North Korea Still Shopping for Missile-Related Technology

North Korea has tried for years to acquire missile-related components and technology from suppliers in the United States, Europe, Russia and Asia. Without outside help, Pyongyang will have difficulty boosting its missile production and improving the range and accuracy of its missiles.

North Korea’s missile program is already falling behind schedule, U.S. officials tell the Risk Report. “North Korea is late on a lot of bills,” says one U.S. official, “and that’s what’s holding some exporters back.”

According to a 1996 U.S. Defense Department study, North Korea uses “several methods” to acquire missile technology. For example, the report says Japan-based General Association of Korean Residents–the Chosen Soren–has an ongoing effort to procure and ship advanced technology to North Korea. In addition, the Pentagon reports that North Korean intelligence also runs “clandestine operations to acquire equipment and scientific and technical information to aid the full spectrum of North Korea s conventional and NBC weapons programs.”

North Korea has even been willing to use front companies in America. In 1984, an Iranian businessman and a Soviet emigre were indicted in New York for conspiring to smuggle several U.S. missile guidance components to North Korea. It is unclear, however, how much Western technology has actually been integrated into North Korea’s missiles.

“The U.S. really has no say in what our European partners are selling there, and a lot of the trade takes place in Asia,” says a U.S. official. “Most raw materials are not controlled for export anyway.” But even lower-tech items can make a contribution to missile programs, he warns: “The problem is that anytime you trade with North Korea, the military can divert the goods.”

To improve the range and accuracy of its missiles, Pyongyang has tried to enlist foreign expertise. In late 1992, the Russian government prevented some 60 Russian rocket scientists from emigrating to help modernize North Korea’s missiles. Russia reportedly deported one North Korean diplomat, Nam Ge Uk, for trying to recruit scientists in Russia to work on both nuclear and missile programs in North Korea.

In early 1994, Japanese police raided the offices of the Anritsu Corporation and the Yokohama Machinery Trading Company, on the suspicion that they had shipped spectrum analyzers to North Korea. Spectrum analyzers can be used to improve missile accuracy. The Japanese companies reportedly shipped the analyzers in 1989.