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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

UN Panel of Experts Report on sanctions, part 1 of 3

by and Stephan Haggard | May 26th, 2011 | 02:52 pm
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We have finally gotten around to reading the leaked UN Panel of Experts report that has been getting so much attention recently. It provides a surprisingly useful and blunt introduction to how the North Koreans—with the complicity of unnamed “third parties”—has sought to circumvent the sanctions. But it goes farther by putting the country’s weapons programs on record and even providing insight into the political economy of North Korea. We discuss the report in three parts: the first focusing on what the report says about North Korea’s illicit WMD activities; the second looking at the question of circumvention; the third looking at some of the findings on specific entities and with respect to the new drive for foreign direct investment.  

As always, even the Panel’s mandate is complicated. A political Security Council Committee—consisting of the members of the Security Council itself–was established to oversee the implementation of sanctions in October 2006 after the first nuclear test and the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 (2006). After the passage of Resolution 1874 in June 2009, this “1718 Committee” was also given the task of overseeing the wider set of sanctions included in that resolution.

At the same time, the Panel of Experts was appointed (August 2009) to provide staff assistance and expertise to the 1718 Committee in carrying out its work. Another resolution,  (UNSCR 1928 of June 2010), extended the mandate of the Panel until June 2011.A technical “Implementation Assistance Notice” on the precise functions of the committee goes on at length about the importance of discretion: that “sanctions violations often have complex — and sometimes delicate — political and legal ramifications” and that its work should not “bring unwanted attention to either the reporting State or other States involved in a sanctions violation.”

But the obligations of the UN resolutions, the Committee and the Panel of Experts are clear: Member States have an obligation to report violations and to act to stop them. A second Implementation Assistance Notice even provides a simple, common-sense checklist for mandated reports, asking simple questions such as the concrete measures that have been taken to implement the resolutions. A useful website contains all of the documentation, including links to required reports from Member States.

But Beijing has never been happy with the panel of experts, tried to block the release of information over the course of 2010 and is once again up to the same tricks. Reading the report you can see why, although China is hardly the only party being held to account. The detailed recommendations in the report—numbering 24—would require new efforts from a number of states, many of which have of course shown no interest at all in complying with the sanctions resolutions. Some highlights, grouped by issue:  

On reporting and implementation:

  •  As at the end of April 2011, 78 countries had submitted reports under resolution 1718 (2006) but only 61 Member States had done so under 1874 (2009). Of the remaining 107 states not complying, many are of course small states that may not matter. But the list also includes the expected rogues’ gallery of those with past histories of arms trade with the DPRK that would now run afoul of the sanctions resolutions if continued at present: : Burma/Myanmar, Ethiopia, Eritrea, , the DRC, Zimbabwe, Egypt (democracy and all that aside), Syria and Iran (both highlighted in the report), Yemen and Libya. Additional countries of concern due to past or suspected involvement with the DPRK would include Senegal, Cambodia, Sudan, and Venezuela. And Somalia (if they had a government!). There is also a category of countries with past military relations with the DPRK which did submit reports including China, Pakistan, Nigeria and Vietnam. Those reports could make interesting reading.  Or, more likely, not.
  • Reporting on actual incidents is weak. The committee has received only half a dozen compliance-related reports even though there have been more than a dozen reported interdictions.

 Putting North Korea’s existing programs on record.

China’s heartburn is caused in part by the fact that the Panel report is pretty blunt about North Korea’s activities. But the kicker is in asking the simple question of how they got the materials in the first place: “The fact that the actual capacities of the country exceed these analyses suggests that numerous illicit procurement activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea over the years probably went undetected.”

  • On its nuclear weapons programs: “To date, there is no indication that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is ready to abandon those programmes in a manner consistent with the Security Council decisions and the international non-proliferation norms. On the contrary, recent developments and observations indicate that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remains actively engaged in such programmes.” Yep.
  • The report goes on at some length on the revelations concerning the country’s HEU program, citing Sig Hecker’s trip report in detail.
  • The report does a similar exercise on missiles. “In an effort to get hard currency and advance its own programmes, the country has been actively engaged in the export of complete systems, components and technology to numerous customers in the Middle East and South Asia.” North Korea also “employs various techniques, including exchange of visits by scientists and technicians, exchange of data, reciprocal participation in tests and analysis of results” in order to advance its weapons export business.  
  • The report names names on bio and chem as well: “the Second Economic Committee of the National Defence Commission, through its Fifth Machine Industry Bureau, and the Second Academy of Natural Sciences are believed to play leading roles in activities related to the production, import and export of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s chemical and biological weapons programmes. Green Pine Associated Company, which replaced KOMID after its designation by the Committee in April 2009, is deeply engaged in the illicit procurement of chemical material and other specialty items abroad.”
  • The report is cautious on the Syrian reactor and engagement with Burma, but nonetheless puts the concerns on record; and as we have noted, the IAEA has now moved on the Syrian case.

Tomorrow, we look at what the report has to say about circumvention.