A big question hanging over North Korea’s latest nuclear test, conducted Feb. 12, is whether it was also done for the benefit of Iran, or was possibly even an Iranian test, courtesy of North Korea’s facilities. One telling sign could be the nature of the fuel used in the test, though that is not yet clear. Iran’s nuclear program has focused on enriching uranium. By contrast, North Korea’s previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, have been plutonium based. But North Korea by its own account has also been enriching uranium, and nuclear experts have been wondering if the illicit ventures of both rogue states might converge in a uranium-based test in North Korea.
Whether plutonium or uranium, however, there are also insights to be gleaned from North Korea’s behavior during its long record in the munitions business. There is plenty of precedent to suggest that when North Korea tests a weapon, the Pyongyang regime is after more than simply enhancing its own arsenal. It is also looking to get the biggest bucks for its bang.
For years, North Korean weapons tests have effectively doubled as marketing displays, rolling out the latest round of North Korea’s lethal wares. “North Korea will sell anything to anybody,” says Bruce Bechtol, a political scientist and former senior defense intelligence analyst specializing in North Korea. Bechtol adds that Iranian officials have been present at every major North Korean missile test, as well as both previous nuclear tests.
Since the 1960s, North Korea’s sales have run the gamut, from conventional weapons, to increasingly sophisticated, longer-range missiles, to collaborating with Syria on the construction of an entire clandestine nuclear reactor with no evident purpose except to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Among North Korea’s many clients over the years have been Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and Libya under Muammar Qaddafi, as well as Iran, and Iran’s satellite Lebanese terrorist organization, Hezbollah.
In this trade, North Korea has created a niche for itself as a full service back shop for rogue states, offering an unblinking willingness to violate any and all international norms in exchange for cash, oil and yet more weapons technology. Not only does North Korea’s regime supply its clients with weapons; it also has a history of providing weapons experts, military training, procurement and smuggling services, money-laundering facilities and in some cases, help with weapons production.
Worth reading in full.