What's In Blue

Posted Mon 17 Apr 2023

DPRK (North Korea): Open Briefing and Closed Consultations

This afternoon (17 April), 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, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US requested the meeting after the DPRK tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on 13 April. The Republic of Korea (ROK) is expected to participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. The open briefing will be followed by closed consultations. It appears that the US, with support from the other Council members who requested an open briefing, asked for the consultations to provide Council members with an opportunity to have a frank and constructive discussion regarding a possible Council product on the DPRK.

It seems that China opposed holding an open briefing and argued that convening only closed consultations would be more appropriate because they would allow Council members to discuss the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula in a non-politicised atmosphere. It appears that Russia, April’s Council President, expressed support for China’s position in its national capacity but indicated that it would consult with Council members in its capacity as Council President. Russia apparently then proposed holding a private meeting with the participation of the ROK. (Like consultations, a private meeting is closed to the public; unlike consultations, however, a private meeting is considered a formal meeting of the Security Council and non-Council members can participate.) It seems that this proposal did not enjoy broad support among Council members and an open briefing was scheduled in accordance with the request made by Albania, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US.

At today’s meeting, Council members are expected to discuss the DPRK’s 13 April missile launch. Shortly after the launch, the ROK military said that the missile had an “intermediate or intercontinental range” and was launched on a high angle before travelling approximately 1,000 kilometres and landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The test prompted Japan to issue an emergency alert for residents in parts of the Hokkaido prefecture, which was subsequently retracted after officials determined that the missile would not land on Japanese territory. Japan and the ROK conducted separate air drills with the US following the test, including exercises involving US B-52 bombers. The test came days after DPRK leader Kim Jong-un urged DPRK officials to pursue “more practical and offensive” war deterrence measures “with increasing speed” during an 11 April meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.

On 14 April, DPRK state media announced that the 13 April test involved a new type of ICBM, which it referred to as the Hwasong-18, and claimed that the Hwasong-18 utilised solid-fuel technology. (Solid-fuel ICBMs take less time to launch and are harder for missile defence systems to detect.) According to media reports, ROK officials later confirmed that the DPRK had tested a solid-fuel ICBM and said that the DPRK would “need more time and effort before completing its development”.

In a 13 April statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the launch and called on the DPRK to fully comply with its international obligations under all relevant Council resolutions and resume dialogue. Khiari may convey similar messages during his briefing today.

The 13 April launch is the latest in a series of weapons tests carried out by the DPRK this year, including a 16 March ICBM test that prompted the Council to convene for an open briefing on 20 March at the request of Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US. On 27 March, the DPRK fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast, hours before a US aircraft carrier began conducting drills with ROK warships. Just over a week earlier, on 19 March, the DPRK launched a short-range ballistic missile eastward from Dongchang-ri, a missile test site on its west coast. On 20 March, DPRK state media said that this launch was designed to boost the DPRK’s “war deterrence and nuclear counterattack capability” and accused the ROK and the US of making “an explicit attempt to unleash a war” against it. The test took place while the ROK and the US were conducting joint military drills known as “Freedom Shield 23”, which involved field exercises and computer simulations and were reportedly the largest carried out by the two allies since 2017. The DPRK has also claimed that it tested underwater drones capable of carrying nuclear warheads on 24 March and 8 April and released images purporting to unveil smaller nuclear warheads on 28 March.

At today’s meeting, some members, including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded states, are likely to strongly condemn the recent missile tests, say that they violate Council resolutions and destabilise the Korean peninsula, and urge the DPRK to engage in denuclearisation dialogue. Some of these members may call on member states to comply with Council resolutions, 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 are also likely to express their support for a draft resolution circulated by China in October 2021 intended to provide sanctions relief to the DPRK and argue that adopting this resolution will encourage the DPRK to resume dialogue and help to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Some Council members might be critical of China and Russia for blocking Council action on the DPRK and urge the Council to show unity and respond to the DPRK’s repeated violations of Council resolutions. Despite the record number of ballistic missile tests conducted by the DPRK in 2022, a trend that has continued so far 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 US proposals for a press statement 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 2022. It appears that negotiations on this draft presidential statement ended after China expressed opposition to it.

During a 20 February open briefing on the DPRK—which was convened after the DPRK tested an ICBM on 18 February and requested by Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US—Thomas-Greenfield indicated that the US would pursue a further draft presidential statement on the DPRK. Since this announcement, the US has apparently engaged in bilateral discussions with China regarding the draft presidential statement. At the time of writing, it appears that these discussions are still ongoing.

Thomas-Greenfield is scheduled to deliver a joint statement on the 13 April ICBM launch on behalf of Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the ROK, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the UK during a media stakeout before the beginning of today’s open briefing.

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