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 420 km and 270 km, respectively, were overseen by supreme leader Kim Jong-Un. Kim has stressed that the drills were meant 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. These 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, from which it withdrew in 2003. North Korea is also called on to return to the Six-Party Talks, which is a joint statement on denuclearization agreed to by the United States (US), Russia, Japan, China, South Korea, and, previously, North Korea.
The volatile relationship between the US and North Korea can be attributed to this return to nuclear tests. 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 jeopardize its growing economic relations with the US. While Trump has suggested renewed US negotiations with North Korea, he has simultaneously imposed sanctions and threatened military action. If the US were to commit to such an attack, millions of civilian lives are guaranteed to be at risk in North Korea.
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 denuclearization and peace discussions.” He expressed concern about reports that the US government has placed travel restrictions on humanitarian workers with US citizenship, in addition to blocking the transport of essentials, such as surgical equipment and hospital supplies. In situations such as these, the Human Rights Council is in a constant struggle to strike a balance between maintaining diplomacy while 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 the slow delivery of necessary aid supplies. Although humanitarian supplies and operations are not subject to sanctioning, agencies such as banks and shipping companies, which are essential for the provision of these humanitarian operations, often become cautious. This slows down aid processes, limiting access to food and other basic goods where they are needed.
The International Peace Bureau suggests that the only solution to the dangers posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program would be an agreement that involves the US, Japan, and South Korea ending their military exercises against North Korea, in exchange for a freeze on 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 denuclearize North Korea, and importantly enable the lifting of sanctions to restore basic human rights to the people of North Korea.