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DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In August, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi (Italy), is due to brief Security Council members in consultations on the Committee’s work. In addition, the Council may adopt a resolution in response to the DPRK’s 4 July missile test. At press time, bilateral negotiations on the draft text were ongoing between China and the US. Additional meetings may be called for if there is another missile launch during the month.

Key Recent Developments

There has been an increase in the pace of missile tests conducted by the DPRK this year, with signs of significant technological advances in the development of intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles. The most recent test, on 4 July, is believed to have been an intercontinental ballistic missile, although Russia has disputed this. As the below table shows, the Council has reacted to almost all of the DPRK’s 2017 missile tests by issuing a press statement condemning the launches and calling on members to increase their efforts in implementing sanctions. Generally, stronger action such as additional sanctions or listing new individuals and entities has been taken only after major new violations or a quick succession of several violations.

Date  Test Council Reaction
11 February Medium-range ballistic missile; landed in the Sea of Japan Press statement on 13 February
5 March Four Scud missiles; three falling in Japan’s EEZ Press statement on 7 March
19 March Ballistic missile engine test  
21 March Missile launched but immediately exploded Press statement on 23 March condemning the 19 March engine test and 21 March missile launch 
4 April Medium-range ballistic missile Press statement on 6 April
15 April Medium-range ballistic missile that exploded Press statement on 20 April
28 April Missile that disintegrated  
13 May Ballistic missile Press statement on 15 May condemning the 28 April and 13 May launches. Met in consultations for a briefing on 16 May.
21 May Medium-range ballistic missile Press statement on 22 May. Met in consultations for a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on 23 May.
28 May Scud-class ballistic missile Adopted resolution on 2 June listing new individuals and entities.
8 June Surface-to-ship missiles  
4 July Ballistic missile, possibly an intercontinental missile Public briefing on 5 July. Unsuccessfully attempted a press statement.

 

The day after the 4 July test, the Council broke with its practice of meeting in closed consultations and held a public meeting with a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča. Members were unanimous in their condemnation of the missile launch, but some members stressed the need to combine sanctions with dialogue, while others referred to the DPRK as a global threat and focused on the need for further significant measures. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who were meeting in Moscow on 4 July, issued a joint statement reiterating their desire for the DPRK, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the US to begin negotiating a solution to the regional crisis. They suggested that the US should refrain from military exercises that could inflame tensions on the Korean peninsula. On 5 July, the ROK and the US conducted a joint exercise and fired missiles into the ROK’s territorial waters in reaction to the DPRK’s missile launch.

On 28 April, the Council discussed the denuclearisation of the DPRK at a high-level meeting chaired by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said in his national statement that the time had come “to put new pressure on North Korea to abandon its dangerous path.” He urged the Council to act and said there was a need to work together to adopt a new approach.

The most recent resolution, adopted on 2 June, added 14 individuals and four entities to the 1718 consolidated sanctions list. It condemned “in the strongest terms” the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development activities, including missile launches, conducted by the DPRK in “flagrant disregard” of relevant Council resolutions.

On 17 July, the ROK proposed re-opening inter-Korean communication channels, including military contacts, and encouraged the DPRK leadership to respond positively.

A report released on 21 March by 13 UN agencies and international NGOs operating in the DPRK called for $114 million to meet the urgent needs of half of the population (13 million). Donations to the DPRK for humanitarian aid have been affected by the sanctions due to complications created by banking restrictions and some donors’ perceptions that such aid allows the government to focus its resources on building weapons rather than spending on its population.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 23 May, the chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Cardi, presented his 90-day report on the work of the Committee. On 10 May, the Committee held informal consultations to discuss the recommendations in the latest report from its Panel of Experts. It also continued the series of regional outreach meetings initiated in March as a follow-up to paragraph 44 of resolution 2321, adopted in response to the 9 September 2016 nuclear test, which requested the Committee “to hold special meetings on important thematic and regional topics and member states’ capacity challenges”. The Committee met with the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries on 31 March; the Eastern European Group on 10 April; the African Group on 1 May; the Western European and Others Group on 12 May; and the Asia-Pacific Group on 26 May.

The Committee announced on 1 June that it had amended four entries on its sanctions list, and on 5 June it announced the amendment of another two entries.

The latest report from the Panel of Experts is due in early August. Although usually only the final report is made public, it is possible this mid-term report may be made public so that member states will have access to the recommendations from the Panel that might be relevant to their implementation of the sanctions regime.  

Human Rights-Related Developments

The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, travelled to DPRK from 3 to 8 May in what was the first visit to the country by an independent expert mandated by the Human Rights Council (HRC). In a statement on 15 May she welcomed a number of positive steps taken by the DPRK on disability issues but maintained that “there is still a long way to go to realize the rights of persons with disabilities in the DPRK”. Devandas-Aguilar is set to submit a report to the HRC in March 2018.

In a statement on 21 July, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said that the protection of human rights should be central to the ROK’s policy of rapprochement with the DPRK, noting ongoing allegations of arbitrary detention, human trafficking, and enforced disappearances. He also expressed alarm at the surge in detentions and forced repatriations of North Koreans caught in China. In addition, Ojea Quintana noted that many observers he met with, both in the ROK and elsewhere, reminded him of “the need to consider the impact of international as well as unilateral sanctions on the [North Korean] population, and the extent to which they integrate human rights protection concerns.” Ojea Quintana’s statement came at the conclusion of his visit to Seoul from 17 to 21 July. Denied access to the DPRK since his appointment in March 2016, Ojea Quintana visited the ROK to engage with its new administration and to collect human rights information, including from people who have recently fled the DPRK. Ojea Quintana will report to the General Assembly in October 2017.

Key Issues

In the face of the flagrant violations of Council resolutions and the fact that the DPRK has continued to upgrade its nuclear capabilities and ballistic missiles, the effectiveness of the Council’s approach is an issue. A related issue is whether serious consideration should be given to other options, such as making a greater effort to engage with the DPRK, combined with the sanctions approach.

An issue following the 4 July missile launch is the different interpretations by Council members as to what sort of missile was launched. The US almost immediately confirmed the DPRK’s claim that it had fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, but Russia has disputed this claim. In a letter sent to the Council shortly after the launch, Russia described the North Korean projectile as an intermediate-range rocket. As a result of this difference, it was not possible to issue a press statement following the launch, and negotiations on a draft resolution are likely to also be affected. 

In the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, ensuring strict implementation of the sanctions continues to be a key issue. A forthcoming issue is likely to be getting agreement on recommendations in the Panel’s mid-term report given the heightened sensitivity of this issue

A further issue is the potential humanitarian impact of the sanctions, which might be exacerbated if further sectoral sanctions are imposed.

Options

One option is to continue to use sanctions as the main approach in responding to the DPRK’s missile launches.  A resolution imposing additional measures, such as an oil embargo, a ban on hiring DPRK workers abroad, and further restrictions on transportation and exports would be a possibility in this context. 

Another option for the Council is to request the Secretary-General to play a good offices role in bringing together the key actors.

The potential for this issue to escalate beyond the region could prompt some members to consider informal discussions on new approaches as a possible option.

In search of a new approach, exploring possible forums for discussing new regional security mechanisms is a possible option.

An option related to the briefing of the chair of the sanctions committee is a wider discussion of implementation of the Council’s resolutions on the DPRK and the potential impact of further sanctions.

For the Committee, making the Panel of Experts mid-term report public and moving toward getting agreement on its recommendations are both immediate options.

Council Dynamics

The administration of US President Donald Trump has made the DPRK a priority issue, with involvement at the highest levels of government. The DPRK was discussed when Council members met with Trump earlier this year. Trump told members that the status quo was unacceptable and that the Council must be prepared to impose additional sanctions. There has also been a discernible shift to stronger public statements, with US Ambassador Nikki Haley most recently stating during the 5 July meeting that the US would be willing to use the full range of its capabilities, including military means. Other Council members have stressed the importance of a peaceful and diplomatic solution rather than a military one.

China has long promoted a dual-track approach of denuclearisation and the establishment of a peace mechanism on the peninsula. It has also been pushing a “suspension-for-suspension” proposal that would allow for the suspension by the DPRK of its nuclear and missile-related activities and the suspension by the ROK and the US of any joint military exercises. Russia, which has been supportive of the Chinese position, is showing signs of wanting to play a greater role on the DPRK. It also appears to be more resistant to further sanctions on the DPRK following the imposition of US sanctions on two Russian firms for aiding the DPRK’s weapons programme.  

The US is the penholder on the DPRK.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK

Security Council Resolutions
2 June 2017 S/RES/2356 This was a resolution condemning the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development activities, including missile launches, conducted by the DPRK in flagrant disregard of relevant Council resolutions since 9 September 2016.
23 March 2017 S/RES/2345 This resolution renewed for another 13 months the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.
30 November 2016 S/RES/2321 This was a resolution on sanctions, in response to the DPRK’s 9 September 2016 nuclear test.
Security Council Meeting Records
5 July 2017 S/PV.7996 This was a public meeting on the situation in the DPRK.
28 April 2017 S/PV.7932 This was a meeting on the situation in the DPRK, chaired by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Security Council Press Statements
22 May 2017 SC/12831 This was a press statement condemning the DPRK’s 21 May missile launch and calling on the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee “to redouble its efforts to improve global implementation of all measures”.
15 May 2017 SC/12821 This was a press statement in which Council members condemned the missile launches conducted by the DPRK on 28 April and 13 May.
20 April 2017 SC/12801 Council members condemned the DPRK’s 15 April missile launch.
6 April 2017 SC/12780 Council members condemned the DPRK’s 4 April missile launch.
23 March 2017 SC/12763 This statement condemned the DPRK’s ballistic missile launch of 21 March and the ballistic missile engine test of 19 March.
7 March 2017 SC/12741 This was a press statement that condemned the ballistic missile launches conducted by the DPRK on 5 March.
13 February 2017 SC/12716 Council members condemned the DPRK’s 11 February missile launch.
Other
18 April 2017 S/2017/337 This letter transmitted the concept note for the 28 April Council meeting on the denuclearisation of the DPRK.
30 January 2017 S/2017/150 This was the Panel of Experts’ final report under resolution 2276.

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