What's In Blue

Posted Fri 2 Jun 2023

DPRK (North Korea): Open Briefing

This afternoon (2 June), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief. Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US requested the meeting after the DPRK attempted to launch a military reconnaissance satellite on 31 May. The Republic of Korea (ROK) is expected to participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

On 29 May, DPRK officials notified Japan that Pyongyang was planning to launch a satellite sometime between 31 May and 11 June, and that the launch may affect waters in the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and an area east of Luzon Island in the Philippines. Two days later, DPRK state media reported that a “Chollima-1” rocket carrying a “military reconnaissance satellite” had been fired from a launching station in the north-western part of the country, and then crashed after losing thrust following the first and second stages of separation. The launch, which came less than a week after the ROK successfully launched a commercial-grade satellite for the first time, marked the first occasion that the DPRK has acknowledged attempting to launch a satellite into space for military purposes. Analysts have noted that the Chollima-1 appears to use engines developed by the DPRK for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

According to media reports, a US official said that the satellite flew for less than ten minutes and travelled several hundred kilometres before falling into the Yellow Sea. The ROK’s military reportedly described the rocket’s trajectory as “abnormal”, and Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that the satellite did not appear to leave the Earth’s atmosphere. The launch prompted the ROK to issue evacuation alerts to residents of Seoul and Baengnyeongdo, an island off the country’s north-western coast, while Japanese authorities activated a missile warning system for Okinawa prefecture in south-western Japan.

In a 30 May statement, Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the launch and called on the DPRK to “cease such acts” and swiftly resume dialogue. Officials from Japan, the ROK, and NATO also condemned the launch.

The DPRK has indicated that it will attempt to launch another satellite in the near future. In a 31 May statement, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the DPRK’s state news outlet, said that the DPRK will investigate and clarify the circumstances of the launch and “carry out the second launch as soon as possible through various partial tests”. On 1 June, Kim Yo-jong, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, released a statement saying: “it is certain that the DPRK’s military reconnaissance satellite will soon start its mission on a space orbit”.

The DPRK last launched a satellite on 7 February 2016. Approximately one month later, on 2 March 2016, the Council adopted resolution 2270, which imposed new sanctions and tightened existing measures against the DPRK. (For background, see our 26 February 2016 What’s in Blue story.)

At today’s meeting, some members, including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded states are likely to condemn the DPRK’s 31 May satellite launch and note that it violates Council resolutions. Resolution 2397 of 22 December 2017, which was the latest Council resolution updating the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime, reaffirmed the Council’s decision “that the DPRK shall not conduct any launches that use ballistic missile technology, nuclear tests, or any other provocation”.

Some Council members might 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 weapons programmes while ignoring the humanitarian situation in the country. Members may also urge the DPRK to refrain from launching another satellite and highlight the DPRK’s cyber activities. In this regard, the final report of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, which was issued on 7 March, observed that the DPRK has used increasingly sophisticated cyber techniques to gain access to digital networks and steal information of potential value, including for its weapons programmes, and concluded that DPRK actors stole a higher value of cryptocurrency assets in 2022 than in any previous year.

China and Russia, on the other hand, may blame the US for escalating the situation, pointing to US military exercises with the ROK and Japan, while also expressing their opposition to discussing the DPRK in an open meeting. Both members are likely to accuse the US of not doing enough to incentivise the DPRK to participate in denuclearisation talks and might argue that any Council product regarding the DPRK should not be one-sided. China and Russia may also express their support for a draft resolution circulated by China in October 2021, which would provide sanctions relief to the DPRK if adopted, and contend that adopting this resolution will encourage the DPRK to resume dialogue and help ease the overall situation. Some members might question the efficacy of the 1718 DPRK sanctions regime and call on the Council to consider different approaches to managing the threat posed by the DPRK.

Council members may 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 since the beginning of 2022, the Council has been unable to agree on a product responding to the launches due to opposition from China and Russia. Some members may argue that the Council’s lack of response undermines its credibility and express support for the draft presidential statement that the US announced it would pursue during a 20 February open briefing on the DPRK.

Since this announcement, the US has apparently circulated two drafts of the presidential statement to all Council members and convened two rounds of negotiations on the draft. On 8 May, Council members discussed the draft under “any other business” following a request from the US. It seems that a further draft has not been circulated since that meeting. Although negotiations appear to have stalled, it seems that the draft has not been formally withdrawn by the US.

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