT to gain unauthorised access to UN ICT systems and called on it to adhere to the “General Assembly-affirmed framework of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace and its set of voluntary norms”.
The reduction of the oil cap was an issue during the negotiations. The first draft circulated by the US to all Council members reduced the amount of oil that member states can supply to the DPRK by 50 percent, rather than the 25 percent outlined in the draft in blue. While some Council members supported the US’ initial proposal, it appears that other Council members opposed it. The members who did not favour the US’ initial proposal apparently noted that the existing oil cap provides the DPRK with less oil than it needs to meet its national requirements, and suggested that reducing the oil cap by a greater amount could have a punitive effect on the DPRK’s population rather than affecting its nuclear weapons and missile programmes. It seems that the US lowered the proposed oil cap reduction to address these concerns.
The language concerning the DPRK’s malicious ICT activity appears to have enjoyed strong support among Council members. Early drafts of the resolution did not include a reference to the “General Assembly-affirmed framework of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace and its set of voluntary norms”. It seems that this language was added partly to acknowledge the General Assembly’s work in this field. The relevant text was also amended to clarify that the examples of measures that member states can take to prevent DPRK nationals from using their territories for malicious ICT activities was not intended to be prescriptive.
The list of well-defined categories of items subject to a humanitarian exemption was another area of discussion during the negotiations. The initial draft of the resolution provided for a “list of items” instead of a “list of well-defined categories of items”. It appears that this change was made after some Council members raised concerns that listing specific items would be too restrictive for humanitarian organisations working in the DPRK and suggested that a list of categories would afford these organisations greater flexibility in their work.
Language regarding the COVID-19 situation in the DPRK was also added to the draft resolution as the negotiations progressed. Among other matters, the draft text in blue affirmed the Council’s commitment to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in the DPRK and decided that the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee can exempt humanitarian activities relating to pandemic relief that involve the UN as a package, rather than on a case-by-case basis.