North Korea’s efforts to obtain technology related to weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) were recently revealed when two Japan-based traders were
convicted for attempting to illegally transport sensitive materials.
Historically, North Korea has acquired much of its WMD-related technology and
training from abroad, particularly China and the Soviet Union; today, North
Korea’s procurement networks employ a sophisticated mix of front
companies, brokers, and transshipment strategies. Over the last decade, about a
half-dozen cases of WMD-related trafficking have surfaced, demonstrating the
extent of foreign technology and know-how obtained by North Korea. The
country’s trafficking threatens international security and the
viability of the global efforts to stem the flow of sensitive dual-use
technologies. The use of front companies and transshipment destinations reveals
a network that is continuously evolving in response to U.N. sanctions and
increased nonproliferation-focused export controls in supplier countries like
Japan. The convictions are noteworthy in that they are based on
Japan’s “catch-all” controls, designed to
encompass even the most innocuous dual-use items if intended for WMD programs.
While North Korea’s WMD-related procurement networks continue to
evolve, national and regional countermeasures may be able to keep pace,
especially if bolstered by multilateral sanctions such as those currently in
place against North Korea. Japan’s export control system reflects
what may be an innovative variant of counterproliferation—one
characterized less by traditional military action and more by intelligence
gathering, investigative capacity, regional information-sharing, and police
action. The authors explore how Tokyo’s efforts may serve as a
useful model for other countries seeking to implement effective
nonproliferation-related trade controls.
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