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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

UN Sanctions Experts Panel Report

by | March 18th, 2014 | 06:14 am
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Last week, the UN Experts Panel established under UN Security Council resolution 1874 (2009) released another of its periodic reports on implementation of UN sanctions under UNSCR 1718, 1874, and 2094. The issues involved tend to be highly opaque and the Panel’s reports constitute a real public service by simply establishing an evidentiary baseline.

Historically the Panel has mainly reported disruptions of North Korean attempts to export arms in violation of the sanctions resolutions. This report is no exception. It documents three incidents involving the missile trade:  the seizure of Scud parts by an unnamed country bound for an unknown destination; seizure by Japanese authorities of aluminum rods used in ballistic missiles bound for Myanmar; and the seizure by South Korean authorities of graphite cylinders used in ballistic missiles headed for Syria. Apart from missiles, the document reports numerous examples of trade in conventional arms. These include the well-known Chong Chon Gang case in which Panamanian authorities stopped a weapons shipment between North Korea and Cuba; conventional arms cooperation between North Korea and Myanmar and Eritrea; and possible deals with Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Mongolia and Iran. Some governments such as Uganda and Mongolia are cooperating with the Panel’s work, while others have not. The panel also documents seizures of material by Turkish authorities of material bound for Syria, as well as seizures by authorities in Thailand and Taiwan.

The report also reviews evidence on the implementation of the luxury goods export ban.

What is somewhat unusual about this latest installment is reporting on disruption of inbound items and descriptions of the increasingly convoluted means North Korea employs to evade sanctions. The panel assesses that:

“[North Korea] remains dependent on foreign procurement for certain items, especially some that figure in the nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In particular, it lacks sufficient domestic precision machine tool manufacturing capability and it purchases off-the-shelf items for its ballistic missile-related programs. The Panel also assesses that it will likely seek out foreign suppliers for components it will need to fabricate fuel rods for its reactors.”

Debris from the Unha-3 test launch is instructive in this regard. Much of the material was sourced from abroad, but North Korea appears to have gone to considerable lengths to disguise the identity of the ultimate buyer. A similar statement could be made with respect to violations of the luxury good embargo.

This leads naturally to a discussion of travel and financial restrictions. If the member states have done an adequate job in implementing restrictions on the trade in goods, be it arms or luxury items, their performance with respect to travel and financial restrictions, which turn more critically on identifying sanctioned individuals and entities, has been less satisfactory. In one case, it appears that a sanctioned entity was able to participate quite openly at a Chinese trade fair. When the Panel raised this issue with China, the government responded that corrective action had been taken.

Critically, given the opaque nature of these transactions, the Panel cannot assess whether North Korean sanctions-busting activities are on the rise or not.