What's In Blue

Posted Thu 13 Jul 2023

DPRK (North Korea): Open Briefing

This afternoon (13 July), following the semi-annual briefing on the ICC’s Darfur-related activities, 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 an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on 12 July. The DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are expected to participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. Today’s meeting will mark the first time that the DPRK has participated in an open briefing on the DPRK since 2017.

According to Japanese officials, the ICBM tested by the DPRK on 12 July flew for 74 minutes to an altitude of about 6,000 kilometres and a range of around 1,000 kilometres before landing approximately 250 kilometres to the west of Japan’s Okushiri Island in the Sea of Japan. On 13 July, DPRK state media reported that the country had tested a Hwasong-18, the first ICBM developed by the DPRK that utilises solid-fuel technology. (Solid-fuel ICBMs take less time to launch and are harder for missile defence systems to detect.) DPRK state media also reportedly claimed that the 74-minute flight time was the longest ever recorded for a DPRK missile test. The DPRK first tested the Hwasong-18 on 13 April, a launch that prompted the Council to convene for an open briefing on the DPRK on 17 April, also at the request of Albania, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US. (For more information, see our 17 April What’s in Blue story.)

The 12 July test came amid increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and days after the DPRK accused the US of encroaching on its sovereignty by repeatedly flying a “reconnaissance plane” into airspace above the DPRK’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on 10 July. In a 10 July statement, Kim Yo-jong, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, claimed that “a strategic reconnaissance plane of the US Air Force” conducted “aerial reconnaissance of the eastern part of the DPRK while intruding into the sky above the economic water zone beyond the military demarcation line in sea waters of the DPRK” and said that the plane had retreated after a “responding sortie of the Air Force of the Korean People’s Army”. The DPRK Ministry of National Defence also warned that “there is no guarantee that such shocking accident as downing of the US Air Force strategic reconnaissance plane will not happen” in a statement issued on the same day.

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh subsequently dismissed the DPRK’s allegations, saying on 10 July that the US “remains committed to safely and responsibly flying, sailing, operating anywhere that international law allows” and “always operate[s] responsibly and safely and in accordance with international law, so those accusations are just accusations”.

Member states hold differing views as to whether military surveillance measures carried out in EEZs comply with international law. China has previously argued that such activities violate international law, while the US has taken the view that non-hostile activity in international airspace is legal. The DPRK has also expressed strong opposition to military surveillance operations in its EEZ. (For more information, see Chapter 4 of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy’s Law of the Sea Policy Primer.) In their statements today, some member states might refer to their positions on this issue.

On 12 July, Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the DPRK’s 12 July launch and “reiterated his calls on the [DPRK] to fully comply with its international obligations under all relevant Security Council resolutions and to resume dialogue without preconditions”. In addition to providing details regarding the 12 July test, Khiari might convey similar messages during his briefing today. He may also highlight the importance of Council unity and express concern over the humanitarian situation in the DPRK.

In their statements today, some members, including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded states, are likely to strongly condemn the recent missile test, say that it violates Security Council resolutions and destabilises 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 programme while ignoring the humanitarian needs of its people.

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 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 this year, the Council has to date been unable to agree on a product responding to the launches. Some members may also argue that the lack of response from the Council undermines its credibility and emboldens the DPRK.

Following today’s meeting, Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis (US) will deliver a joint statement on the DPRK on behalf of Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the ROK, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US during a media stakeout.

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