North Korea has not tested a missile since the August 1998 flight of a three-stage Taepo-dong-1 rocket that failed to put a satellite into orbit. A year later, in September 1999, North Korea announced that it would freeze its missile testing, and this ban was extended in June 2000. Despite the moratorium, however, North Korea continues to develop long-range nuclear-capable missiles and continues to export missile components and technologies as a way to earn hard currency.
In December 1998, U.S. intelligence reportedly saw Taepo-dong missile components being moved from a storage site to a launch pad, and warned Japan that North Korea might be preparing for another missile test. The following July, officials said North Korea planned to test the Taepo-dong-2 missile, which has a reported range of 3,350 miles, enough to reach Alaska and Hawaii. South Korea, Japan and the United States threatened to retaliate with sanctions if the test were carried out. That same month, South Korean intelligence reported that North Korea was building a new underground missile launch site close to the Chinese border.
In August 1999, North Korea announced that it was willing to negotiate over its plans to test a long-range missile. A month later, an American delegation met with the North Koreans in Berlin. The two sides agreed that North Korea would stop testing its missiles and in response the United States agreed to ease some economic sanctions against North Korea.
Barely a week after announcing the moratorium, North Korea declared its sovereign right to continue to launch missiles. However, a State Department official said the Clinton adminstration did not expect North Korea to break its pledge. In June 2000, North Korea extended its ban on missile testing, and the administration responded by announcing a partial lifting of economic sanctions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the first day of a visit to North Korea in July 2000, announced that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had promised that his country would abandon its intercontinental missile program if other states provided it with technology for “peaceful space research.” Soon after the visit, Kim reaffirmed to Putin North Korea’s commitment to drop its program if other countries would launch two or three satellites a year for Pyongyang at their expense. However, Kim later said he was not serious and “laughingly” made the offer to Putin.
Exports of missile technology
North Korea openly admitted in June 1998 that it exported missiles to a number of countries. It argued that if the United States wanted to stop the exports, the United States needed to “lift the economic embargo [on North Korea] as early as possible and make a compensation for the losses to be caused by discontinued missile export.” According to the U.S. State Department, North Korea earned nearly $1 billion in missile sales over the previous decade, making it the foremost missile exporter in the world.
In September 1999, North Korean television displayed what appeared to be the Taepo Dong-1 missile. The images confirmed that the first stage of the missile has a single engine exhaust and not a cluster of four smaller motors as originally thought. The single engine exhaust is similar to that found on Pakistan’s Ghauri and Iran’s Shahab-3 missile, supporting the allegation that North Korea aided in their development.
In November 1999, the press quoted a Pentagon intelligence report to the effect that an “Iranian government agency involved in missile production” had received 12 medium-range ballistic missile engines from North Korea. Intelligence officials reportedly said the engines were the same as those used in the Nodong missile.
Imports of missile technology
In July 1999, two members of the Japanese parliament claimed that Japan had supplied key elements to North Korea’s missile program, particularly argon gas burners and semiconductors. In June 2000, the press reported that Russian and Uzbek companies that manufacture missile components were selling a special aluminum alloy, connectors, relays, and laser gyroscopes to a North Korean company.
For more information on the North Korean missile program, please see “North Korea Missile Update 1998,” in Volume 4, Issue 6, November-December 1998.