[Back]

[Index]

[Next]
The Proliferation Primer
International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services Subcommittee
United States Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
A Majority Report - January 1998

North Korea

Few facts leak through North Korea's closed borders. But one has earned it an international reputation -- the exporting of missiles. While North Korea does not figure in the nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons export markets, it has emerged as a principal supplier of ballistic missile technology. The North's sales of complete missiles and the means to produce them have made rogue nation buyers increasingly self-sufficient and less vulnerable to supply disruptions in their missile programs. The supply of production technology may even have enabled some rogue states, like Iran, to become suppliers of missile equipment themselves. A recent report to Congress by the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) notes that in 1996, Iran was an "... important supplie[r] of Scud-related equipment and materials" to Syria. 1

America's ability to punish North Korea for proliferation is limited due to the strong actions taken in the past to isolate Pyongyang. The U. S. maintains an economic embargo on the North and does not have diplomatic relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. These conditions rendered the Clinton Administration's proliferation-related sanctions on two North Korean organizations in June of 1992, and a third group in May of 1996, purely symbolic. 2 The United States does, however, have significant positive leverage, or incentives, which, if used appropriately, could influence North Korean behavior. Pyongyang's interest in them may increase as its economy declines and famine worsens.

In addition to ballistic missile sales, North Korea's extensive nuclear, biological, chemical, and ballistic missile programs are of great concern. As the DCI noted in his recent report to Congress, these programs are "largely indigenous," and without significant foreign support. 3 The North has concentrated for several decades on the size and strength of its military, resulting in one of the five largest armed forces in the world, with over one million active duty personnel. 4

Chemical & Biological Weapons Programs

Since the late 1980's, North Korea has reportedly expanded its chemical weapons program and has placed a high priority on military and civilian chemical defense. According to the U. S. Department of Defense, Pyongyang is currently capable of producing large quantities of nerve, blister, and blood chemical warfare agents. 5 The North's biological weapons program has been active since the 1960's, and is believed to be capable of producing limited quantities of toxins and infectious agents. 6

Nuclear Program

North Korea's nuclear program began in the 1960's, when it acquired a small research reactor from the Soviet Union. By the early 1990's, North Korea developed a complete nuclear fuel cycle which produced plutonium using a 5-megawatt (electric) reactor. According to a Pentagon report published in 1996, "[ t] his plutonium reactor became operational in 1986, with some refueling in 1989, thereby providing weapons-grade plutonium for at least one nuclear weapon. Fuel from this reactor was discharged in May-June 1994 and, had it been reprocessed, could have provided enough plutonium for several additional nuclear weapons." The report noted the construction of a much larger 50-megawatt (electric) reactor was nearing completion in the early 1990's which "... would have produced enough plutonium for North Korea to build an additional 7-10 nuclear weapons per year." 7

In October of 1994, North Korea and the U. S. signed the Agreed Framework under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for various benefits. Under the terms of the agreement, the North must freeze and eventually dismantle its graphite-moderated reactors, cooperate in finding a safe method to store existing spent fuel, remain a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring of its nuclear facilities. 8

In return, Pyongyang will receive two 1,000 megawatt (electric) light-water nuclear reactors to be completed by 2003, U. S. liaison offices as a step toward establishment of diplomatic relations and relaxation of the economic embargo, and shipments of "heavy oil" (50,000 tons in 1995 and 500,000 tons annually, beginning in 1996 and until the first light-water reactor is built, enough to meet 20 percent of the North's fuel needs). South Korea and Japan will finance most of the estimated $6 billion reactor cost. 9

Missile Program

North Korea's efforts to develop and produce ballistic missiles appear to have begun in earnest in the early 1980's, when Pyongyang started to reverse- engineer Scud-B ballistic missiles. 10 By 1986, the North was producing the 300 kilometer range Scud-B and reportedly began exporting it the following year. 11 Pyongyang also has developed an extended-range variant of the Scud-B, called the Scud-C, with a range of 500 kilometers which it has exported since the early 1990's. North Korea can target all of the South with its several hundred deployed Scud-B and C missiles. 12

The North began development of the 1,000 kilometer range No-Dong ballistic missile in the early 1990's. 13 While it has been flighttested only once, in May of 1993, North Korea may have started to deploy the missile. On September 27, 1997, the Washington Times reported that according to Admiral Joseph Prueher, Commander-in-Chief of U. S. forces in the Pacific, North Korea is deploying military units with equipment designed to carry the No Dong. 14 According to Admiral Prueher, troops and trucks apparently for handling the No Dong have been observed in North Korea. But the missiles themselves are evidently not fielded yet. When deployed, the No Dong's 1,000 kilometer range will put nearly all of Japan within reach. At a Senate hearing in October, North Korean defector Colonel Choi Ju-hwal explained why North Korea developed Scud and No Dong missiles, stating, "[i]f a war breaks out in the Korean Peninsula, the North's main target will be the U. S. forces based in the South and Japan, which is the reason the North has been working furiously on its missile programs." 15

North Korea is also developing the Taepo-Dong 1 missile with an estimated range of 2,000 kilometers which will be capable of targeting U. S. military bases in Guam, and the Taepo-Dong 2 missile, with an estimated range of 4,000-6,000 kilometers that could reach parts of Alaska and Hawaii. 16 Neither missile has been flighttested, and, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Einhorn, the U. S. believes these missiles are in the "early stage of development." 17 Colonel Choi testified the "... ultimate goal for the development of North Korean missiles is to reach the mainland of the United States." 18 Choi also explained that North Korea does not conduct extensive testing of its ballistic missiles because "unlike U. S. missiles which require capability for surgical strikes, the North Korean missiles are not designed for such surgical precision. What they are targeting is a general region rather than specific facilities." 19 In the same hearing Ko Young-hwan, a former North Korean diplomat who defected in 1991, quoted the former Deputy Minister of the North Korean armed forces as saying "once North Korea develops rockets with a range of 1,000 kilometers, it is not so difficult to develop rockets with a range of 5,000 or over 10,000 kilometer range." 20

Missile Exports

North Korea's missile program appears to be fueled in large part by a desire to earn critically needed hard currency and bartered goods, such as oil, from missile sales to countries in the Middle East. 21 Roughly the size of the state of Mississippi, the North has few natural resources or exportable commodities. Missile sales have therefore played a key role in the declining North Korean economy. As former diplomat Ko Young-hwan noted in Senate testimony, "[ e] xporting missiles is crucial to the North Korean economy." 22


"Unlike U. S. missiles which require capability for surgical strikes, the North Korean missiles are not designed for such surgical precision. What they are targeting is a general region rather than specific facilities."

Col. Choi Ju-hwal North Korean Defector


According to Deputy Assistant Secretary Einhorn, these sales have earned the regime almost $1 billion over the past decade. 23 At a Senate hearing in October of 1997, Senator Thad Cochran observed, "[ b] allistic missiles are essentially North Korea's only cash crop. Because of its dire economic situation, it is not likely that North Korea will be dissuaded from marketing that crop." 24

Since the 1980's, North Korea is said to have sold at least 370 complete Scud-B and C missiles, their components, and production technology, mostly to Iran, which has purchased both complete Scuds and the means to produce them. 25 Iran used them extensively during the "War of the Cities" with Iraq. 26 In fact, earnings from the sale of ballistic missile technology to Iran are believed to be one of the key factors that fueled the rapid pace of North Korea's missile program, enabling the regime to devote far greater resources to the development and production of missiles than would have otherwise been possible. 27

As a result, North Korea has allowed Iranian missile experts and technicians wide access to the North's missile program. 28 Syria, too, purchased complete Scuds and production equipment from North Korea. In addition, former North Korean Army Colonel Choi testified that Pyongyang has been engaged in joint missile development with Egypt since the early 1980's. 29

Despite the Clinton Administration's attempts to moderate North Korea's behavior, it continues to be an active proliferator, as noted in the DCI's report to Congress in June of 1997 which stated, "North Korea continued to export Scud-related equipment and materials to countries of concern [in the last half of 1996]." Thus far, while the North does not appear to have sold complete No Dongs, despite offering to sell them to nations in the Middle East like Iran and Libya, the Shahab-3 under development in Iran -- with a range of 1,300 kilometers -- is reportedly based on the No Dong. 30 Pyongyang undercut its own market with sales of Scud production technology to Iran and Syria, so it may now feel economically impelled to sell the longer range No Dong and Taepo Dong missiles to generate hard currency earnings. 31 Moreover, Russia, a recent direct missile technology vendor to the Middle East, is cutting into North Korea's market share, as well.

U. S. Missile Negotiations with North Korea

As part of the 1994 Agreed Framework, the U. S. linked closer ties with North Korea to progress in halting exports of missile technology. 32 The Clinton Administration first proposed talks on missile issues in 1995, which North Korea rejected for about a year before eventually agreeing to meet in Berlin in April of 1996. 33 According to Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord, the United States offered to end economic sanctions in exchange for cessation of development and sales of ballistic missiles. The North did not accept, but Lord said Pyongyang, "... expressed a greater willingness to negotiate on the issue of missile exports than limiting its weapons development." 34

U. S. and North Korean diplomats held a second round of talks in June of 1997, and were scheduled to meet again in August when Pyongyang abruptly withdrew to protest the Administration's decision to grant asylum to two North Korean diplomats. 35 The diplomats, North Korea's ambassador to Egypt and his brother, a trade official at Pyongyang's mission in Paris, reportedly defected with the help of American intelligence agents. 36 U. S. officials are currently seeking to reschedule the talks, but the North Koreans have not agreed to a new date. 37


"Ballistic missiles are essentially North Korea's only cash crop. Because of its dire economic situation, it is not likely that North Korea will be dissuaded from marketing that crop."

Senator Thad Cochran


Conclusion

North Korea's deployed missile force and its efforts to develop and sell longer-range No-Dong and Taepo-Dong 1 and 2 missiles threaten U. S. forces and allies abroad. In a conflict, the North could use them with mass destruction warheads to attack U. S. and allied military bases in South Korea. To interdict reinforcement of U. S. forces on the Korean Peninsula, these missiles could also target Japan and Guam. In addition, the Taepo Dong 2 missile will reportedly have sufficient range to reach parts of Alaska and Hawaii. Exports of No Dong or Taepo Dong missiles to the Middle East would enable rogue nations like Iran, Syria, and Libya to target U. S. allies and forces in Europe and Israel, and perhaps even the United States.

The Agreed Framework appears to have frozen North Korea's nuclear program, but at great cost, as the provision of light-water reactors may enable Pyongyang to continue its nuclear weapons program. These reactors can produce plutonium for nuclear weapons should Pyongyang evade or renounce IAEA monitoring and master the techniques necessary to process the material produced by the light-water reactors. The U. S. Department of Energy confirmed the possibility in 1994, stating, "[ a] successful test was conducted [in the United States] in 1962, which used reactor-grade plutonium in the nuclear explosive in place of weapon-grade plutonium. The test confirmed that reactor-grade plutonium could be used to make a nuclear explosive." 38

North Korea's dedication to its international agreements is at best suspect. At a Senate hearing in October, former North Korean Army Colonel Choi Ju-hwal, who defected in 1995, testified, "... the reason why North Korea joined the [NPT] at the beginning was to earn more time for the development of the nuclear weapons." 39 Another key weakness of the Agreed Framework allows North Korea to retain already produced fissile material, enough to produce at least one nuclear weapon.

The United States has a limited number of points of leverage on a country that has little interaction with the rest of the world and appears to be unmoved by the condition of its citizens. Although Pyongyang is diplomatically isolated, the U. S. is unlikely to be able to generate sufficient international support for additional sanctions. Under the Agreed Framework the U. S. agreed to provide annually 500,000 tons of heavy oil, 20 percent of North Korea's required fuel. Threats of delays in its supply, or in the construction of the light-water reactors, could temper North Korean behavior, though this tactic could, of course, be used in precisely the same way by Pyongyang against the United States, and probably with better results for the North.

The United States can and should attempt to interdict North Korean missile shipments en route to customers in the Middle East. This would slow the spread of missile technology, but not eliminate the problem. As the DCI noted in a recent report to Congress, "[ i] nterdiction efforts are an extremely important part of our overall nonproliferation strategy. By themselves, however, they generally do not get countries out of the business of proliferation. They do, though, buy time for other initiatives that may be more successful in halting or rolling back a WMD program." 40

Determined proliferators like North Korea can find ways to evade or circumvent interdiction attempts. Only the most stout-hearted administration will routinely assert its right to seize or detain arms shipments which threaten the world. Bush Administration attempts at an aggressive interdiction policy illustrate both its usefulness and limitations. In the early 1990's, the U. S. and Israel successfully deterred North Korea from completing delivery of Scud missile cargo to Syria. In 1991, U. S. intelligence agencies reportedly monitored preparations to ship Scuds to Syria on a North Korean freighter called the Mupo. 41 The information was apparently shared with Israel which anticipated the ship's passage through the Suez Canal. An Israeli Boeing 707 electronic surveillance aircraft patrolled the Red Sea, along with gunboat patrols threatening to sink the vessel. 42 After press disclosures of the shipment and the Israeli response, the vessel changed course, visited several African ports, and returned to North Korea with its cargo.

Other interdiction attempts have been less successful. In early 1992, U. S. intelligence agencies discovered North Korean plans to ship Scud-C missiles and production equipment to Syria via Iran on a freighter named the Dae Hung Ho. 43 After the ship sailed, U. S. officials announced that American warships would intercept and board it if it attempted to enter the Persian Gulf. 44 In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Marine General Joseph Hoar, commander of U. S. Central Command, said he was ordered to locate and intercept the freighter, last spotted on February 28, 1992 south of Sri Lanka headed toward the Arabian Sea. 45 The General said he used land-based P-3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft, H-3 Sea King helicopters, and F-14 fighters with photographic pods from a carrier battle group to look for the Dae Hung Ho. He concentrated the search in the Gulf of Oman, near the entrance to the Persian Gulf, but moved it west and south after determining, "... within a reasonable degree of certainty that it was not already in the Gulf of Oman." But despite a concentrated effort over 10 days to locate the ship on 800,000 square miles of water, it eluded detection and docked in Bandar Abbas, Iran in early March. "We were unable to locate that ship, clear and simple," said General Hoar.

A post-shipment analysis of how the Dae Hung Ho eluded the U. S. naval blockage revealed the freighter had hugged the Iranian coastline, shadowed by Iranian warships, during the final leg of its voyage. 46 In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Hoar said a change in the Navy's search regimen may have allowed the North Korean ship to slip through the U. S. dragnet undetected, and accepted responsibility for the failed interdiction, stating, "[ i] f you're looking for the guy who let the [freighter] go through, you're looking at him." 47

Within a week of the Dae Hung Ho's arrival in Iran, the Iran Salam, another North Korean vessel carrying Scud missiles or components, joined it. 48 The U. S. Navy had located and hailed it, but the ship refused to stop. According to press reports, the Administration was embarrassed by the failure to track the first ship after public threats to interdict the shipment, and quietly decided to let the second vessel dock and unload. 49

These events illustrate the difficulty of successful tracking and interception of arms shipments. They also show that determined proliferators will change their tactics to elude interdiction. After Israeli threats to sink the Mupo en route to Syria, Pyongyang and Damascus changed their shipping strategies. Iran agreed to receive the North Korean deliveries and tranship them to Syria, eliminating the need for ships to pass through the Suez Canal, a key choke point where the vessels could be detained or easily located. 50 In return, Syria reportedly allowed Iranian Revolutionary Guards to deliver small arms to Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon.

In spite of its difficulty, interdiction does slow the spread of WMD and missile technologies. The United States should, however, be wary of other policy options like lifting economic sanctions in return for a halt in North Korean missile development and sales. North Korea is called the "Hermit Kingdom" due to its isolation and suspicion of the outside world, and Pyongyang is unlikely to allow for the intrusive monitoring necessary to verify cessation of missile development and sales. As former North Korean Army Colonel Choi testified to the Senate regarding the difficulties involved in monitoring compliance with the Agreed Framework, "I understand the inspection team visited North Korea based on the framework agreement. I do not think they had a chance to inspect underground facilities, and I believe they only inspected the above-the-ground-level facilities and believe all the critical and important facilities are underground. Therefore, they didn't really see anything from my perspective. I believe those underground nuclear facilities will never be open to outsiders under any circumstances." 51

Furthermore, the North Korean economy appears to be reeling from years of state planning and reports of widespread famine are common. In lifting economic sanctions, the Administration would risk extending the life of a Stalinist regime that shows signs of moving toward collapse. That end may be the best solution to the threat posed by North Korean missile proliferation.

In the meantime, the United States must do what is necessary to protect U. S. forces in the region. As Senator Thad Cochran said after hearing the two North Korean defectors at a recent Senate hearing, "[t]o me, this is more than just a wake-up call. I think it's a call to general quarters. It ought to be considered a grave matter of national security and it requires a response that is appropriate to the level of the threat." 52 America, he added, "... need[ s] to take steps to be sure that we have the capability and the systems deployed that will protect U. S. forces and U. S. interests from missile attack and other weapons-of-mass destruction attacks. That to me is the lesson [of this hearing] and why I suggest that it's probably more appropriate to say this should be a call to general quarters and not just a wake-up call." 53

ENDNOTES

1 Director Of Central Intelligence Report to Congress, "The Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruc-tion and Advanced Conventional Munitions, July- December 1996," June 1997, p. 5. Hereafter cited as DCI Report.

2 The National Security Council provided the list of missile sanctions imposed by the United States.

3 DCI Report, p. 5.

4 Department of Defense Publication, "Proliferation: Threat and Response," April 1996, pp. 7- 9. Hereafter cited as Prolifera-tion: Threat and Response.

5 Ibid., p. 7.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., pp. 6- 7.

8 Larry Niksch, "North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program," Congressional Research Service, pp. 5- 6.

9 Ibid., p. 7.

10 "Proliferation: Threat and Response," pp. 7- 8.

11 David G. Wiencek," Dangerous Arsenals, Missile Threats In and From Asia," Centre for Defence and International Security Studies, Lancaster University, U. K., 1997, p. 21.

12 "Proliferation: Threat and Response," p. 8.

13 Wiencek, p. 21.

14 Bill Gertz, "North Korea cited for missile activity; Prepara-tion, deception are possible," Washington Times, September 27, 1997, p. A3.

15 U. S. Congress, Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommit-tee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services, Hearing on October 21, 1997, North Korean Missile Proliferation, 105th Cong., Sess. 1, 1997, p. 8. Hereafter cited as Hearing, North Korean Missile Proliferation.

16 "President's Summary: Emerging Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years," Washington Times, May 14, 1996, p. A15.

17 "North Korea developing missiles that could hit Alaska," Agence France- Presse, September 19, 1997.

18 Hearing, North Korean Missile Proliferation, p. 20.

19 Ibid., p. 14.

20 Ibid., p. 4.

21 Michael Shields, "N. Korea meeting hailed by U. S.," Wash-ington Times, April 22, 1996, p. 4.

22 Hearing, North Korean Missile Proliferation, p. 13.

23 "North Korea developing missiles that could hit Alaska," Agence France- Presse, September 19, 1997.

24 Hearing, North Korean Missile Proliferation, p. 2.

25 "Report numbers Scuds N. Korea sold to Iran," Washington Times, July 12, 1996, p. A17 and "North Korea Developing Missile That Could Hit Alaska," Agence France- Presse, September 19, 1997.

26 Wiencek, p. 22.

27 Ibid.

28 Greg Gerardi and Joseph Bermudez Jr., "An Analysis of North Korean Ballistic Missile Testing," Janes Intelligence Review, January 27, 1995, p. 189.

29 Hearing, North Korean Missile Proliferation, p. 16.

30 "Report numbers Scuds N. Korea sold to Iran," Washington Times, July 12, 1996, p. A17; "North Korea developing missile that could hit Alaska," Agence France- Presse, September 19, 1997; Wiencek, p. 21 and "Proliferation: Threat and Response," p. 9.

31 "Report numbers Scuds N. Korea sold to Iran," Washington Times, July 12, 1996, p. A17 and "North Korea Developing Missile That Could Hit Alaska," Agence France- Presse, September 19, 1997.

32 "North Korea Developing Missile That Could Hit Alaska," Agence France- Presse, September 19, 1997.

33 R. Jeffrey Smith, " U. S., North Korean Officials to Meet on Missile Sales," Washington Post, April 19, 1996, p. A28 and Bill Gertz, "U. S. will pull sanctions if Pyongyang halts missile program," Washington Times, June 5, 1996, p. A20.

34 Bill Gertz, "U. S. will pull sanctions if Pyongyang halts mis-sile program," Washington Times, p. A20.

35 "U. S. and North Korea Begin Missile Talks," New York Times, June 13, 1997, p. A15 and Steven Lee Myers, "North Korea Quits Arms Talks Over Defections," New York Times, August 28, 1997, p. A1.

36 Myers, p. A1.

37 "North Korea developing missile that could hit Alaska," Agence- France Presse, September 19, 1997.

38 U. S. Department of Energery press release June 27, 1994.

39 Hearing, North Korean Missile Proliferation, p. 21.

40 DCI Report, p. 1.

41 Bill Gertz, "Threat forces North Korea ship to return home with Scuds," Washington Times, January 24, 1992, p. A3.

42 Ibid.

43 Bill Gertz, "Iran- bound mystery freighter carried parts for missiles," Washington Times, July 16, 1992, p. A3.

44 Patrick E. Tyler, "U. S. considers boarding Mideast- bound North Korean ships; Vessels carrying Scud- C missiles for Syria and Iran," New York Times reprinted in Orange County Register, March 6, 1992, p. A24.

45 "North Korea Ship Eluded 10- Day Dragnet by U. S.; Commander says failure to intercept vessel believed to be carrying Scuds is a big setback," Washington Post reprinted in San Francisco Chronicle, March 12, 1992, p. A8.

46 Bill Gertz, "North Korean ship hugged coast to avoid blockade," Washington Times, May 18, 1992, p. A6.

47 "North Korea Ship Eluded 10- Day Dragnet by U. S.; Commander says failure to intercept vessel believed to be carrying Scuds is a big setback," Washington Post reprinted in San Francisco Chronicle, March 12, 1992, p. A8.

48 New York Times News Service, "Second ship gets to Iran; U. S. says it can't stop suspected Scud vessel," The News & Ob-server [Raleigh, NC], March 18, 1992, p. A7.

49 Ibid.,

50 Bill Gertz, "Iran- Syria deal revealed as Scuds near Gulf ports," Washington Times, March 10, 1992, p. A3.

51 Hearing, North Korean Missile Proliferation, p. 22.

52 Ibid., p. 13.

53 Ibid.



[Back]

[Index]

[Next]
The Proliferation Primer
International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services Subcommittee
United States Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
A Majority Report - January 1998