What's In Blue

Posted Thu 27 Jun 2024

DPRK (North Korea): Open Briefing

Tomorrow morning (28 June), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) under the “Non-proliferation/DPRK” agenda item. France, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the UK, and the US requested the meeting to discuss the issue of “unlawful arms transfers from the DPRK”. The anticipated briefers are High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu and a representative of Conflict Armament Research, a UK-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) that tracks weapon supplies into armed conflicts.

Background

Security Council resolution 1718 of 14 October 2006 imposed sanctions on the DPRK for its nuclear and ballistic missiles programme and established a sanctions committee to oversee its implementation. It decided that the DPRK must cease the export of specific weapons, a provision later expanded by resolution 2270 of 2 March 2016 to include exports that “support or enhance the operational capabilities of armed forces of another member state outside the DPRK”. Resolution 1718 also decided that all member states should prohibit the procurement of such items from the DPRK by their nationals.

Security Council resolution 1874 of 12 June 2009 established a Panel of Experts to assist the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee. The Panel was tasked with gathering, examining, and analysing information regarding the implementation of the sanctions regime and incidents of non-compliance, and reporting its findings to the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee and the Security Council.

In its final report, issued on 7 March, the Panel of Experts concluded that satellite imagery provided “clear evidence” of the transfer of goods and materials between the DPRK and Russia, although the specific contents of the containers could not be determined.

On 28 March, Russia vetoed a draft resolution that would have extended the Panel’s mandate for another year, until 30 April 2025. The remaining Council members—apart from China, which abstained—voted in favour of the text. The Panel’s mandate expired on 30 April. (For more information, see our 22 March What’s in Blue story.)

Tomorrow’s Meeting

Tomorrow’s meeting marks the first briefing under the “Non-proliferation/DPRK” agenda item focused specifically on weapons exports from the DPRK. Since late 2022, the US and other like-minded states have repeatedly raised concerns about Russia’s alleged procurement of arms from the DPRK and their assessment that the DPRK seeks military, economic, and technological assistance from Russia in return. These countries have emphasised that such actions constitute a clear violation of the UN Security Council arms embargo on the DPRK.

The meeting request followed a summit on 19 June between Russian President Vladimir Putin and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, during which the two leaders signed a “comprehensive strategic partnership” treaty. Putin described the treaty as outlining extensive objectives and guidelines for deepening long-term Russia-DPRK “links”, including in politics, trade and investment, culture, humanitarian affairs, and security. He added that Russia “does not rule out developing military and technical cooperation” with the DPRK under the agreement. Notably, the treaty stipulates mutual military assistance in the event of aggression against either country.

Following the summit, Kim Jong-un characterised the treaty as elevating relations between the DPRK and Russia to “a new high level of alliance”. Meanwhile, Putin linked Russia’s deepening ties with the DPRK to what he views as increasing Western support for Ukraine. He thanked Kim Jong-un for taking an “objective and balanced stance” on the situation in Ukraine and criticised the DPRK sanctions regime imposed by the Security Council, calling for its revision.

At a 20 June press conference, Putin maintained that the treaty, particularly its provision for mutual military assistance, is not a novel development, as a 1961 agreement signed between the Soviet Union and the DPRK similarly included provisions for mutual assistance in the event of armed aggression against either party by a state or coalition of states. (Notably, in February 2000, the DPRK and Russia signed the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Good Neighborliness, which replaced the 1961 treaty but did not stipulate a military alliance between the two countries.) He explained that Russia signed the recent treaty because the previous agreement had expired and that all the clauses remain the same.

Putin emphasised that the treaty does not entail a request for the DPRK to use its military capabilities in the Ukraine conflict, since the hostilities began before the “Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics…became part of Russia”. Regarding whether the clause could be triggered by the use of Western weapons on Russian territory, Putin said that it is a possibility that cannot be ruled out and requires further consideration.

In a 25 June joint statement, Japan, the ROK, and the US condemned the deepening military cooperation between the DPRK and Russia, stressing that “continued arms transfers from the DPRK to Russia…prolong the suffering of the Ukrainian people, violate multiple [UN] Security Council resolutions, and threaten stability in both Northeast Asia and Europe”. On 20 June, the ROK said that it would consider sending arms to Ukraine, marking a significant policy shift.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the briefers are expected to provide an overview of weapons transfers from the DPRK. Nakamitsu is likely to reaffirm the position of Secretary-General António Guterres, expressed in 21 June remarks to the press, emphasising that any country’s relationship with the DPRK, including Russia’s, must fully comply with Security Council sanctions. The Conflict Armament Research representative may refer to an investigation conducted by the NGO in early January that analysed remnants of a ballistic missile that struck the Kharkiv region in Ukraine on 2 January. A report on the investigation concluded that the missile was manufactured in the DPRK and claimed that Russia’s “use of such missiles is another demonstration of its intent to sustain its war efforts in Ukraine, even at the cost of undermining global nonproliferation regimes”.

Tomorrow, several Council members—including the members that called for the meeting—are expected to accuse the DPRK of providing military equipment and munitions to Russia for use in Ukraine, in contravention of Security Council resolutions. These members have repeatedly expressed concern over Russia’s alleged use of ballistic missiles from the DPRK in Ukraine, allegations denied by both the DPRK and Russia. In addition, some members might highlight alleged military cooperation between the DPRK and other state and non-state actors.

Some members are expected to criticise Russia for vetoing the draft resolution extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts on 28 March, arguing that it undermined the global non-proliferation regime and emboldened the DPRK in its attempts to evade sanctions. Several members—including France, Japan, the ROK, the UK, and the US—have linked the veto to Russia’s alleged purchase of arms from the DPRK.

Some of these members may also emphasise that the 1718 regime remains in place and advocate for continued efforts to monitor and enforce its provisions. Council members are still considering how to respond to the expiration of the Panel’s mandate. (for more information, see the brief on the DPRK in our May 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

Russia is expected to reject claims that it has procured weapons from the DPRK for use in Ukraine. In its explanation of vote on 28 March, Russia claimed that the Panel had become politicised and that the sanctions regime no longer reflected realities on the ground. Moreover, at the meeting of the General Assembly to discuss the 28 March veto, Russia said that the true intentions behind certain Council members’ support for the Panel of Experts was to “investigate Russia with predetermined conclusions”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Russia is also expected to raise the issue of Western arms transfers to Ukraine, repeating its accusations that Ukraine is using Western-supplied weapons to target civilian areas in Russia.

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