What's In Blue

Posted Wed 5 Oct 2022

DPRK (North Korea): Open Briefing

This afternoon (5 October), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari is expected to brief. Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US requested the meeting after the DPRK tested a ballistic missile on 4 October. The test marked the first time that a missile launched by the DPRK flew over Japan since 15 September 2017. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations. It appears that the US has circulated a draft press statement as a possible outcome of the meeting.

The DPRK has carried out 23 tests involving ballistic or cruise missiles this year, a record number. Following a nearly four-month hiatus, the DPRK resumed conducting ballistic missile tests on 25 September, when it launched a short-range ballistic missile from Taechon county in the north-west of the country. According to Republic of Korea (ROK) military officials, the missile travelled approximately 600 kilometres to an altitude of 60 kilometres and reached Mach 5 speed before landing in waters off the DPRK’s east coast. The test came two days after a US aircraft carrier arrived in the ROK to conduct joint military drills with the ROK, the first such drills in four years.

Soon afterwards, US Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to meet ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol and visit the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between the DPRK and the ROK. On 28 September, the day before Harris’ visit, the ROK military announced that the DPRK had fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the Sunan district of Pyongyang toward the Sea of Japan. The missiles reportedly flew about 360 kilometres to an approximate height of 30 kilometres and reached Mach 6 velocity. In a speech delivered after her tour of the DMZ, Harris said that the “commitment of the [US] to the defence of the [ROK] is ironclad” and that the US “will do everything in our power to ensure that it has meaning … includ[ing] our extended deterrence commitment which is supported by the full range of US military capabilities”. Harris also criticised the DPRK strongly in her speech, describing it as a “brutal dictatorship” and referring to “rampant human rights violations and an unlawful weapons programme that threatens peace and stability”. Hours after Harris’ visit, the ROK military announced that the DPRK had launched two short-range missiles eastward from Sunchon, a city in South Pyongan province. The announcement did not provide details regarding the trajectory of the missiles.

On 1 October, the ROK military reported that the DPRK had again fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the Sunan district of Pyongyang. The missiles reportedly travelled 350 kilometres and reached an altitude of 30 kilometres and a speed of Mach 6. According to media reports, Japanese State Minister of Defence Toshiro Ino subsequently said that the missiles followed an “irregular trajectory”. The test coincided with the ROK’s national Armed Forces Day, which Yoon marked by delivering a televised speech in which he said that the DPRK “will face a resolute, overwhelming response by the [ROK-US] alliance and [the ROK] military” if it attempts to use a nuclear weapon. In his speech, Yoon also said that his government would “further strengthen the [ROK-US] joint exercises” and “will respond strongly to DPRK provocations and threats by showing them the ‘alliance in action’”.

Yesterday, Japan and the ROK announced that the DPRK had tested a suspected intermediate range ballistic missile. The missile—which was reportedly launched from Mupyong-ri in the northern province of Jagang, near the DPRK’s border with China—travelled approximately 4,600 kilometres to a height of about 1,000 kilometres and flew directly over northern Japan, prompting the Japanese government to suspend some train services in the region and order residents in Aomori and Hokkaido prefectures to evacuate. According to a statement issued by the White House, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke by phone and jointly condemned the test, describing it as a clear violation of Security Council resolutions and confirming that they will “continue to closely coordinate their immediate and longer-term response bilaterally, trilaterally with the ROK, and with the international community”. The US military also announced that it had carried out joint exercises with Japan in response to the test and that US and ROK warplanes had conducted a bombing drill in the Yellow Sea.

On 5 October, the ROK and the US launched four missiles off the ROK’s east coast in a further response to the DPRK’s 4 October test. One missile malfunctioned and crashed near the coastal city Gangneung. ROK officials reported that no injuries had been caused by the explosion, which involved a short-range Hyunmoo-2, a ballistic missile with bunker-busting capability.

The recent missile launches are the latest in a series of developments that have escalated tensions in north-east Asia. In a speech delivered on the ROK’s National Liberation Day (15 August), Yoon offered to provide the DPRK with different forms of aid, including a large-scale food programme and assistance with infrastructure projects, if the DPRK agrees to take steps toward denuclearisation. In a 19 August statement responding to Yoon’s proposal, Kim Yo-jong, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, reportedly described Yoon as “really simple and still childish” and said that “it would have been more favourable for his image to shut his mouth, rather than talking nonsense”.

Several weeks later, on 9 September, the Supreme People’s Assembly, the DPRK’s legislature, passed legislation that appears to authorise a pre-emptive nuclear strike in certain circumstances, including where an imminent attack against “important strategic objects” or the DPRK’s leadership is detected. The legislation also describes the DPRK as a “nuclear weapons state” and provides that a nuclear strike will be launched “automatically and immediately” if “the command-and-control system over the state nuclear forces is placed in danger”.

On 28 September, two ROK parliamentarians who received a briefing from the ROK intelligence services regarding a possible nuclear test by the DPRK spoke to reporters about the briefing. The legislators were reportedly told that the DPRK has completed its preparations for the test and that it may be carried out between 16 October and 7 November.

At today’s meeting, Council members are likely to be interested in hearing Khiari’s analysis of the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula. Some members, including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded states, are expected to condemn the recent missile tests, strongly urge the DPRK to engage in dialogue and abandon its weapons programmes, and call on all member states to comply with the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime. Other members, including China and Russia, may express concerns about the overall efficacy of the sanctions regime. China and Russia are also likely to refer to the humanitarian impact of sanctions in the DPRK.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails