North Korean Military Proliferation in the Middle East and Africa

President Trump, to meet in late February with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a second attempt at ridding the dictatorship of nuclear weapons, maintains he is making historical progress and North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat to the U.S. Yet, earlier this week America’s top intelligence official, Dan Coats, rebutted that view. In a congressional hearing, Coats said North Korea wouldn’t completely give up nuclear weapons because its leaders view them as “critical to regime survival.”

Given today’s political urgency, a clear-eyed, comprehensive look at North Korea’s military capabilities and its long-standing and wide-ranging proliferation couldn’t be more timely and it is offered by retired Marine, author and political science professor, Bruce Bechtol. His new book, North Korean Military Proliferation in the Middle East and Africa:  Enabling Violence and Instability (University Press of Kentucky, 2018), uses open-source intelligence reports, defectors’ testimony, field interviews and the work of fellow experts, to quantify the full extent of North Korea’s military capabilities and what it will take to stop the regime’s illicit activities.

Bechtol enumerates North Korea’s nuclear proliferation that includes weapons, capabilities, training, advice, assistance with fabricating facilities, equipment repairs and military backup. He profiles North Korea’s diversified capabilities that go beyond nuclear weapons programs to include myriad ballistic missile systems, maritime technology advances, airborne platforms, WMDs and cyber-warfare expertise. He lists the countries and non-state actors that benefit from their relationships with the rogue regime and details the country’s illicit financial networks and creative shipping arrangements that enable the regime to skirt sanctions and carry out global proliferation.

The Hermit Kingdom’s first nuclear weapons test occurred in 2006. By 2015, it had the capability to launch a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. In 2016, it put a satellite into space using a missile with a range of 7,200 miles. Other tested ballistic missile systems, according to Bechtol, include a solid-fuel missile with an advanced GPS system for pinpoint guidance, a three-stage mobile ICBM able to carry a miniaturized nuclear warhead, and a two-state and a liquid-fueled mobile missile able to reach higher altitudes and distances than previous missiles.

Other weapons include myriad naval capabilities, such as advanced anti-ship missiles, ships equipped with Aegis-type computer and radar technology to track and guide weapons, a craft armed with 30-millimeter guns and torpedoes able to travel at 60 mph, and hundreds of submarines with at least one containing an ejection launcher for an SLBM.

Airborne platforms include long-endurance drones able to fly up to 10 hours carrying a dirty bomb, a low-altitude biplane that avoids radar and can carry up to eight troops, and EMP weapons that could detonate a nuclear weapon from a satellite. Meanwhile, biological and chemical weapons exist, along with cyberwarfare capabilities.

Professor Bechtol then examines North Korea’s activities worldwide. The Kim regime, the world’s only government engaged in large-scale criminal activity, illegally exports minerals and sells weapons, counterfeit U.S. currency, cigarettes and illicit drugs. Using phony companies, fake names and a network of small banks, North Koreans operate internationally, bankrolling the military, guaranteeing a high lifestyle for the country’s elite and generating money for Kim, believed to have up to $5 billion in funds scattered around the world. In return for weapons trafficking, the Kim Jong-Un government receives cash, oil, yellowcake and other bartered goods, plus opportunities to test equipment in new environments and make improvements. The North Koreans have been able to operate, largely undetected, around the world serving various state customers.

North Korea’s best customer, Iran, has received military support since the early 1980s, with technical expertise, raw materials and technicians for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The Kim regime set up Iranian ballistic missile assembly and manufacturing facilities and helped the Iranians build HEU facilities. It supplied various weapons including a road-mobile, land-based missile system; chemical munitions-capable arms; cruise missile launching submarines and floating bridges. According to Bechtol, North Korea constructed nuclear infrastructure underground facilities with reinforced concrete ceilings and walls strong enough to withstand bunker buster attacks. An Iranian defector stated that Iran paid up to $2 billion for the construction of the Syrian plutonium facility, destroyed by the Israelis in 2007. North Korea has also helped affiliated, non-state Iranian actors such as Hezb'allah, Hamas, and Houthi rebels.

Active in Syria since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, North Korea has provided pilots, training for guerrilla operations, tanks, rifles, machine guns, ammunition, bombs, rocket launchers, ballistic missiles, nuclear weaponization expertise, chemical weapons and more. North Korea has collaborated with Syria and Iran to build and run at least five Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

In Africa, North Korea sold ballistic missiles to Egypt, built arms and ammunitions factories and military bases in Namibia, supplied precision-guided rockets and satellite guided missiles to Sudan, trained the Ugandan military and police forces, and engaged in other proliferation activities in Angola, Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and the Congo.

China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, providing food, military supplies and aircraft fuel. For high fees and bribes, Chinese middlemen help North Korean clients mask transactions and launder money used to carry out illegal activities. North Koreans evade sanctions by transporting containers to China partially filled with weapons, then ship the containers to a third country, where they are filled with other freight and paperwork completed. 

Despite international sanctions, counter-proliferation initiatives, interdictions and diplomatic efforts, North Korea continues this illicit trade, skirting the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a global strategy credited to former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to stop illicit trafficking of weapons systems. North Korea simply reflags its ships.

North Korean Military Proliferation in the Middle East and Africa provides a comprehensive picture of this rogue regime, the breadth of its illicit activities and its threat to global stability. The author concludes that past interventions -- diplomacy, interdiction missions and inconsistent economic sanctions -- have all failed.  He believes stopping North Korea’s rogue state behavior will only occur after the U.S. and its allies impose strict sanctions with adequate resources that lead to the regime’s collapse.

President Trump, to meet in late February with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a second attempt at ridding the dictatorship of nuclear weapons, maintains he is making historical progress and North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat to the U.S. Yet, earlier this week America’s top intelligence official, Dan Coats, rebutted that view. In a congressional hearing, Coats said North Korea wouldn’t completely give up nuclear weapons because its leaders view them as “critical to regime survival.”

Given today’s political urgency, a clear-eyed, comprehensive look at North Korea’s military capabilities and its long-standing and wide-ranging proliferation couldn’t be more timely and it is offered by retired Marine, author and political science professor, Bruce Bechtol. His new book, North Korean Military Proliferation in the Middle East and Africa:  Enabling Violence and Instability (University Press of Kentucky, 2018), uses open-source intelligence reports, defectors’ testimony, field interviews and the work of fellow experts, to quantify the full extent of North Korea’s military capabilities and what it will take to stop the regime’s illicit activities.

Bechtol enumerates North Korea’s nuclear proliferation that includes weapons, capabilities, training, advice, assistance with fabricating facilities, equipment repairs and military backup. He profiles North Korea’s diversified capabilities that go beyond nuclear weapons programs to include myriad ballistic missile systems, maritime technology advances, airborne platforms, WMDs and cyber-warfare expertise. He lists the countries and non-state actors that benefit from their relationships with the rogue regime and details the country’s illicit financial networks and creative shipping arrangements that enable the regime to skirt sanctions and carry out global proliferation.

The Hermit Kingdom’s first nuclear weapons test occurred in 2006. By 2015, it had the capability to launch a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. In 2016, it put a satellite into space using a missile with a range of 7,200 miles. Other tested ballistic missile systems, according to Bechtol, include a solid-fuel missile with an advanced GPS system for pinpoint guidance, a three-stage mobile ICBM able to carry a miniaturized nuclear warhead, and a two-state and a liquid-fueled mobile missile able to reach higher altitudes and distances than previous missiles.

Other weapons include myriad naval capabilities, such as advanced anti-ship missiles, ships equipped with Aegis-type computer and radar technology to track and guide weapons, a craft armed with 30-millimeter guns and torpedoes able to travel at 60 mph, and hundreds of submarines with at least one containing an ejection launcher for an SLBM.

Airborne platforms include long-endurance drones able to fly up to 10 hours carrying a dirty bomb, a low-altitude biplane that avoids radar and can carry up to eight troops, and EMP weapons that could detonate a nuclear weapon from a satellite. Meanwhile, biological and chemical weapons exist, along with cyberwarfare capabilities.

Professor Bechtol then examines North Korea’s activities worldwide. The Kim regime, the world’s only government engaged in large-scale criminal activity, illegally exports minerals and sells weapons, counterfeit U.S. currency, cigarettes and illicit drugs. Using phony companies, fake names and a network of small banks, North Koreans operate internationally, bankrolling the military, guaranteeing a high lifestyle for the country’s elite and generating money for Kim, believed to have up to $5 billion in funds scattered around the world. In return for weapons trafficking, the Kim Jong-Un government receives cash, oil, yellowcake and other bartered goods, plus opportunities to test equipment in new environments and make improvements. The North Koreans have been able to operate, largely undetected, around the world serving various state customers.

North Korea’s best customer, Iran, has received military support since the early 1980s, with technical expertise, raw materials and technicians for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The Kim regime set up Iranian ballistic missile assembly and manufacturing facilities and helped the Iranians build HEU facilities. It supplied various weapons including a road-mobile, land-based missile system; chemical munitions-capable arms; cruise missile launching submarines and floating bridges. According to Bechtol, North Korea constructed nuclear infrastructure underground facilities with reinforced concrete ceilings and walls strong enough to withstand bunker buster attacks. An Iranian defector stated that Iran paid up to $2 billion for the construction of the Syrian plutonium facility, destroyed by the Israelis in 2007. North Korea has also helped affiliated, non-state Iranian actors such as Hezb'allah, Hamas, and Houthi rebels.

Active in Syria since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, North Korea has provided pilots, training for guerrilla operations, tanks, rifles, machine guns, ammunition, bombs, rocket launchers, ballistic missiles, nuclear weaponization expertise, chemical weapons and more. North Korea has collaborated with Syria and Iran to build and run at least five Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

In Africa, North Korea sold ballistic missiles to Egypt, built arms and ammunitions factories and military bases in Namibia, supplied precision-guided rockets and satellite guided missiles to Sudan, trained the Ugandan military and police forces, and engaged in other proliferation activities in Angola, Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and the Congo.

China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, providing food, military supplies and aircraft fuel. For high fees and bribes, Chinese middlemen help North Korean clients mask transactions and launder money used to carry out illegal activities. North Koreans evade sanctions by transporting containers to China partially filled with weapons, then ship the containers to a third country, where they are filled with other freight and paperwork completed. 

Despite international sanctions, counter-proliferation initiatives, interdictions and diplomatic efforts, North Korea continues this illicit trade, skirting the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a global strategy credited to former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to stop illicit trafficking of weapons systems. North Korea simply reflags its ships.

North Korean Military Proliferation in the Middle East and Africa provides a comprehensive picture of this rogue regime, the breadth of its illicit activities and its threat to global stability. The author concludes that past interventions -- diplomacy, interdiction missions and inconsistent economic sanctions -- have all failed.  He believes stopping North Korea’s rogue state behavior will only occur after the U.S. and its allies impose strict sanctions with adequate resources that lead to the regime’s collapse.