What's In Blue

DPRK (North Korea): Open Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (19 December), 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 Mohammed 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 launched two ballistic missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), on 17 and 18 December. The DPRK and incoming Council member the Republic of Korea (ROK) are expected to participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

On 18 December, ROK officials announced that the DPRK had fired a solid-fuel ICBM towards the Sea of Japan off its east coast. According to the Japanese defence ministry, the missile flew for 73 minutes and reached an altitude of more than 6,000 kilometres before falling outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone into the sea west of Hokkaido. In an 18 December statement, Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Shingo Miyake told reporters that the missile tested by the DPRK “could have a range of over 15,000 kilometres, meaning the whole of the US territory would be within range”. The DPRK last launched an ICBM on 12 July, a test that prompted the Council to convene for an open briefing on 13 July following a request from Albania, France, Japan, Malta, the UK, and the US. (For more information, see our 13 July What’s in Blue story.)

The 18 December test was the second launch carried out by the DPRK in less than 24 hours. On 17 December, ROK officials announced that the DPRK had fired a short-range ballistic missile that travelled approximately 570 kilometres in an easterly direction before landing in the ocean.

The recent tests came two days after the second meeting of the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG), which took place on 15 December. (Established by the 26 April Washington Declaration, the NCG is a bilateral mechanism comprising the ROK and the US that is intended to “strengthen extended deterrence, discuss nuclear and strategic planning, and manage the threat to the non-proliferation regime posed by the DPRK”.) A joint statement issued following the meeting noted that the US had “reaffirmed its unwavering commitment to provide extended deterrence to the ROK, backed by the full range of US capabilities including nuclear” and said that any nuclear attack by the DPRK against the US or its allies is “unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime”. During the meeting, the ROK and the US reportedly agreed to “move toward a unitary ROK-US extended deterrence system” and establish guidelines for a nuclear strategy by mid-2024. The 17 December test was also conducted on the same day that a US nuclear-powered submarine arrived in Busan, a southern port city in the ROK.

In their statements tomorrow, 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 Security Council resolutions and destabilise the Korean Peninsula, and urge the DPRK to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes and 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. 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 would 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 throughout 2022 and 2023, the Council has to date been unable to agree on a product responding to the launches. Some members may argue that the lack of response from the Council undermines its credibility and emboldens the DPRK. Certain Council members might also deplore alleged arms transfers between the DPRK and Russia.

At the time of writing, a group of Council members were apparently negotiating a joint statement that may be read out during a media stakeout either before or after tomorrow’s meeting.

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