The Korean People’s Army has confirmed its release of two short-range missiles from the northwestern city of Kusong. These strike drills, which saw missiles travelling 420km and 270km, was overseen by supreme leader Kim Jong-Un. Kim has stressed the drill was to inspect the rapid response of defence units and their ability to “cope with any emergency as required,” the Korean Central News Agency reported. He went on to justify the nuclear testing, stating “the genuine peace and security of the country are guaranteed only by the strong physical force capable of defending its sovereignty.”
These strike drills are in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions imposed upon North Korea. The resolutions were adopted in 2006 in response to the country’s nuclear and missile activities, and call for North Korea to rejoin the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which it withdrew from in 2003. North Korea is also called to return to Six-Party Talks, which is a joint statement on denuclearisation agreed to by the United States, Russia, Japan, China, South Korea, and previously, North Korea.
This return to nuclear tests can be attributed to the volatile relationship between the United States and North Korea. These are the first strikes since the testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile in Pyongyang in November 2017, and they appear to coincide with the no-agreement close of the Vietnam Summit between Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump. Trump tweeted in response to the strike drills, stating his belief that North Korea would not take action to jeopardise its growing economic relations with the U.S. While Trump has suggested U.S. negotiations with North Korea, he has simultaneously imposed sanctions and threatened military action. If the United States were to commit to such an attack, millions of civilian lives are guaranteed to be at risk.
At the most recent Human Rights Council session, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of North Korea reiterated “the need for integrating human rights agenda in the ongoing denuclearisation and peace discussions.” He expressed concern about reports that the U.S. government has placed travel restrictions on humanitarian workers with U.S. citizenship in addition to their blocking the transport of essential supplies such as surgical equipment and hospital supplies. The Human Rights Council is in a constant struggle to strike the balance in situations such as these, between maintaining diplomacy whilst applying sanctions where appropriate and necessary.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 60,000 children could soon be starving in North Korea due to international sanctions which are leading to slow delivery of necessary aid supplies. Although humanitarian supplies and operations are not subject to sanctions, agencies such as banks or shipping companies who are essential to the provision of these humanitarian operations often become cautious. This slows down aid processes and leads to people not having access to food and other basic supplies.
The International Peace Bureau suggests the only solution to the dangers posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program would be an agreement involving the U.S., Japan and South Korea ending their military exercises against North Korea, in exchange for the freeze of nuclear testing. The development of a common security approach and an armistice agreement is needed to improve relations and create trust. This would enable negotiations to take place to denuclearise North Korea, but importantly enable the lifting of sanctions and restoration of basic human rights to the people of North Korea.