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North Korea’s Weapons: Whose Money?
They held a parade in Pyongyang on Saturday… It’s worth searching the internet and looking at the pictures to grasp just how much effort they placed in the parade — and how much gear was on display. In particular, three different long-range missiles were on display, one completely new, never seen before.
With just 25 million people, north Korea (per the International Institute for Strategic Studies) has an active duty military force of 1.2 million, 2,400 tanks, 21,000 pieces of artillery, more than 70 submarines, and more than 850 combat aircraft and helicopters. True, many are very old systems, far less effective than similar systems used by the US or the Republic of Korea; and the average soldier in the north Korean army is paid nearly nothing. But, with a nominal GDP of less than $25 billion (and perhaps only half that), how is north Korea paying for this weapons program?
In 1995 north Korea, following negotiations with the US, agreed to end its nuclear programs (the US-North Korean Agreed Framework), and several years later agreed to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MCTR). But, by 2000 it was clear they were violating the MCTR, and by 2003 it was clear that they were also violating the Framework.
Nevertheless, nuclear weapon development was slow, and development of long-range missiles was only a bit less difficult, with one long-range missile tested in 1998, and a longer-range version of the same missile tested (unsuccessfully) in 2006. Seven other missiles were successfully tested at that time.
Late in 2006 they detonated an atomic “device,” clearly demonstrating they’d been secretly working on the program despite the Framework signed with the Clinton administration.
In 2009 they successfully tested a long-range missile and a second atomic device. In April 2012 they launched another ICBM, but it failed 90 seconds after lift-off. They tried again and succeed in December 2012.
They have since conducted three atomic “weapon” tests (Feb. 2013, Jan. 2016, Sept. 2016) and appear to be preparing a 6th test.
In 2014 they conducted 2 test launches of medium-range Nodong missiles, and 30 short-range (battlefield) missiles.
In 2015 they conducted 3 developmental tests of a submarine launched ballistic missile, and 5 short-range (125 miles) missiles.
In 2016 they launched a long-range ballistic missile, 8 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (7 of which failed), 2 KN-11 submarine launched ballistic missiles, a medium-range Nodong ballistic missile, and 3 other medium-range ballistic missiles.
So far in 2017 they’ve tested a new ballistic missile, the Pukguksong-2, a solid-fueled, medium-range missile, utilizing a fairly advanced “cold-launch” technology, meaning the missile is ejected from its canister using compressed gas, and the new missile on April 15 – which apparently failed. They also simultaneously launched 4 ballistic missiles that flew about 625 miles and landed in Japan’s economic exclusion zone, about 180 miles off Japan.
Which leads to a simple question: Who is funding this? Developing and testing missiles, and especially developing and testing atomic weapons, is expensive. For more than a decade north Korea conducted no developmental missile launches. But since 2009 they’ve conducted more than 20 tests of medium and long-range missiles, while also increasing the effort on their nuclear weapon program.
All this taking place while maintaining a huge military force that includes roughly 5% of the total population.
Obviously, part of this funding comes from Kim’s budget preferences: missiles and warheads before people. But, even assuming Kim’s willingness to starve his people while accepting lower quality, lower reliability weapons; weapons development requires cash and technology. So, in a country that’s had a stagnant economy for more than two decades, is it a reasonable suspicion someone is providing funds, and perhaps some key technology, to help accelerate the programs?
What country would possibly be interested in developing a nuclear weapon and a missile capable of delivering the weapon?
Interestingly, on January 29th of this year, Iran launched a missile that was, according to a Pentagon spokesman, an Iranian produced or assembled version of a north Korean Musudan intermediate range missile. You remember Iran… That country was able to access some $150 billion after sanctions had been lifted following the signing of the ‘Iran nuclear deal’ in 2015. In a mystery novel those might be called clues.
A bad agreement in 1995 helped create the current crisis in north Korea. In 2015 we signed arguably a worse agreement with Iran. Are we going to face a similar crisis with Iran in 10 or 20 years?
Copyright 2017 Arrias