What's In Blue

Posted Fri 24 Nov 2023

DPRK (North Korea): Open Briefing*

On Monday (27 November), 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, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US requested the meeting after the DPRK claimed that it had successfully launched a military reconnaissance satellite on 21 November. 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.

On 21 November, the DPRK notified Japan that it planned to launch a satellite sometime between 22 November and 1 December. Later the same day, DPRK state media announced that a “Malligyong-1” reconnaissance satellite had been launched on a “Chollima-1” rocket from the DPRK’s Sohae satellite launch facility and entered the Earth’s orbit. According to media reports, ROK military officials said that although the satellite was believed to have entered orbit it would take time to determine whether it was operating correctly, while the US military said that it was assessing whether the launch was successful.

On 22 November, the ROK announced that it would suspend its compliance with Article 1, Clause 3 of the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) in response to the 21 November launch. (Signed in September 2018 by the DPRK and the ROK, the CMA was intended to ease military tensions between the two countries.) Under this provision of the CMA, both the DPRK and the ROK agreed to establish no-fly zones near their shared border. The ROK defence ministry indicated that it planned to resume aerial surveillance in border areas while its compliance with the provision is suspended. Hours after this announcement, ROK officials reported that the DPRK had fired a ballistic missile in an easterly direction and said that the missile had appeared to fail.

The 21 November satellite launch marked the third time this year that the DPRK has attempted to send a military reconnaissance satellite into space. The previous two attempts, which were unsuccessful and took place on 31 May and 24 August, prompted the Security Council to convene for open briefings on 2 June and 25 August, at the request of Albania, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US. Prior to 31 May, the DPRK last attempted to launch 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.)

The 21 November launch came amid growing concerns among some Council members regarding possible arms transfers from the DPRK to Russia and closer cooperation between the two countries. DPRK leader Kim Jong-un visited Russia between 12 and 17 September, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and toured military and technology sites. On 13 September, while showing Kim a space launch facility, Putin reportedly responded to a media question regarding whether Russia would assist the DPRK in building satellites by saying: “that’s why we came here. The leader of the DPRK shows great interest in rocket engineering; they are also trying to develop space”. According to media reports, Putin also said that there were “possibilities” for military cooperation between the DPRK and Russia, while Kim told Putin that Pyongyang would offer “full and unconditional support” to Moscow. ROK officials have reportedly claimed that the DPRK’s 21 November satellite launch likely involved technical assistance from Russia.

On 13 October, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said that the DPRK has delivered over 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions to Russia for use in Ukraine, adding that “in return for support, we assess that Pyongyang is seeking military assistance from Russia including fighter aircraft, surface to air missiles, armoured vehicles, ballistic missile production equipment, or other materials and other advanced technologies”. The US has also released images that it claims prove the containers were shipped from the DPRK to Russia and imposed sanctions on individuals and entities for their involvement with potential arms deals between the DPRK and Russia.

At Monday’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 21 November satellite launch and note that it violates several Security 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 and argue that the Council’s lack of response undermines its credibility. 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.

On 22 November, Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the ROK, Switzerland, the UAE, the UK, and the US issued a joint statement strongly condemning the DPRK’s 21 November satellite launch. Among other matters, the joint statement said that the DPRK must abandon its “unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner” and urged the DPRK to accept the “repeated invitations for dialogue”.

The next regular meeting on this file is scheduled to take place on 30 November, when the chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl (Switzerland), is expected to brief Council members in closed consultations on the 90-day report on the committee’s work.


*Post-script (27 November 8:30 EST): A previous version of the story indicated that an official from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) is expected to brief at the meeting. After the story’s publication, it was confirmed that Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari will brief.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails

Subscribe to receive SCR publications