What's In Blue

Posted Sun 19 Mar 2023

DPRK (North Korea): Open Briefing

Tomorrow (20 March), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia, and the Americas Miroslav Jenča is expected to brief. Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US requested the meeting after the DPRK launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on 16 March. The Republic of Korea (ROK) will participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Council members are expected to discuss the DPRK’s latest missile tests during tomorrow’s meeting. The ICBM launched by the DPRK on 16 March travelled approximately 1,000 kilometres to the east of the DPRK and reached an altitude of around 6,000 kilometres before landing in waters outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. According to DPRK state media, the missile was a Hwasong-17, the DPRK’s most advanced ICBM. Days earlier, on 14 March, the DPRK fired two short-range ballistic missiles westward into the Yellow Sea. The test was conducted a day after the ROK and the US began a series of joint military exercises known as “Freedom Shield 23”. The joint drills, which are scheduled to run until 23 March, involve field exercises and computer simulations and are reportedly the largest carried out by the two allies since 2017.

The DRPK has also tested weapons other than ballistic missiles in recent weeks. On 23 February, state media announced that the DPRK had fired four strategic cruise missiles and said that the drill was designed to demonstrate the DPRK’s ability to defend successfully against a nuclear attack. On 12 March, a DPRK state news agency reported that the DPRK had fired two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine in waters off its east coast. According to media reports, the test marked the first time that the DPRK has launched cruise missiles from a submarine.

The 16 March ICBM launch came hours before Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol met at a summit in Tokyo to discuss economic and security ties between the two states. In a joint statement following the summit, which was the first meeting between leaders of the two countries in 12 years, Kishida announced that Japan and the ROK had agreed to resume bilateral security talks and regular high-level visits, while Yoon stressed that Japan and the ROK must work closely together to counter the threat posed by the DPRK. Several analysts have described the summit as a landmark breakthrough in Japan-ROK relations.

In addition to discussing the DPRK’s latest weapons test, some Council members might refer to the food security situation in the DPRK during tomorrow’s meeting. On 6 February, DPRK state media reported that the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Politburo had scheduled a plenary meeting of the party’s Central Committee to discuss the “correct strategy for the development of agriculture” and “take relevant measures for the immediate farming … to promote the overall development of socialist construction”. On 15 February, the ROK’s unification ministry noted that the DPRK rarely schedules such meetings and said that the food situation in the DPRK “seems to have deteriorated”. According to media reports published on the same day, ROK Unification Minister Kwon Young-se told the ROK parliament that the DPRK had requested assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) but talks between the organisation and the DPRK were unsuccessful due to disagreements regarding aid monitoring. On 2 March, DPRK state media reported that DPRK leader Kim Jong-un had ordered improvements to agricultural infrastructure and expansion of farmland to ramp up food production.

Some Council members may mention the human rights situation in the DPRK. On 17 March, Albania and the US convened an Arria-formula meeting on the topic. UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK Elizabeth Salmón, Chief of the Prevention and Sustaining Peace Section at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) James Turpin, and two refugees from the DPRK briefed. (For more information, see our 16 March What’s in Blue story.)

At tomorrow’s meeting, some members, including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded states are likely to condemn the recent missile tests, argue that they violate Council resolutions and destabilise the Korean peninsula, and strongly urge the DPRK to engage in denuclearisation dialogue. These members may call on member states to comply with the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime, accuse the DPRK of raising tensions in the region, and criticise it for expending funds on its missile program while ignoring the humanitarian needs of its people.

China and Russia, on the other hand, might blame the US for escalating the situation and accuse it of not doing enough to incentivise the DPRK to participate in denuclearisation talks. Both members may also contend that sanctions should be eased because of their effects on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK and express their support for a draft resolution circulated by China in October 2021 intended to provide sanctions relief to the DPRK. Some members might question the efficacy of the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime.

Some Council members might be critical of China and Russia for blocking Council action on the DPRK. Despite the record number of ballistic missile tests conducted by the DPRK in 2022, a trend that has continued this year, 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 negotiations on this presidential statement ended after China expressed opposition to it.

Council members last convened for an open briefing on the DPRK on 20 February. The meeting was prompted by an 18 February ICBM test and was requested by Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US. During the meeting, the US indicated that it would pursue a further presidential statement on the DPRK. Negotiations concerning this presidential statement were ongoing at the time of writing. Council members are also negotiating a draft resolution extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, which expires on 30 April.

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