We shouldn’t be surprised that a new U.N. report concludes that North Korea is selling nuclear and ballistic missile technology to Iran, Syria and Burma. However, the report also confirms that Kim Jong-Il’s regime is using “links with overseas criminal networks to carry out these activities,” which could include the trafficking of WMD components. This fact means it is only a matter of time before a corrupt North Korean official sells off expertise, advanced weapons or even WMDs to a winning bidder.
Far too often the discussion about North Korea focuses on whether the regime will sell nuclear weapons, but a huge arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, conventional weapons, and personnel including special forces, scientists and hackers could also come onto the black market. A South Korean think tank recently concluded that North Korea has 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons and the capability to produce much more. It is wishful thinking to believe that none of that large arsenal will be transferred out of the country, either as part of an official sale by the government or a deal with corrupt officials.
When Gordon Chang, an expert on Asia and author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World, was asked by FrontPage how likely it is that these criminal networks will buy powerful weapons or expertise, he responded by asking, “How likely is it that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow?”
“Anything in North Korea is possible, and the links between ‘officials’ and ‘criminals’ are strong. Besides, many North Korean officials are criminals. I’m not so sure we should make a distinction between the two groups,” Chang told FrontPage when asked about the potential for a corrupt official to sell weapons on his own accord without official authorization.
A sharp warning of the nexus between corruption and WMD came in early 2004 from David Kay, the former director of the Iraq Survey Group that concluded that Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime did not possess WMD stockpiles at the time of the invasion. He warned that the corruption his group saw meant that Iraq was a “far more dangerous country than even we anticipated with what may turn out to be not a fully accurate estimate.”
“We know there were terrorist groups in state [Iraq] still seeking WMD capability. Iraq, although I found no weapons, had tremendous capabilities in this area. A marketplace phenomenon was about to occur, if it did not occur; sellers meeting buyers,” Kay said. Concern about a rogue government deciding to carry out an attack or sponsor terrorism is valid but the potential for a corrupt official to sell weapons or expertise under the table is also an incredibly pressing threat. And North Korea has many more weapons than Iraq did, many people willing to sell them, and a preexisting business relationship with organized crime groups already used to traffic illicit materials.
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