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It is the country with the most experience in skipping the sanctions. It appears to be carrying out a flourishing arms trade with Syria, which tests the international community.
North Korea manages to massively circumvent UN sanctions and deliver chemical weapons to Syria. How is it possible?
The fact that a United Nations panel has discovered it is already an advance. You will publish your report shortly. Many of the clues come from national intelligence agencies. It seems possible to investigate, track people, expose black market connections. China is also named. Only with sanctions can the weapons trade be stopped completely, but the possibilities of being discovered can be increased and, with them, the costs. North Korea is acting extremely skillfully. There is probably no State in the world that has as much experience in undermining sanctions as North Korea.
What kind of weapons are involved?
It is not about chemical weapons, but dual-use technologies, which can be used for civil and military purposes. Some things have been intercepted on ships, such as certain tiles that can be used in the construction of chemical weapons laboratories and special valves. This fits in, since Syria had and probably has its own chemical weapons program, although in 2013 it committed to suspending it.
Was Syria’s renunciation of chemical weapons an empty promise?
It is complicated to force states to sign such international commitments. This was the case, for example, of Libya in 2003, or of Iraq, forced in 1991 to completely destroy its chemical and other weapons of mass destruction. That does not mean that it would be useless to apply pressure. By contrast, after 2013, Syria destroyed a large amount of chemical weapons under international supervision, including very dangerous war agents, such as around 1,300 tons of sarin gas.
This is already a success, although it sounds cynical in view of the fact that they have continued to be used. Syria probably re-used sarin gas in April 2017, but most attacks are with chlorine gas. That’s wrong, of course, but it’s much less dangerous than modern nerve agents. The fact that North Korea is helping Syria is a completely new dimension. Syria and North Korea are currently among the two most heavily sanctioned states. If both cooperate with each other and the international community can not stop it, it is to worry about.
What are North Korea’s interests in arms exports to Syria?
It tries to generate income through such exports, since it has no strategic interests in the region. North Korea also helped Syria build a secret nuclear reactor in the desert, which in 2007 was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force.
If North Korea is already one of the most sanctioned countries, what are the chances of stopping the arms trade with Syria?
There is no crank with which to apply pressure. A blockade against North Korea could be decided, but that would have unacceptable humanitarian consequences. The current sanctions, which are already extremely harsh, still allow for some exchange. They will always find ways to provide themselves with what they should not. It is important that the rest of countries implement sanctions without fissures. With that, he would have earned a lot. It is also an effective measure to publicly signal to states and companies that they are skipping sanctions. Or sanction them too.
And if it turns out that China supported North Korea in arms sales to Syria?
The sanctions would be difficult: after all, China is a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations and, as such, has veto power. However, the United States is already imposing sanctions on Chinese companies that, in their opinion, are contributing ballistic technology. Measures against banks that finance such transactions can be counterproductive. And politically they have a cost.