What's In Blue

Posted Mon 30 Jan 2023

DPRK (North Korea): Meeting under “Any Other Business”

This morning (30 January), following the closed consultations on the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), Security Council members will discuss the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) under “any other business”. The meeting was requested by the US, the penholder on the file. No briefer is expected. Unlike previous meetings on the DPRK, today’s meeting was not initiated in response to a specific missile launch or test. Rather, members apparently intend to use the meeting as an opportunity to take stock of developments on the file over the past year and discuss possible options for the Council.

The DPRK conducted a record number of missile tests in 2022. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank based in Washington DC, the DPRK carried out missile tests on 37 separate occasions last year, including four tests involving intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Many of these tests violated Security Council resolutions, which prohibit the DPRK from launching ballistic missiles.

Despite the high number of ballistic missile tests conducted by the DPRK in 2022, the Council has to date been unable to agree on a product responding to the launches. On 26 May 2022, China and Russia vetoed a draft resolution that would have updated and strengthened the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime. The US proposed the resolution after the DPRK’s 24 March 2022 ICBM test, its first since 2018. Several proposals for a press statement raised by the US during 2022 were also unsuccessful due to opposition from China and Russia.

At a 21 November 2022 open briefing on the DPRK, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) announced that the US intended to pursue a presidential statement on the DPRK’s weapons programmes. It seems that a draft of the presidential statement was circulated by the US on 15 December 2022 and discussed by all Council members during an informal meeting on 16 December. It appears that China and Russia both raised concerns during that meeting regarding the consequences of issuing a presidential statement. At the time of writing, no further drafts have been circulated and no additional rounds of negotiation have been scheduled.

It appears that today’s meeting was requested to give Council members the opportunity to take stock of last year’s developments and provide a platform for the Council to discuss potential options for responding to the DPRK’s increasingly belligerent behaviour. It seems that Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, the UK, and the US initially requested closed consultations to discuss these issues; however, this request was opposed by China and Russia. It appears that one elected Council member suggested a meeting under “any other business” as a compromise, a proposal initially resisted by some Council members.

The DPRK’s missile tests have significantly escalated tensions throughout the region, and this trend appears set to continue in 2023. On 1 January, the Republic of Korea (ROK) military announced that the DPRK had fired a short-range ballistic missile from Pyongyang. The missile travelled approximately 400 kilometres before landing in waters off the DPRK’s east coast. The test was the fourth carried out by the DPRK in the space of two weeks.

During the sixth plenary meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK)—the DPRK’s ruling party—which ran from 26 December to 31 December 2022, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un reportedly called for “a mass production of tactical nuclear weapons”, an “exponential increase” in the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal, and the development of a new ICBM system “whose main mission is quick nuclear counterstrike”. In a 1 January statement, the ROK’s defence ministry said that the DPRK “will meet its end” if it uses nuclear weapons and that “it must realise that the only way to improve the lives of its people is through denuclearisation”.

This exchange of rhetoric came less than a week after five drones from the DPRK crossed into ROK airspace on 26 December 2022. In response to the incursion, the ROK scrambled jets and attack helicopters and unsuccessfully attempted to shoot down the drones. ROK surveillance aircraft also flew over the DPRK and photographed military installations. ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol warned that the ROK could withdraw from a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement if the DPRK violates ROK airspace again. Among other matters, the agreement calls for an end to “all hostile acts” and a no-fly zone around the border between the DPRK and the ROK.

On 11 January, Yoon told officials from the ROK’s defence and foreign ministries that the ROK could consider obtaining its own nuclear weapons, reportedly saying: “it’s possible that the problem gets worse and our country will introduce tactical weapons or build them on our own”. On the same day, ROK Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup announced that the ROK is planning tabletop exercises (in which participants simulate a response to an emergency) with the US in February and May 2023 “on operating means of extended deterrence under the scenario of the DPRK’s nuclear attacks”. Yoon later appeared to resile from his 11 January comments, with a 19 January Wall Street Journal article quoting him as saying that “the ROK’s realistic and rational option is to fully respect the [non-proliferation treaty] regime”, adding that he is “fully confident about the US’ extended deterrence”.

Increased tensions throughout the region appear to have prompted Japan to increase its defence spending. In late November 2022, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio reportedly instructed Japan’s defence and finance ministers to boost spending on defence to two percent of its GDP by 2027. On 16 December 2022, Japan adopted a new national security strategy that includes plans to develop a preemptive strike capability and obtain cruise missiles. Japan’s budget for the 2023/24 fiscal year, which was announced on 23 December 2022, outlined record levels of military expenditure.

During today’s meeting, Council members may refer to these developments and discuss possible options for responding to the DPRK’s missile tests and managing the heightened tensions in Northeast Asia. Some members might stress the importance of Council unity and urge the Council to speak with one voice and condemn the DPRK’s behaviour. Other members may argue that more should be done to incentivise the DPRK to return to the negotiating table.

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