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Russia forces disbandment of U.N. panel monitoring N. Korea sanctions

A Swiss-led U.N. Security Council committee will find it harder to deal with 'suspicions' of sanctions violations.

Japan's U.N. Ambassador Yamazaki Kazuyuki chairs the Security Council
Japan's U.N. Ambassador Yamazaki Kazuyuki chairs the Security Council (AN/U.N. Web TV)

With a single veto cast by Russia, the U.N. panel monitoring North Korea’s compliance with international sanctions will dissolve at the end of April.

Russia's veto on Thursday blocked the normally routine renewal of the annual mandate for the expert panel overseeing sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program. The sanctions, first imposed in 2006, will remain in place – but with no one assigned to keep an eye on compliance.

Western nations called Russia's veto a blatant attempt to eliminate independent oversight of its own repeated sanctions-violating weapons purchases from North Korea, or DPRK, to wage war against Ukraine.

"We must ask ourselves: Why would any council member break 14 years of unanimous support for this mandate?" the U.N. missions of the United States, France, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom jointly said. "The answer is clear: Russia chose to silence the DPRK panel of experts’ reporting on Moscow’s own violations of Security Council resolutions."

The 15-nation council had voted 13-0 to renew the panel's mandate, with Russia casting its veto and China – North Korea's most important trade partner – abstaining. Five council seats, permanently assigned to World World II-era powers China, France, Russia, the U.K. and U.S., come with veto power. The other 10 seats are up for election every two years.

Swiss U.N. Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl, who chairs the 1718 Committee established to enforce the council's 2006 resolution first imposing sanctions, said her nation "deeply regrets" the demise of the monitoring panel.

"This further increases the suspicions around current and future violations," she told reporters. "It is the duty of the Security Council to maintain and strengthen the global disarmament and nonproliferation regime."

Making it harder for the 1718 Committee 'on the ground'

Before the vote, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council the situation in the Korean Peninsula has changed dramatically.

"The sanctions regime, born of noble intents of U.N. Security Council resolutions and aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, is not only losing its relevance, but is extremely disconnected from reality," he said.

"We see an unprecedented policy of the U.S.-led Western coalition towards 'strangling' Pyongyang," he said, "which includes harsh unilateral restrictions, aggressive propaganda and direct personal threats against the DPRK authorities."

The Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea in response to its first nuclear test explosion in 2006, but even after 10 resolutions the council has not succeeded in reining in North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It also created an expert panel to monitor sanctions and investigate violations, renewing the panel's mandate for the past 14 years.

The council's 1718 Committee panel of experts reported last month it is investigating 58 suspected North Korean cyberattacks from 2017 to 2023 that netted approximately US$3 billion, reportedly "to fund the country’s development of weapons of mass destruction," the 615-page report said. "Trends include targeting defense companies and supply chains and, increasingly, sharing infrastructure and tools."

All nine nuclear-armed nations – the U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel – modernized their arsenals. Some also deployed new nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable weapons systems, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported.

A report by Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons found the nine nations spent US$82.9 billion on nuclear weapons in 2022 – up by US$2.5 billion from a year earlier – the third consecutive year spending increased.

Baeriswyl said her role as chair of the 1718 Committee has become more complicated, since the committee bases its deliberations on the independent, high quality information of the panel.

"The independence of the panel has also helped the chair to keep the discussions focused and constructive," she said. "It will therefore become harder to review measures based on developments on the ground, be it efforts to curb sanctions evasion or the processes to facilitate humanitarian cooperation."