Since 2003, when the Risk Report last looked at North Korea’s missile efforts, Pyongyang has made steady progress, and has continued to rely on missile sales to finance its program. This is true despite the fact that it has maintained a moratorium on long-range testing.
North Korea’s fleet of 1,300 km Nodong missiles continue to threaten Japanese cities, and its hundreds of shorter range SCUD B and C missiles menace South Korea. In 2004, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency reported that North Korea had become “nearly self sufficient in developing and producing ballistic missiles,” and in 2005, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency added that North Korea is now believed capable not only of deploying a two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile, but of arming its missiles with nuclear warheads.
To acquire the funds to keep its missile program growing, North Korea maintains a robust business in missile exports. There has been a steady flow of reports describing sales or attempted sales, usually to Iran and Pakistan, but also to places like Myanmar and Nigeria.
Testing and technology
Since it test-fired its long-range Taepodong-I missile through Japanese air space in 1998, North Korea has been content with short-range missile tests. These usually have been timed to make a political statement. In June 2004, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported a short-range missile launch into the Sea of Japan, just before the third round of Six Party Talks. In May 2005, another test was reported, this time in the midst of North Korea’s refusal to return to the Six Party Talks.
Recent news about longer range missiles has been sparse. In 2004, the CIA reported that the nuclear-capable Taepodong-II, which is “potentially capable of reaching parts of the United States with a nuclear-weapon-sized payload” may be ready for flight testing. Then in July 2004, the press cited South Korea’s defense minister as saying that North Korea was deploying a new intermediate-range missile with a range of up to 2,500 miles, and that it was testing a new primary engine for the Taepodong-II. By December 2004, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Stephen Rademaker, was warning that the Taepodong-II could be flight tested at “any time.” In January 2005, North Korea threatened to end the testing moratorium.
North Korea continues to rely on missile exports to make money. According to the CIA, Pyongyang has succeeded recently in shipping “ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, and technical expertise to the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa.” While Iran and Pakistan remain top customers, countries like Myanmar and Nigeria have also come within the orbit of Pyongyang’s sales efforts.
In December 2004, the United States once again slapped trade sanctions on North Korea’s most notorious missile exporter, the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation. It was the fifth time since 2000 that it had violated the Iran Nonproliferation Act, which forbids missile-related sales by foreign companies to Iran. The sanctions make it clear that the missile trade still flourishes between Tehran and Pyongyang. A recent stream of media reports reinforces the point. In May 2003, a North Korean expert in missile guidance, who had worked at a plant in Chagang Province prior to defecting to South Korea in 1997, claimed in testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee that he helped test-fire a missile in Iran during the summer of 1989. In August 2004, the Associated Press reported that North Korea was using Iran as a test site for new nuclear-capable missiles. And in February 2005, Time Magazine claimed that Iran may have given North Korea telemetry and other missile test data in exchange for engineering help on Iranian missile tests.
Although Iran occupies the top rung among North Korea’s missile customers, Pakistan has also been active. In July 2004, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto validated years of allegations by admitting that Pakistan had obtained missiles from North Korea following her visit to Pyongyang in 1993. Then in February 2005, the tendentious Indian periodical The Statesman claimed that Indian intelligence agencies had acquired satellite photos showing a Pakistani C-130 cargo plane loading North Korean missiles in Pyongyang in 2004.
In March 2004, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Matthew Daley said that the United States had “reason to believe” that North Korea offered to sell surface-to-surface missiles to Myanmar, but that Myanmar’s officials claimed to have not accepted. In spite of Myanmar’s denials, Daley asserted that the two countries already possessed a “significant military and trade relationship.”
In January 2004, reports emerged that the Nigerian government announced that North Korea had agreed to sell it missile technology under a deal between Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar and North Korea’s Vice President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Yang Hyong-sop. In February 2004, the Panafrican News Agency issued a report detailing U.S. warnings over the agreement and quoting Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, an aide of Nigerian Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, as stating that “They (North Korea) were just trying to get us interested. There hasn’t been any interest shown on our side.”
Trying to stop the flow
Recognizing the persistence of this ever expanding sales network, U.S. President George W. Bush took a new step against it in June 2005. He announced that the United States would henceforth block the assets of anyone who contributed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He began by targeting three North Korean companies, the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (a.k.a. Changgwang Sinyong Corporation), the Tanchon Commercial Bank (a.k.a. Korea Changgwang Credit Bank), and the Korea Ryonbong General Corporation (f.k.a. Lyongaksan General Trading Corporation), all of which had longstanding ties to North Korea’s missile program. On October 21, 2005, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated eight more North Korean entities that are subsidiaries of or have acted on behalf of the aforementioned Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation and Korea Ryonbong General Corporation. Additional companies are sure to be added in the future.
Japan joined the crackdown. Its ethnic North Korean population, mostly acting through the General Federation of Korean Residents in Japan or Chosen Soren, has long been suspected of helping North Korea build weapons. In May 2003, Japanese officials began to crack down after the Japanese company Meishin attempted to ship North Korea three specialized power supply devices, useful in either uranium enrichment or missile launcher development. Japan also imposed new restrictions on North Korean vessels entering Japan, which had the important effect of causing North Korea to halt its only passenger ferry to Japan in June 2003. For many years, the ferry had been suspected of smuggling missile parts from Japan to North Korea. In another move, Japan began to require in March 2005 that foreign ships over 100 tons be insured against spills, losses, and other damages. Japan implemented the law in the wake of a North Korean freighter accident. The Japan Times reported that the law would operate as a de facto sanction against North Korea, few of whose ships meet the insurance requirement.