A report filed by a panel of independent U.N. experts filed earlier this month shows that two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program have been intercepted within the last six months, indicating that the two nations have been cooperating in the development of weapons of mass destruction.
“The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” the experts wrote in the 37-page report.
“Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria. Another Member state informed the panel that it had reasons to believe that the goods were part of a KOMID contract with Syria,” it continues. KOMID is an abbreviation for the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, which was black-listed by the UN Security Council in 2009. It has been described as North Korea’s primary arms dealer and exporter of ballistic missile and conventional weapons technologies.
Neither the dates the shipments were intercepted, nor the countries involved in the effort were released by the United Nations. The report goes on to say the UN effort aimed to investigate cooperation between the two states on the Syrian Scud missile programs, as well as maintenance and repair of Syrian surface-to-air missile air defense platforms.
Ties between the two nations’ chemical weapons programs were also addressed, as four sarin gas attacks reportedly occurred during the same period of time the shipments were intercepted, which also coincided with the use of VX, (another banned chemical agent, in the North Korean plot to kill Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Il Sung). Both the Syrian and North Korean governments have denied their involvement in each attack, though the evidence, and international consensus, indicates otherwise. South Korean intelligence reports, however, claim that North Korea houses one of, if not the, largest chemical and biological weapon stockpile on the planet.
Perhaps even more troubling than the idea of two fairly small governments cooperating in the development of banned weapons and delivery platforms, is Russia’s close military involvement with Syria. The United States has faced repeated criticism from the likes of Russia and China pertaining to heightening tensions with North Korea due to their own nuclear weapons program, but new sanctions issued by the U.S. Treasury this week indicate multiple entities within each of those nations have been working to support North Korea’s nuclear aspirations.
With the realization that Syria and North Korea have been sharing weapons technology, it seems entirely feasible that Russian expertise may have been funneled through those same channels. North Korea’s ballistic missile programs have seen fast progress over the past year, with experts in the West believing they will now have a reliable, nuclear capable, ICBM by as early as the end of this year, a far cry from estimates levied at this time a year ago.
Syria agreed to destroy their chemical weapons stores under a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia. Syrian President Bashar al Assad apparently chose not to honor that agreement, but the Russian government continues to claim that it did. Syria continues to deny the use of chemical weapons against rebels within the nation, but the use of chlorine as a weapon remains widespread, according to UN reports.
China and Russia have both seen increased economic cooperation with North Korea since the U.S. has called on the international community to financially isolate the nation until Kim agrees to relinquish his nuclear weapons. Both states have claimed that their increase in trade has continued outside the parameters of UN sanctions, making them entirely legal. One notable example was the sale of six large Chinese timber trucks to North Korea, which were then converted for use as ICBM transportation assets.
While it is certain that Russia uses its military might in direct support of Assad’s regime in Syria, there has been no official confirmation that Putin’s military has provided any such assistance to North Korea directly. It remains possible that, even without Russian consent, Syria may have shared Russian technology with North Korea through their own cooperative efforts. If Russia is indeed working to support not only Assad, but Kim, such a revelation would certainly further degrade the already-tense relations between Russia and the United States.
Image courtesy of North Korea’s KCNA