Measures Needed to Create Space for Diplomacy on Korean Peninsula, Peacebuilding Official Tells Security Council following Satellite Launch by Pyongyang
While stressing that the 24 August launch of a military reconnaissance satellite by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea posed serious risks to international civil aviation and maritime traffic and runs contrary to relevant Security Council resolutions, a senior United Nations official told Council members today that practical measures are needed to curb tensions and create space for diplomacy.
“Exercising maximum restraint is critical to avoid unintended escalation. Diplomacy and dialogue, not isolation, is the only way forward,” said Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations. He emphasized the importance of re-establishing communication channels — particularly between military entities — and reversing the dangerous dynamics exacerbated by Pyongyang’s recent launch.
He added that the United Nations remains concerned with the humanitarian situation in the country, which has been aggravated by climate hazards and ongoing border closures. Urging Pyongyang to allow the unimpeded re-entry and rotation of the international community — including United Nations staff — he observed: “A collective return would positively impact international support to the people of [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and strengthen communication channels.”
In the ensuring discussion, many Council members condemned Pyongyang’s use of ballistic-missile technology and noted the country’s repeated violations of relevant Council resolutions, including resolution 2397 (2017). Yet, delegates also called for a return to diplomacy and a unified Council that can bring peace and stability to the region.
Brazil’s delegate, for example, recognized all countries’ right to pursue peaceful space programmes, but stressed that Pyongyang must strictly comply with its obligations under international law and Council resolutions. He urged all parties to exercise restraint when responding to space launches, stressing that engagement — not isolation — remains the best path towards a Korean Peninsula that is peaceful, stable and free from nuclear weapons.
The representative of Japan, however, said: “This is not about the right to use outer space. This is not about exercising the right of self-defence. This is about violations of Security Council resolutions.” Pointing out that the recent launch — which flew directly over Japan — threatened his country’s peace and security, he urged Council members to take concrete actions and restore the unity shown in 2017.
Conversely, China’s representative said that recent launches are linked to the military activities of certain countries. He also recalled that, while Pyongyang has previously participated in de-nuclearization activities, a concerned country failed to deliver on commitments made in that dialogue. He therefore encouraged parties to take a rational approach and ask themselves what went wrong, what should be done and what the Council can do.
The United Kingdom’s representative, warning that “the DPRK have said they will try again”, said that claims of “so-called ‘provocations’ — or, rather, legitimate and transparently declared military exercises — causing these launches are baseless”. Launches are part of a long-established, clearly defined plan that has required extensive scientific and technological investment, he emphasized, calling on the Council to act and on Pyongyang to return to dialogue.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, underscoring that a satellite launch is an exercise of an independent, legitimate State right under international law, expressed alarm over the Council’s “abnormal practice” of condemning such exercise as “illegal”. Stating that his country “will never be bound” by Council resolutions, he added that Washington, D.C., and the “military gangsters” of the Republic of Korea are turning the Korean Peninsula into a potential area for an immense thermonuclear war.
In turn, the representative of the Republic of Korea observed that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the only country that has conducted a nuclear test in the twenty-first century. Further, it is the only one that joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and then developed such weapons in defiance of its obligations under that instrument. “Pyongyang’s ever-growing threats are the very reason why we are strengthening extended deterrence cooperation with the US — not the other way around,” he stressed.
Gabon’s representative, meanwhile, called on the Council to mobilize in the face of the threat hovering over the Korean Peninsula and pave the way towards a solution that will break the vicious circle. “The status quo is not a viable option, because it serves to heighten the risk of a disaster with irreparable consequences,” she underscored, calling for de-escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. “Trust must be rebuilt so that talks may resume,” she added.
NON-PROLIFERATION/DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA
KHALED KHIARI, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said that, at 3:50 a.m. local time on 24 August, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted what it described as its second launch of a military reconnaissance satellite from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. The launch follows a previous attempt on 31 May and, according to Pyongyang, it failed due to an error in the emergency blasting system during the third stage of flight. Official media said that a third reconnaissance-satellite launch will be conducted in October. He noted that, while the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea issued a pre-launch notification to the Japanese Coast Guard, it did not issue airspace or maritime safety notifications to the International Maritime Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization or the International Telecommunications Union.
Stressing that Pyongyang’s unannounced launches represent a serious risk to international civil aviation and maritime traffic, he noted that the Secretary-General strongly condemned the launch as yet another use of ballistic-missile technology. Any launch using such technology is contrary to relevant Council resolutions. Yet, in line with its five-year military-development plan, Pyongyang significantly increased its missile-launch activities in 2022 and 2023 — including more than 90 launches using that prohibited technology. Reiterating the need for practical measures to reduce tensions, reverse the dangerous dynamic and create space to explore diplomatic avenues, he emphasized the importance of re-establishing communication channels, particularly between military entities. He added: “Exercising maximum restraint is critical to avoid unintended escalation. Diplomacy and dialogue, not isolation, is the only way forward.”
He went on to note that, through resolution 2397 (2017), the Council re-affirmed its decisions that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shall suspend all activities related to its ballistic-missile programme; abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner; and immediately cease all related activities. However, since his last briefing on 13 July, Pyongyang has openly displayed its nuclear-weapon delivery systems during both a weaponry exhibition and a military parade. “Such displays undermine the global nuclear-disarmament-and-non-proliferation regime and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons that underpins it,” he said.
The United Nations remains concerned with the country’s humanitarian situation, he added, which has been aggravated by climate hazards and ongoing border closures. Given progress in vaccines and treatments — and the 5 May declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) that COVID-19 no longer constitutes an international public-health concern — he urged Pyongyang to allow the unimpeded re-entry and rotation of the international community, including United Nations staff. “A collective return would positively impact international support to the people of DPRK and strengthen communication channels,” he observed.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), Council President for August, spoke in her national capacity to recall that Council members have repeatedly demanded that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea not conduct any ballistic launches. Noting that the most-recent launch caused an evacuation alert, raised tensions and destabilized the security situation in the region, she urged Council members to be united in discouraging Pyongyang from conducting another test. “Listen closely today to those countries that condemn and those that oppose DPRK’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, and pay equal attention to those that don’t,” she emphasized, stating that the Council has failed to live up to its commitment because of “China’s and Russia’s obstructionism”. She also noted that, in July, senior officials from China and the Russian Federation stood beside Kim Jong-Un to celebrate the regime’s ballistic-missile advancements. “We are prepared to engage in diplomacy,” she stressed, adding that division only empowers Pyongyang.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) condemned the launch of a space vehicle carrying a military reconnaissance satellite by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on 24 August. This is Pyongyang’s second failure in two months to put a spy satellite into orbit, he said, also condemning the announcement that a third attempt of this kind will occur in October. The regime continues to pursue modernization of its military capabilities, which is egregious behaviour that exacerbates the volatile security situation on the entire Korean Peninsula. Stating that any attempt to show understanding with the regime’s escalatory actions is “unacceptable”, he said that, by being disunited on this issue, the Council is failing its mandate. “In this respect, we wonder about the real impact and usefulness of the visit to Pyongyang of the Russian Minister of Defence, amidst suspected and illegal arm deals with another country threatening its neighbours,” he added.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) condemned the newest failed attempt by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to launch a satellite using ballistic-missile technology. The launch is another “piece of proof” of Pyongyang’s violations of Council resolutions that prohibit all types of launches that make use of ballistic technology. In June, a majority of Council members condemned the launch of a military reconnaissance satellite by the country. Yet, three months later, there is a new situation. Recalling that the ministers for foreign affairs of the member States of the Collective Security Treaty Organization issued a declaration on 21 June that preventing an arms race in outer space must be the political norm, he expressed hope that the Organization will condemn this launch. He also demanded that Pyongyang refrain from making new attempts, appealing for unity within the Council on this issue.
ISIS MARIE DORIANE JARAUD-DARNAULT (France) said that Pyongyang’s 24 August attempt to launch a military satellite — like the previous one — represents a flagrant violation of international law. Due to close similarity between the technology used during space and ballistic launches, this launch testifies to the already-worrying progress made by Pyongyang in its ballistic-missile programme. It demonstrates that country’s will to continue the escalation of recent months, which have seen an unprecedented acceleration in launches. “We cannot accept North Korea becoming a nuclear State,” she asserted, adding that France will not accept the normalization of such a threat to regional and international peace and security. As such, it is vital that all Council members ensure that no support is provided to Pyongyang in view of its continued nuclear and ballistic programmes. Further, she stressed the need to collectively call on that country to abandon such programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil) joined the international community in condemning the use of ballistic-missile technology in the recent launch of a vehicle by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. While recognizing all countries’ right to pursue peaceful space programmes, he stressed that Pyongyang must strictly comply with its obligations under international law and Council resolutions. The Chollima-1 rocket, he noted, uses engines similar to those used in the liquid-fuelled Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile — a clear violation of resolution 2094 (2013). Brazil, for its part, will continue to promote engagement that can contribute to lowering tensions and reducing the risks of escalation. He further urged all parties to exercise restraint when responding to space launches, stressing that engagement — not isolation — remains the best path towards a Korean Peninsula that is peaceful, stable and free of nuclear weapons.
DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta), condemning Pyongyang’s recent launch attempt, called on that country to refrain from conducting the launch currently scheduled for October. Even though the recent launch failed, such tests help Pyongyang improve its technology and advance its programmes, he noted. Urging that country to engage in dialogue and adhere to its obligations, he said that it must verifiably, irreversibly abandon its ballistic-missile programme and return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Also voicing concern over the humanitarian situation and human-rights violations, he called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to restore access so the UN and other humanitarian actors can provide the population with required aid. He underscored the importance of a strong, united Council to achieve peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, adding: “Divisions and inaction will only postpone our objectives indefinitely.”
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) said that Pyongyang’s failed launch on 24 August, which triggered Japan’s local alert system in Okinawa, constitutes “yet another grave violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and a brazen effort to further expand its military programme”. Warning that “the DPRK have said they will try again”, he affirmed that claims of “so-called ‘provocations’ — or, rather, legitimate and transparently declared military exercises — causing these launches are baseless”. This is part of a long-established, clearly defined plan that has required extensive scientific and technological investment. Calling on the Council to act, he recalled that all Member States have signed, ratified and supported the Non-Proliferation Treaty and are committed to the full implementation of Council resolutions. He therefore urged Pyongyang to cease launches, return to dialogue and take credible steps towards denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) said that the recent launch, which flew directly over Japan, threatened his country’s peace and security. He stressed: “This is not about the right to use outer space. This is not about exercising the right of self-defence. This is about violations of Security Council resolutions.” The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea pursues its military ambitions according to its five-year plan and has announced its intention to conduct another launch in October, he added, urging Council members to take concrete actions and restore the unity shown in 2017. He questioned: “If the money spent on launching numerous satellites and missiles towards neighbouring countries had been spent on people in North Korea instead, how many would have been fed? How many lives would have been saved?” Urging Pyongyang not to conduct further launches and resume dialogue with the countries concerned towards complete denuclearization, he emphasized: “The path to dialogue remains open.”
EDWIGE KOUMBY MISSAMBO (Gabon) said that the Council must mobilize in the face of the threat hovering over the Korean Peninsula and pave the way towards a solution that will break the vicious circle. “The status quo is not a viable option, because it serves to heighten the risk of a disaster with irreparable consequences,” she stressed, emphasizing that all parties must resume negotiations to guarantee security and peaceful coexistence in the region. Noting that “this generation is undoing the progress made so far” in the field of disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, she said this unacceptable trend runs contrary to history. In this regard, she called on the parties concerned to de-escalate, refrain from unilateral initiatives and prioritize dialogue, adding: “The tensions on the Korean Peninsula must decrease. Trust must be rebuilt so that talks may resume.”
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) expressed concern over Pyongyang’s second attempt to launch a military observation satellite using ballistic-missile technology — a violation of Council resolutions — and reiterated the call on that State to refrain from future attempts. While the obligations arising from Council resolutions apply first and foremost to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, they also apply to all States, which are required to effectively implement Council sanctions. Further, all States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons are obliged to prevent the proliferation of such weapons. Highlighting the suffering of people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he welcomed the first signs of a relaxation in the heavy restrictions established in connection with the pandemic and stressed that the opening of that country’s borders must facilitate rapid, safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid.
AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must stop terrorizing civilians in neighbouring countries with its repeated launches. The one pre-launch notification issued by the country’s relevant authorities does not give any legitimacy to these operations. The Council should send a unified message to Pyongyang, she stressed, urging it to comply with Council resolutions and stop conducting missile tests. “We reiterate our call to the DPRK to return to diplomacy and dialogue,” she said. It is also necessary to keep monitoring the dire humanitarian conditions in which the country’s people live, and United Nations humanitarian organizations must be allowed to provide assistance. She added that the United Arab Emirates is prepared to discuss ways to unify the Council’s position on this file so the organ can play its role in maintaining international peace and security.
LINDA KESSE ANTWI (Ghana), deploring the second attempted launch of a military satellite in three months, called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to abate its long-term ambitions for nuclear-weapon capabilities and embrace the international community’s call for dialogue. Urging Pyongyang to refrain from further ballistic launches, she said that the envisaged, acceptable solution to the Korean Peninsula’s problems cannot include a State with nuclear capabilities, nor the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the region. In this regard, she underscored the need for dialogue between the parties concerned, adding: “We have a responsibility to steer the region away from the path of catastrophe and preserve the peace and lives on the Peninsula.” As a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, she expressed hope that resolution of the situation on the Korean Peninsula will contribute to a world free from nuclear weapons.
DOMINGOS ESTÊVÃO FERNANDES (Mozambique) urged Pyongyang to recommit to the denuclearization and peaceful resolution of the persistent crisis on the Korean Peninsula. “We must intensify our diplomatic engagement and seize every available window of opportunity to persuade the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to desist from provocative actions and to re-engage in constructive dialogue,” he said. Given mounting tensions on the Peninsula and Pyongyang’s determination to advance its technical progress, pathways to meaningful dialogue must be explored with determination. “All avenues of peaceful negotiation aimed at defusing tensions on the Korean Peninsula should be diligently pursued,” he stressed, calling on the Council not to vacillate in its efforts towards a permanent resolution for this serious threat to peace and prosperity in the region.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that Washington, D.C., is hypocritically accusing others without acknowledging its role in escalating the security situation in North-East Asia. June manoeuvres by the United States and the Republic of Korea created new divisive lines, demonstrating plans by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to create an infrastructure allowing for the deployment of United States weapons in the region. While some Council members sweep all this under the rug, this is the reason for tensions. Noting that the blueprint advanced by his country and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remains on the table, he stated that certain Council members refuse to seek realistic ways to solve the problems that have accumulated in the region. The Council will be able to redress this situation if all members work in an objective way and account for all factors, he stressed, adding that his delegation stands ready to work with all members.
GENG SHUANG (China) said that the recent launches are linked to the military activities of certain countries. He encouraged the parties concerned to take a rational approach and ask themselves: “What went wrong? What to do next? What should the Council do?” Pointing to the long-standing hostile policy of Washington, D.C., towards Pyongyang, he also recalled that a United States strategic nuclear submarine showed up again on the Korean Peninsula in July. He also recalled that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has participated in de-nuclearization activities in the past, noting that one of the countries concerned has failed to deliver on commitments made in that dialogue. The situation on the Peninsula has, thus, become more complex and tense. Pointing out that the United States representative made “groundless accusations” in her statement regarding the positions of China and the Russian Federation, he added: “Given where we are, the Council needs unity and not fragmentation or confrontation.”
Ms. THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), taking the floor a second time, spoke in her national capacity to reject “disingenuous claims” by the Russian Federation and China that her country is acting in a hostile manner. Allied military exercises are routine, lawful and defensive in nature and, unlike Pyongyang’s ballistic-missile launches, they are not prohibited by Council resolutions. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted six intercontinental-ballistic-missile launches in 2022 before Washington, D.C., and Seoul resumed their large-scale exercises in August of that year, she added.
Mr. SHUANG (China) said that Pyongyang’s launch activities are closely related to military exercises by the United States and its allies. He stressed: “These military exercises are not what the United States’ delegates claim — legitimate and defensive in nature. It’s not that simple.” Pointing out that Washington, D.C., uses bomber jets and submarines to that end, he asked: “How can the dialogue be re-assumed?” Expressing hope for Council unity, he underscored that this requires efforts by all parties.
SONG KIM (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) underscored that a satellite launch is an exercise of an independent, legitimate State right under international law. Pyongyang issued navigational warnings in advance to ensure transparency and the safety of ships and aircrafts, he said, adding that the launch caused no harm to the security of neighbouring States. “Our launch of the reconnaissance satellite is an exercise of the legitimate right to self-defence to deter the ever-increasing hostile military acts of the United States and its followers,” he asserted. He also sounded alarm over the Council’s “abnormal practice” of condemning his country’s legitimate right to launch a satellite as “illegal”. The organ has been reduced to “an instrument of the United States to implement its aggressive strategy of world hegemony”, and he stressed that Pyongyang “has never recognized the Security Council ‘resolutions’” and “will never be bound by them in the future”.
Refuting the United States’ “illogical argument” that his country’s satellite launch includes technologies directly linked to the intercontinental-ballistic-missile programme, he said that Washington, D.C., and the “military gangsters” of the Republic of Korea are turning the Korean Peninsula into a potential area for an immense thermonuclear war. The Council should bear in mind that its unfair, biased and irresponsible acts are “further driving the situation in the Korean Peninsula and North-East Asia into a catastrophe”. Instead, the Council should question the manoeuvres of the United States and its followers, who conduct large-scale nuclear-war exercises and threaten the entire Asia Pacific region. It should also denounce Japan’s heinous crime against humanity, as that country jeopardizes the safety and security of humankind and the maritime ecological environment with its decision to discharge nuclear-contaminated water, he added.
JOONKOOK HWANG (Republic of Korea) condemned the launch of a so-called reconnaissance satellite by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on 24 August, which flagrantly violates multiple Council resolutions. Any launch that uses ballistic-missile technology — regardless of its success or payload — can contribute to the further advancement of ballistic-missile technology. This is “why this Council unanimously adopted many resolutions with no abstention or opposition” that prohibit any such launch by Pyongyang, he stated. The launch clearly demonstrates how routinely that Government flouts such decisions with contempt. He recalled that the late father of that country’s current leader mentioned in 2000 that it cost about $300 million to launch a satellite; according to that estimate, Pyongyang will spend nearly $1 billion on satellites by the end of 2023 if it conducts a third launch in October.
Recalling that the country’s leader reportedly rebuked his own Prime Minister for irresponsible handling of recent flooding that inundated farmlands, he stressed that its scarce resources could have been better spent on helping its undernourished people. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the only country that has conducted a nuclear test in the twenty-first century, and the only one that joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty and then developed nuclear weapons in defiance of its treaty obligations, he noted. Recalling that Pyongyang funds its programmes through illegal activities — including forced labour by exploited workers dispatched overseas — he called for repatriating all such workers. It is “astonishing”, he stated, to hear some delegations repeat Pyongyang’s false claim that the root cause of the launches is the so-called hostile policy of Seoul and Washington, D.C. “Pyongyang’s ever-growing threats are the very reason why we are strengthening extended deterrence cooperation with the U.S. — not the other way around,” he stressed.
Mr. ISHIKANE (Japan), taking the floor a second time, said he did so to respond to references by the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea regarding water treated using the Advanced Liquid Processing System. Stating that this argument is irrelevant to today’s topic, he stressed that this matter should not be subject to political discussions. He rejected baseless allegations that lack scientific evidence, adding that Japan is committed to transparency through the provision of information based on scientific evidence.
Mr. SHUANG (China) said that his country opposes Japan’s unilateral discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. Noting that such actions have no precedent, he spotlighted concerns related to the impact on people’s health and the environment. Tokyo should stop such discharges, talk to the parties concerned and be responsible for its actions, he urged.
Mr. KIM (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said that the discharge of nuclear-polluted water into the ocean is clearly a criminal act that destroys the ecological environment and threatens the existence of humankind. Describing this act as “absolutely unacceptable”, he called on Japan to immediately cease such discharges.
Mr. ISHIKANE (Japan) said that references to “contaminated water” should clarify the scientific basis on which they deem water “contaminated”. He asked: “Is it because the water discharged from Japan contains more nuclides than the level admitted by international norms and rules? Is it because this water contains more nuclides than the level included in other parts of the world?” He underscored that water cleared by the Advanced Liquid Processing System is sufficiently purified and, further, is diluted more than 100 times before being released into the sea.