Briefing Security Council on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Failed Launch, Senior Official Stresses Diplomacy ‘the Only Way Forward’
Following the recently failed launch of what the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has described as a military reconnaissance satellite, a senior United Nations official today stressed to the Security Council that diplomacy — and not isolation — is the only way forward, as she underlined that the 15-nation organ’s lack of unity and action does little to slow the Korean Peninsula’s negative trajectory.
Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefing the Council on the launch which occurred on 31 May at 6:37 a.m. local time, reported that the rocket crashed off the Peninsula’s western coast after losing thrust. That country had sent a pre-launch notification to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) but notably did not do so for other international organizations. It has also since announced, through its official media, plans for a second launch as soon as possible.
While a sovereign State has the right to benefit from space activities, Council resolutions explicitly prohibit that country from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology, she reported. In that regard, the United Nations Secretary-General condemned the recent launch and called on Pyongyang to swiftly resume dialogue to achieve sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, she said, adding peace and security issues must be an area for cooperation, with diplomacy — not isolation — as the only way forward.
In the ensuing debate, many speakers joined the Secretary-General’s strong condemnation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s attempted launch. Urging that Government to cease its violations of Council resolutions and return to dialogue, diplomacy and denuclearization, they also outlined actions for the Council going forward. Some, however, spotlighted the role of certain members in escalating the situation.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates, Council President for June, spoke in her national capacity, stressing that civilians cannot continue to be at the mercy of Pyongyang’s ongoing threats. While that Government’s somewhat advanced warning may have reduced risks to neighbouring countries to a degree, such warnings neither legitimize nor minimize the launch’s illegality. Enacting a complete, verifiable, and irreversible path to denuclearization — including a return to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons — must be the way forward, she said.
Building on that, the representative of Brazil stressed that Pyongyang must comply with its obligations. The latest mobilization of military assets for possible military intercepts — even if defensive in nature — shows how the region stands on a hair trigger. “Tensions must be dialled down,” he insisted.
However, the Russian Federation’s delegate observed that the root cause of such spiralling tensions is the United States and its allies’ desire to increase pressure through “extended deterrence”. Voicing her concern over the continued military drills in the region, which the United States has no intention of slowing down, she highlighted their impact on global stability. Against this backdrop, the Russian Federation-China action plan details concrete steps to comprehensively resolve the Peninsula’s situation.
Disagreeing with that stance, the representative of the United States underscored that there was nothing that provoked the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to conduct this launch or threaten another one. With the help of some staunch supporters on the Council, that country is trying to normalize its actions and assert that they are justified, he emphasized, adding that as long as it feels emboldened by Council silence, Pyongyang will continue to choose “ammunition over nutrition”.
Adding to that, the representative of Japan stressed: “Let us be clear-eyed about the situation […] This is about yet another violation of the resolutions of this Council.” All Member States rely on the organ to fulfil its heavy responsibility to maintain international peace and security — to not turn away from the violations of its own resolutions. “Our silence has only encouraged and will continue to encourage rule breakers to write the playbook as they like,” he underscored.
The Republic of Korea’s delegate — noting that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is already doing what it wants according to its own playbook — pointed out that a knife is just a kitchen utensil for ordinary people but a lethal weapon for criminals. In that regard, the Council must act with one strong voice — especially since its inaction only serves to embolden that Government and misguides the international community.
Ghana’s delegate, expressing his regret that the Council’s response has been divided, called for a principled and pragmatic approach to foster the conditions for constructive engagement. In that sense, members must work collaboratively to strengthen the organ’s unity. “While different stakeholders may have different interests on the situation in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], it must be obvious that a nuclearized Korean Peninsula is in no one’s interest,” he emphasized.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 4:23 p.m.
ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, reported that on 31 May at 6:37 a.m. local time the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea launched what it described as a military reconnaissance satellite from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. The rocket crashed off the Korean Peninsula’s western coast after losing thrust following the separation of its first and second stages. Pyongyang attributed the launch’s failure to the low reliability of an unspecified new-type engine system and fuel, with its official media declaring a second launch as soon as possible. One day earlier, that country sent a pre-launch notification to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). However, other international organizations — including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) — were not notified.
While a sovereign State has the right to launch a satellite and benefit from space activities, Security Council resolutions explicitly prohibit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology, she underlined. In that regard, the United Nations Secretary-General — strongly condemning that launch on 30 May — called on Pyongyang to refrain from conducting further satellite launches using such technology and swiftly resume dialogue to achieve the goal of sustainable peace as well as the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The development a military reconnaissance satellite was part of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s five-year military development plan which it unveiled in January 2021, well before the resumption of military exercises in the region, she continued. In line with that plan, Pyongyang greatly increased its missile launch activities in 2022 and 2023 with more than 80 launches using ballistic missile technology. That Government characterized these launches as involving systems with nuclear weapon roles and has continued to reference the possible use of nuclear weapons. The United Nations has separately been following reports of continuing illicit cyber activities attributed to that country’s affiliated actors.
As key peace and security issues must be an area for cooperation and diplomacy — not isolation — is the only way forward, she underscored. However, the lack of unity and action from the Council does little to slow the negative trajectory on the Korean Peninsula as Pyongyang is unconstrained and other parties are compelled to focus on military deterrence. Turning to the concerning humanitarian situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, she highlighted the Organization’s readiness to assist in addressing the basic needs of vulnerable populations. Welcoming the return of diplomats from one Member State to Pyongyang on 27 March, she reiterated the Organization’s call on the latter to allow the unimpeded entry of international staff — including its Resident Coordinator and humanitarian supplies — to enable a timely and effective response. The Secretary-General remains firmly committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, she said, adding that he welcomes the Republic of Korea’s recent affirmation of its commitment to its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States), condemning Pyongyang’s satellite launch, said the Council cannot ignore the failed launches, as they allow that country to learn about its capability gaps and determine how to advance its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes. The launch not only disrupted maritime and air traffic in the region but also caused alarm for Japan and the Republic of Korea. Moreover, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is threatening to conduct another launch as soon as possible, while — with the help of its “staunch supporters on the Council” — it is trying to normalize such actions and assert they are justified. “There is nothing that provoked DPRK to conduct this launch or threaten another one,” he said, urging Pyongyang to negotiate without preconditions. As long as the country feels emboldened by the silence of the Council, it will continue to choose “ammunition over nutrition”, he pointed out. Reiterating the United States’ commitment to its alliances, he stressed: “We will take all necessary measures to ensure our security.”
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), strongly condemning the latest launch, said it may have failed but it is just another escalatory step by Pyongyang and a brazen violation of numerous Council resolutions. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues to openly defy the United Nations, the Council and established norms and rules. “It is only seeking provocation, destabilization and escalation,” he said, adding that Pyongyang more frequently shows only disregard and contempt for the Council “because it feels protected, because it is protected”. This is utterly wrong and goes against what the Council stands for. Further, the voices of most Council members calling for a clear and strong reaction to the illegal, unprovoked and reckless actions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continue to be ignored. Talks, through good faith diplomacy, are needed to ensure a full, transparent, comprehensive and irreversible end of weapons of mass destruction as well as ballistic and nuclear programmes. Only this would help the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea become a normal country and start developing and progressing. The Council can help in this respect if it decides to speak with one voice and with a united and clear response.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador), noting that space launch capacities and ballistic missile systems are technologies that are essentially similar on many fronts, urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to refrain from further attempts to launch military reconnaissance satellites and to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. In this context, he underlined the responsibility of States to ensure that the exploration of outer space is carried out exclusively for peaceful purposes. With resolution 2397 (2017), the Council expressed its determination to take new significant measures in response to any new launch by that country, he recalled, urging the 15-member organ to take action and speak with one voice to maintain international peace and security. Calling on States to avoid provocation and warmongering rhetoric, he stressed the need to deepen cooperation and reduce tensions in the region.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), condemning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s reckless and failed satellite launch, stressed that the recent launch was a further violation of the Council’s resolutions. Since the beginning of 2023, there have been nine sets of ballistic missile tests — including a solid fuel intercontinental ballistic missile test in April. All of them are part of Pyongyang’s reckless pursuit of advanced nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities with which it seeks to threaten its neighbours, he underscored. While the most recent launch failed, it nevertheless caused alarm for the people of Japan and the Republic of Korea. It is the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who bear the highest costs as their Government diverts resources away from their basic economic needs, he pointed out, underlining that Pyongyang’s behaviour is unacceptable. That State continues to flout international non-proliferation architecture, poses a threat to global peace and security and intends to repeat the failed launch as soon as it can. Against this backdrop, his country is ready to work with all Council members to send a unified message and continues to urge all States to fully implement existing resolutions.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan), highlighting the actions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, stressed: “Let us be clear-eyed about the situation. This is not about whether it was a satellite or not. This is not about if the launch failed or not. This is about yet another violation of the resolutions of this Council.” The launch used ballistic missile technology, which the Council has prohibited in order to stop the country’s unlawful development of nuclear weapons. Further, Pyongyang has clearly stated its intention to violate the resolutions once again and has announced plans to launch another “military reconnaissance satellite” after the “failure”. When the Council last gathered on this issue, his delegation reminded members about Pyongyang’s five-year military plan, which includes the military reconnaissance satellite they attempted to launch this time. The international community has been witnessing the country’s steady implementation of their long-pursued nuclear and missile programmes; the Council’s continued silence and inaction after repeated violations; and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea decision to take full advantage of this inaction and silence. “Some argue that the Council should not meet,” he said, noting that these people say that silence or self-restraint would help calm the situation. “This is simply wrong. As I have repeatedly said, our silence has only encouraged, and will continue to encourage, rule breakers to write the playbook as they like.” All Member States rely on the Council to fulfil its heavy responsibility to maintain international peace and security and not to turn away from violations of its own resolutions.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta), condemning the recent launch, said that Security Council resolutions do not distinguish between successful launches and failed attempts. In this context, she called on Pyongyang to completely, verifiably and irreversibly abandon its nuclear and ballistic programmes and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in implementing the respective safeguards. She also urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. Expressing regret over the Council’s inaction, she said: “Not reacting to these unlawful actions of DPRK would mean normalizing violations in the face of this Council.” Further, she reiterated concern over the humanitarian situation, pointing out that the country’s violations divert resources from its people, prevent its economic development and undermine the welfare of its population. To this end, she urged the Government to enable and facilitate humanitarian assistance across the country and choose the path of dialogue.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), strongly condemning the latest provocative and destabilizing action, emphasized that this launch is proof that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues in blatant defiance of the Council’s decisions. He also condemned recent escalations, namely the increase in launches and the irresponsible statements. “This Council cannot stand idly by and must respond in a united fashion to this new violation of its own resolutions,” he said, underscoring: “We cannot allow North Korea to become a nuclear weapon State.” For its part, France will not accept the normalization of such a threat to regional and international peace and security and remains committed to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. Pyongyang must comply with its obligations without delay. Moreover, it must return to the negotiating table and accept the repeated offers of dialogue, he added.
JESWUNI ABUDU-BIRRESBORN (Ghana) expressed concern over Pyongyang’s launch of a military satellite and deplored its latest actions, while noting that this action serves as the confirmation of its weapons programme’s acceleration. It is also a reflection of Pyongyang’s resolve to accomplish its 2023 strategic goals set at its sixth plenary meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. With its current launch, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has attempted to accomplish two of those strategic goals, he said, expressing regret that the Council has not been unified in its response. In this context, he called for a principled and pragmatic approach based on diplomacy and trust-building to foster conditions for a constructive engagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other major stakeholders on its weapons programme. “While different stakeholders may have different interests on the situation in the DPRK, it must be obvious that a nuclearized Korean Peninsula is in no one’s interest,” he added, urging Council members to work collaboratively and strengthen the unity of the organ.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s launch of a military satellite confirms the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Condemning the launch, which threatens the security of neighbouring countries, he called for de-escalation to put an end to this hellish cycle for the region’s populations and for merchant navigation on the Korean Peninsula. Voicing great concern over the dangerous trend towards the trivialization and acceptance of nuclear risk, he said that, in the current context marked by a hardening and radicalization of positions, States may reconsider their position of neutrality on military defence or nuclear equipment. This could renew interest in weapons of mass destruction, he warned, urging the Council to give serious consideration to the untenable security situation on the Korean Peninsula.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) stressed that the sirens which went off a few days ago in Seoul and Okinawa remind the Council of the potentially grave impact an accident could have on the civilian population. Urging members to not remain passive, he pointed out that any launch which uses ballistic missile technology is a violation of the Council’s resolutions. As such, the intention to put a military observation satellite into orbit and the advanced announcement of its trajectory do not change the recent launch’s violation of international law. For its part as a Council member, his Government has a duty to condemn this launch and call on Pyongyang to renounce any future launch attempts. All States must effectively implement Council sanctions, he emphasized, underlining also the obligation to combat the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Yet, amid all of this, the Council must not forget the plight of Pyongyang’s people whose Government’s heavy restrictions in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic are still seriously hampering international humanitarian aid. The Council plays an essential role in encouraging dialogue, de-escalation and the search for diplomatic solutions to the Korean Peninsula, he underscored, adding: “We have a shared responsibility and a common objective in this direction.”
DOMINGOS ESTÊVÃO FERNANDES (Mozambique) said that over the years, the situation in the Korean Peninsula has become very sensitive and a serious cause for concern. He reiterated the importance of using new technologies to improve the quality of lives of human beings, not for aggravating crises and instability. The launch of yet another satellite by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, although unsuccessful, confirms the persistence of tensions in the Korean Peninsula, which could lead to miscalculation and confrontation, as well as the erosion of compliance to non-proliferation regimes in the region. He also urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to abide by Council resolutions and cooperate in de-escalating an already tense situation. As well, concerned by the lack of progress and changes in the status quo, despite repeated Council meetings, he called on the Council to fulfil its responsibilities by engaging in efforts towards the resumption of dialogue.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) deplored the use of ballistic-missile technology in the recent rocket launch. While recognizing the right of all countries to pursue peaceful space programmes, he stressed the need for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply with its obligations. Noting that the Chollima-1 rocket uses engines similar to those used in the liquid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-15, he said the launch represents a violation of Council resolution 2094 (2013). Welcoming that a pre-launch notice was issued to IMO to mitigate the risk for civilians in the Republic of Korea and Japan, as well as to regional maritime and air traffic, he stressed that such notification does not set aside the illegality of the launch. The latest mobilization of military assets for possible missile intercepts — even if defensive in nature — shows how the region stands on a hair trigger. “Tensions must be dialled down,” he urged.
GENG SHUANG (China) said his delegation has been concerned about the increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. All parties should look at the symptoms of how this situation has been created. The words and actions of all parties, not just the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, should be observed. The peace mechanism has been missing on the Korean Peninsula for decades and the legitimate security concerns of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have been unresolved. The situation between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States has fallen into a weird circle that includes dialogue and then tensions. There have been past times when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea engaged with the United States. Yet, the United States failed to abide and returned to the use of sanctions and pressures and missed an opportunity to resolve the issue. The United States has continued its military activities on the Peninsula, which has created tensions there and undermined security in the region. A month ago, with the Washington Declaration, the United States decided to send strategic submarines to the Peninsula. This is driven by its geopolitical self-interests. Such practices by the United States are provocative and promote tension. The current situation is fraught with tension. All parties must be restrained. It is most important for all parties to stay committed to peace and resume meaningful dialogue and focus on the big picture. Some say the Council should play a constructive role and his delegation agrees. Yet it is not constructive to put the blame on one party. This will only exacerbate the conflict and create more tensions. The Council should promote constructive dialogue and mutual trust. The starting point for the draft resolution co-sponsored by China and the Russian Federation is meant to resolve difficulties in the lives of people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, create conditions for resuming dialogue and promote a political solution.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) expressed surprise that neither the Under-Secretary General nor the Secretary-General in his earlier statement mentioned the growing military activity by the United States, Republic Korea and Japan in North-east Asia. Such “counter-productive” attempts to paint a one-sided picture of the situation are removing the international community further away from resolving the issues on the Korean Peninsula. The root cause of the spiral of tensions is the desire of the United States and its allies to increase pressure on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with the so-called “extended deterrence”. In this regard, she voiced concern over the extremely negative consequences of continued military drills in the subregion, noting that Washington has no intention of slowing down. On 25 May, the United States and the Republic of Korea conducted drills not far away from the border with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea involving 2,500 military personnel and about 610 weapon systems, including fighter planes, attack helicopters, tanks and artillery. This exercise is just the first stage in a series which is planned to take place by mid-June. Such actions are destabilizing not only for the situation in the North-east Asia and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole but are also negatively impacting global stability. She also condemned the inhumane and dead-end policy of increasing sanction pressure, noting that unilateral sanctions run counter to the rules of international commerce and undermine the integrity of Security Council agreed restrictions. Against this backdrop, she highlighted the Russian Federation-China action plan, which outlines concrete steps to comprehensively resolve the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), Council President for June, speaking in her national capacity, joined the Secretary-General’s condemnation of the recent satellite launch. Strongly urging that country to desist from its unlawful, dangerous and provocative activities, she said civilians cannot continue to be at the mercy of its ongoing threats. While Pyongyang’s somewhat advanced warning may have reduced risks to neighbouring countries to a degree, such warnings neither legitimize nor minimize the launch’s illegality. The fear and danger imposed on the people of the Republic of Korea and Japan as a result of such actions are unacceptable and unjustifiable, she asserted. In that vein, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must comply with international law and return to diplomacy and dialogue. Enacting a complete, verifiable, and irreversible path to denuclearization — including a return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty — must be the way forward, she underlined, calling on that country to adhere to IAEA safeguards and allow its inspectors to return. On the deeply troubling humanitarian situation, she voiced her regret that the organization has not been permitted to return and urged Pyongyang to allow humanitarian organizations to provide lifesaving assistance. The Council must find unity again and speak with one voice, she emphasized.
Mr. WOOD (United States), taking the floor a second time, observed: “I found interesting that China’s representative did not at any point condemn DPRK’s space launch.” In addition, while Pyongyang was supposedly adhering to certain agreements, it was also developing a clandestine uranium-enrichment programme. On the reference to the Washington Declaration, he pointed out it is a response to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s activities on ballistic missiles and weapons of mass distraction programmes, “not the other way around”. Noting that this is not an issue of “two sides” in the Council, he said there is one party that has been sanctioned. Turning to the China-Russian Federation draft, he said: “It’s hard to imagine that we should ease sanctions on DPRK as it continues its destabilizing behaviour.” He also emphasized that, in deterrence cooperation, neither the United States nor the Republic of Korea is in violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Reiterating his country’s willingness to engage in an unconditional dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said Pyongyang has rejected such interventions on many occasions.
Mr. GENG (China), also taking the floor a second time, said the situation on the Korean Peninsula needs a comprehensive solution. Yet, the essence of a solution has been missing with no peace mechanism. The legitimate security concerns of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have not been resolved. The United States says the door of diplomacy is open. But at the same time, it is carrying out military actions in the Peninsula and surrounding areas. If it continues on this path, it will provoke the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea even further. The United States needs to show flexibility to reach a dialogue and put forward a pollical solution, he stressed.
JOONKOOK HWANG (Republic of Korea) pointed out that the claim that provocations were trigged by the strengthening of the alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States and the military exercises conducted by those two is not consistent with the facts. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is doing what it wants, according to its own playbook. Spotlighting Pyongyang’s condemnation of the Secretary-General for his statement and the statement of its leader’s sister to justify its unlawful action, he countered with the analogy: a knife is just a kitchen utensil for ordinary people, but it is a lethal weapon for criminals. That Government is the first and only case that abused the Non-Proliferation Treaty and openly developed nuclear weapons and delivery systems, he reminded the Council. Regardless of whether Pyongyang’s launch succeeded and whatever term that State uses to describe it, there is no doubt over its flagrant violation of Council resolutions. Further, that launch does not fall into the category of the peaceful use of outer space, he added.
As such, the Council must act with one strong voice, he insisted, urging it to not remain silent on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s failed launch. In the past, the 15-nation organ has restrained itself from taking substantial measures on failed launches even though Pyongyang learns and advances its weapons of mass destruction programme based on these launches. Such inaction not only emboldens that country but also misguides the international community into accepting that the Council will stand idly by for a successful launch before it responds seriously. Even as members speak today, that Government is buying time to further advance its unlawful nuclear and missile programmes by taking full advantage of a paralyzed Council and weakened sanctions. In that vein, there must be strengthened cooperation to cut off Pyongyang’s revenue sources for such programmes. That regime’s pursuit of a growing nuclear arsenal in total disregard of its international obligations and its totalitarian control of its people are two sides of the same coin, he stressed, urging all members to revive its public meetings on that country’s human rights situation. Moreover, Pyongyang must cease further escalatory actions, fulfil its international obligations and return to diplomacy and denuclearization, he said.