Saturday 21 September 2019

North Korea 'used joint research' to dodge nuclear ban

Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un

Nicola Smith and Julian Ryall

North Korea may have been exploiting collaboration with foreign scientists to bypass international sanctions and further its nuclear weapons programme, researchers have claimed.

A study has flagged up at least 100 journals published jointly by North Korean and foreign scientists that have "identifiable significance for dual-use technology, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), or other military purposes".

The findings, which were released by the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, based in Monterey, California, are based on scientific journals spanning more than six decades.

They shed some light on how the isolated Pyongyang regime could have advanced so rapidly in building its nuclear and missiles technology despite long-running and harsh international penalties put in place to prevent it from doing so.

The large majority of the 1,304 research papers dating from 1956 to April 2018 involve natural sciences, engineering or mathematics.

Among the identified "areas of concern or potential concern" are Romanian assistance with uranium purification and GPS-related work with Germany and China. However, most of the research that warrants a closer look involves North Korean collaboration with Chinese scientists.

In an interview with 'The Daily Telegraph', Joshua Pollack, one of the lead authors on the report, highlighted work on the "isolation of high-voltage cables" and on automotive technology.

He said they were apparently "clear-cut" examples of potential breaches of the ban on the transfer of dual-use equipment. Dual-use in this sense would be any legitimate technology that could also be appropriated to assist the creation of WMD or nuclear reactors.

Joint Chinese and North Korean papers on automotive technology had set off alarm bells as they included a computer system that could make the axles on a truck operate independently, said Mr Pollack.

"That is something that is not associated with an ordinary truck," he said.

"There are civilian applications for that but in North Korea the obvious use for that is a missile launching vehicle."

Such an extensive analysis of the risks of scientific collaboration with North Korea is rare, but it is not the first time that the issue has been raised.

Last year, Ken Kato, the director of the Tokyo-based Human Rights in Asia organisation, highlighted it to the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

He urged them to close a legal loophole that has allegedly allowed pro-North Korean scientists to remain in sensitive research positions.

"There are six Korean scientists who have been able to remain in sensitive research positions after claiming to have switched their political allegiances to South Korea," Mr Kato said yesterday, adding that he has not yet received a UN response.

Mr Pollack and his team conclude: "UN member states must decide what research activities by their nationals or within their territory lie within the scope of sanctions, and which are better avoided in order to uphold the integrity of the sanctions regime."

He added: "We do not want to hand Kim Jong-un a shortcut to advancing his military, advancing his weapons of mass destruction." (© The Daily Telegraph)

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