UN report details illicit arms trade by North Korea

UN report details illicit arms trade by North Korea

North Korea was busy exporting weaponry throughout 2016 in direct defiance of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1874, according to findings of the UNSC panel investigating the matter detailed in a report recently obtained by FORUM.

North Korea “continues to trade in arms and related materiel, exploiting markets and procurement services in Asia, Africa and the Middle East,” according to the report.

The illicit trade included such items as encrypted military communications, man-portable air defense systems, air defense systems and satellite-guided missiles. (Pictured: North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un visits an undisclosed missile test site in May 2017.)

“If there were just one way in which North Korea were skirting sanctions, it would be shut down quickly,” said Joost Oliemans, a North Korean analyst and co-author of the forthcoming book, The Armed Forces of North Korea: On the Path of Songun. “What keeps it going is a huge diversification of methods.”

Front companies based in China, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere with names such as “Glocom,” “Pan Systems” and “Wonbang Trading Co.” provide cover for the deals, while deceiving customers of the products’ origins, are among the methods North Korea has used.

Target countries for North Korea’s arms exports are typically trading partners of theirs from the days before sanctions, according to Shin In-Kyun, director of Korea Defense Network, a Seoul-based nongovernmental organization.

“Most of these alliances go back decades,” said In-Kyun. “For example, the North supplied Egypt with SCUD missiles in the 1970s and Angola was a Cold War ally.”

China plays a role, the report adds, in both the movement of banned products as well as the funds that paid for them.

An intercepted shipment of military electronics bound for Eritrea was determined to have been made in North Korea but shipped from China. Another cargo, intercepted south of the Suez Canal, contained more than 24,000 disassembled PG-7 rocket-propelled grenades, all made in North Korea, but falsely marked “assembly parts of the underwater pump,” and loaded in Nanjing, China, in March 2016.

North Korean banks have accessed the international financial system through a network of offshore accounts and representative offices in China, the report reads further.

A loophole in the sanctions allows North Korea to export labor, and it continues to train military personnel in Angola and Uganda in martial arts and aviation technology, respectively.

“DPRK [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea] has always aimed at being a major arms exporter,” said Oliemans. “Revenue is critically needed to pay for their nuclear and missile programs, and maintaining an army as large as the Korean People’s Army requires a lot of money.”

UNSC recommendations to curtail North Korea’s illegal arms trade include calls for member states to identify and restrict front companies and bank accounts as well as for closer monitoring of trade channels.

“Reports of continued exports are mainly reports of goods being intercepted,” Oliemans continued. “So, perhaps that’s an indication that things are going better. There are more efforts being taken now than ever before to put a halt to this illicit arms trade out of North Korea. It’s just that North Korea is doing absolutely everything that it can to continue its efforts, at the same time. And, they seem to be learning some unexpected tricks in that regard.”

Hyekyeong Kim is a FORUM correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea.