Instead of sending unconventional weapons by sea as in the past, North Korea now is shipping missiles and missile components on planes that fly via Russia, landing at Russian airports for refueling and possible transshipment to Mideast clients.
The missiles are sent in kits from which recipients, with North Korean technical expertise, put together the final versions, according to a new report by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
One reason for sending the missiles in kits is to avoid detection by informants at airports who would recognize a finished missile but not a missile broken down into dozens of parts, each in separate containers. Yet another reason is to be able to pack a greater number of missile sets onto transport planes.
“In some instances, this has been accomplished with private-sector Russian assistance, thereby calling into question the Russian government’s ability and/or willingness to control North Korea’s missile proliferation,” the report said. The airlift comes in wake of the capture of several North Korean vessels by the Proliferation Security Initiative over the last year. The U.S.-led PSI has been tracking North Korean vessels as well as other ships that left Pyongyang and suspected of carrying missiles.
[On Tuesday, Japan reported that Mitutoyo Corp. exported dual-use equipment to Iran that could be used for nuclear weapons. Japanese police also searched the Tokyo offices of the Iranian trading company Seian.]
The U.S. research institution, a consultant to the U.S. government, said Pyongyang has sought to avoid PSI efforts. In a report, the Monterey, Calif. research group said North Korea has been sending missiles in components to avoid detection and interdiction.
“These changes will allow more rapid shipping deliveries, and interception of such shipments will become more difficult,” the report, dated Aug. 11, said.
The report said North Korea’s missile program appeared to be under air force command. U.S. officials said Iran, Pakistan and Syria have been the leading procurers of North Korean missiles. Iran and Pakistan have acquired the No Dong intermediate-range ballistic missile.
“We do know they’ve [North Korea] had a long-standing relationship with Iran with ballistic missiles,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Aug. 27. “Iran has also had a pattern of wanting to acquire from others any advanced technologies that they can have, but simultaneously develop their own national institutional capability to produce those same technologies themselves, so that they’re not depending on another country’s technology.”
In a separate development, Iran has announced plans to expand nuclear energy. A senior parliamentarian said Teheran would invite Western firms to bid for the construction of nuclear reactors before offering the project to Iranian contractors.
“We have had another 21 thousand megawatts of nuclear power plants approved by the parliament that will be built over the next 20 years,” Alaa Eddin Barojerdi, chairman of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said on Tuesday. “The international tenders for building of two of these nuclear power plants have been so far presented and we would be willing to see the Western companies participate in these projects.”