Is U.S. taxpayer money indirectly funding the North Korean missile program?

 

Adam Mayer
@adamfmayer

North Korea’s successful test launch of a mid-range ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) is a stunning development in the global power struggle. North Korea, a nuclear armed country ruled by an outlandish, brutal dictator with fervent subscription to “Songun” – the notorious military first policy which subordinates all to the military as the “supreme repository of power”. And as this unstable, radical nation continues to make strides in her nuclear arms and missile development program, the world must come to bear that a North Korean nuclear strike on American soil is now viable.[1]

The position the U.S. now finds itself must be analyzed to learn from this critical corner of its foreign policy. The North Korean nuclear and missile development program has grown from infancy to the behemoth of today in full view of the worlds intelligence agencies. The world is well versed in the North Korean program for many decades now. Yet, with all the supreme might of the united free world, the North Korean program continues to evolve as the crouching tiger it really is. How did the world get here? From where is North Korea getting its support? Who is her partner?

Experts clearly point to the Islamic Republic of Iran. John S. Park, of the Massachusets Institute of Technology, wrote in a December 2012 brief he authored with the National Bureau of Asian Research:

“The Iran factor has been hiding in the open. Cooperation between North Korea and Iran has been a critical—yet underexamined— enabler of the recent success. What started as a transactional relationship, where Iran provided much-needed cash to North Korea in return for missile parts and technology, has evolved into an increasingly effective partnership. The time has come to view their previously independent ballistic missile programs as two sides of the same coin…

Additionally Mr. Park concludes:

“The conventional wisdom was that cash-starved North Korea found a lucrative client in Iran. As a result, analysts tended to view the two pariahs’ long-range missile development programs as largely independent endeavors. However, North Korea’s sudden success on December 12 [referring to December 12, 2012, the first time Pyongyang successfully launched a three stage rocket test and installed a satellite in orbit] was not the result of good fortune but rather was the fruition of its increasing institutional cooperation with Iran.[2]

The development this week, however, eclipses the peril of the December 2012 successful launch. With Pyongyang taunting the U.S. by claiming large scale nuclear weapons can now reach the U.S. mainland, the United States endeavored to blunt that claim. By tacitly acknowledging the tested ICBM could in theory reach Alaska they also made clear that North Korean capability to strike the lower 48 states is not yet feasible.[3] The United States also stressed the robust missile defense program which is deployed worldwide and continually advanced and trained upon. Likewise, Ambassador Nikki Haley called for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting. President Trump continued to levy intense pressure on China and Russia to act. Going so far as to publicly call out China, who’s much more comfortable executing sensitive foreign policy in back rooms. Support for North Korea, particularly its missile program, is not a position that China seeks to shine a light upon.

[4]

[5]

To the chagrin of U.S. officials, the formal response from Beijing and Moscow proposed that South Korea, North Korea, and the United States subscribe to the Chinese de-escalation plan. The plan which calls for North Korea to cease all missile activity while South Korea and America stop all joint training exercises.[6]

This proposal is wrought with many substantial pitfalls. First, if the U.S. accepts the proposal they have more than effectively yielded leadership in Asia to Russia and China. If they decline the proposal, they become the aggressors. Second, Beijing and Moscow are both entirely aware that both of their proposed steps of de-escalation are non starters for both countries. Pyongyang, the foremost global agitator, will never publicly abandon her missile program. The theology of ‘military first’ explicitly forbids such overtures. From the perspective of Pyongyang, to do so is akin to opening the regime to revolution.  For the United States, President Trumps campaign rhetoric, and aggressive posturing do not permit any act of standing down – perceived or otherwise. One can only speculate why the Russian/Chinese alliance would act as peacekeepers while in reality they are willingly pouring fuel on a growing ember.

The Ballistic Missile Defense Review published by the Department of Defense (DoD) in February 2010 specifically highlights with reference to the North Korean and Iranian ICBM program that “threats are expected to grow quantitatively and qualitatively”. The review identified that both Iran and North Korea (among others) are the primary threats to use an ICBM against the U.S.  Additionally, it acknowledges that the United States has limited protection against ICBM attack and marks as a matter of priority the need to invest in “ground based mid-course defense (GMD).

The most telling element of this review is the explicit acknowledgement that Iran and North Korea continue to develop their ICBM technology and that this represents a substantial national security risk to the United States.

“Although Iran has not stated an intent to develop ICBMs, it continues to pursue longer-range ballistic missiles. Iran launched its Safir Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) in August 2008 with what it claims was a dummy satellite. Iran used the Safir-2 SLV to place the domestically produced Omid satellite in orbit in February 2009, according to statements made to the press by Iranian officials. Despite continued diplomatic efforts Iran also continues to defy its international obligations on its nuclear program, further reducing international confidence in the nature of its program. These factors only compound international concerns about the intent of its ballistic missile program. Looking ahead, it is difficult to predict precisely how the threat to the U.S. homeland will evolve, but it is certain that it will do so. Iran and North Korea have yet to demonstrate an ICBM-class warhead. How rapidly and successfully North Korea and Iran pursue this and other capabilities are an open question, as is the speed with which they might actually deploy capabilities and increase their numbers over time. Working with the international community, the United States will continue to seek to stem these threats, through diplomacy and other means.” [7]

The report also drew the direct military partnership between Iran and North Korea. It reports,

“DIA believes that Iran still depends on outside sources for many of the related dual-use raw materials and components; for example, the Shahab-3 MRBM (mid range ballistic missile) is based on the North Korean No-Dong missile”. [8]

With respect to the cause and method of action in the future the report identifies the Iranian and North Korean missile program as “threatening”.

The commitment of the United States to defend against ballistic missile capabilities from North Korea and Iran stems from the U.S. perception, shared by our allies and partners, that they are threatening. North Korea and Iran have shown contempt for international norms, pursued illicit weapons programs in defiance of the international community, and have been highly provocative in both their actions and statements. They have exploited the capabilities available to them to threaten others. Their neighbors—and the United States—may be limited in their actions and pursuit of their interests if they are vulnerable to North Korean or Iranian missiles. Deterrence is a powerful tool, and the United States is seeking to strengthen deterrence against these new challenges. But deterrence by threat of a strong offensive response may not be effective against IRANIAN SHAHAB-3 VARIANT MRBM. The Iranian Shahab-3, with a range of 1,300–2,000 km, is a mobile system capable of evasion. Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report these states in a time of political-military crisis. Risk-taking leaders may conclude that they can engage the United States in a confrontation if they can raise the stakes high enough by demonstrating the potential to do further harm with their missiles. Thus U.S. missile defenses are critical to strengthening regional deterrence.

With this declaration of risk and threat as the backdrop to the commencement of direct negotiations between the U.S. and Iran to halt their nuclear and long range missile development, it begs understanding why the original Joint Plan of Action of November 2013 made no direct mention of ICBM technology whatsoever. The only heavily veiled reference to that program was a mention of “addressing” UN Security Council resolutions which up to that point specifically prohibited Iran’s long range missile development, testing, and use.[9]

In February 2013, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, testified before the Senate Committee and Foreign Relations. In her testimony she made the case to support President Obama’s ongoing negotiations. She also said “it is true that in these first six months we’ve not shut down all of their production of any ballistic missile that could have anything to do with delivery of a nuclear weapon” (although this statement was not included in her written testimony).[10] Shortly thereafter America attempted to re-introduce Iran’s missile program to the negotiations but was briskly denied by Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, when he said, decried the association of human rights and missile programs as part of the negotiations. Meaning he declared it off limits.

The line was drawn in the sand, President Obama would either accept a deal without any mention of the Iranian missile program or there would be no deal at all.

The argument could be made that Iran drew this line because it would be a breach of their arrangement with North Korea. North Korea was the one providing Iran with the advanced missile technology and also provided Iran with the insurance policy of access to nuclear weapons should the need arise. More accurately put, the only reason Iran was willing to negotiate in any capacity regarding its nuclear program was because they had a partnership with North Korea. If they could successfully lift international sanctions, repatriate billions of dollars back into the Iranian economy, and still have access to nuclear weaponry – and long range delivery – vis a vis North Korea; well, you could call that a grand slam.

From 2014 through 2016 it is possible Iran was paid, in cash, by the United States at least $11.9 billion and possibly up to $33.6 billion. And while many reasons have been proposed by the Obama administration why the highly unusual cash payments were made in such a method, one thing is certain, once the cash is delivered the United States has little to no control where it goes from there and what it is used to purchase. The Obama administration’s insistence the money will be used for domestic Iranian infrastructure projects is literally laughable. The likeliness of Iran using euros and swiss francs to pay its vendors as opposed to its own rial is barely plausible. In the end, even the most vocal supporters of the Iran deal shied away from endorsing massive cash payments made to an untrustworthy regime with many dark benefactors.

The concern that this cash payment to Iran could be used for illicit purposes is also shared by members of congress. Congressman Ed Royce testified at a hearing before the House Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee saying in part:

“The reason we’re concerned with cash going to Iran is because Iran is in the process with IRGC of funding terrorism in the region. And specifically, what they’re trying to do is get their hands on hard currency. So when their trying to develop, for example, for Hezbollah, the capability to use GPS in order to be able to equip the missiles…”

And continues to object to the Obama administration reasoning for paying in cash, which they claimed was impossible due to existing financial sanctions, and insisted the cash payment was a demand from Iran. Why did Iran demand cash? Representative Royce said:

“…they are a state sponsor of terrorism….and they are developing missiles, ballistic missiles, which by the way, are aimed at the U.S. because they are intercontinental”[11]

The clear irregularity of these cash payments raised a slew of questions as to the legality, necessity, morality, and purpose. The fungible nature of cash provides little control once handed over.

As pointed out earlier in this article, the military partnership and mutual beneficence between Iran and North Korea is both well established and entirely logical. Cash infused Iran, with newly lifted sanctions giving access to international banking systems and economic activity provide the much needed capital for North Korea. North Korea in exchange shares missile technology with the Iranians and Iran sweetens the deal by giving North Korea fertile land to test its technology. Once the rockets and technology have sufficiently advanced in Iran they are exported back to North Korea so that Pyongyang can do what it does best – sabre rattle.

Iran made it abundantly clear that their ICBM program is off the table as part of the JCPOA. The Unites States acceptance of this demand tacitly approves of Iran continuing its ICBM program –knowing that this is also directly benefits the North Koreans.

This past week’s launch of an ICBM is a direct result of the cash infusion to Iran. The realization that U.S. taxpayer money is being used to advance a rogue nuclear nations ability to harm the U.S. is immensely troubling. But one thing remains certain: North Korea, with Irans explicit help, is moving full steam ahead with it’s nuclear ICBM capability. We are not far off from the point of no return and without corrective action the World will soon be faced with a potent enemy that it cannot contain.


Sources:

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/04/world/asia/north-korea-missile-test-icbm.html

[2] http://www.nbr.org/publications/analysis/pdf/Brief/121812_Park_NKoreaMissile.pdf

[3] http://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/04/us-officials-believe-north-korea-fired-first-missile-capable-of-reaching-alaska.html

[4] https://twitter.com/nikkihaley/status/882379926032318465

[5] https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/882062572081512449

[6] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-china-xi-northkorea-idUSKBN19P1Q7

[7] http://archive.defense.gov/bmdr/docs/BMDR%20as%20of%2026JAN10%200630_for%20web.pdf

[8] Ibid, page 6

[9] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/11/25/world/middleeast/iran-nuclear-deal-document.html

[10] https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Sherman_Testimony2.pdf

[11] https://www.c-span.org/video/?414929-1/hearing-focuses-payments-iran&live

Author: StandardCommentary

We provide analysis on wide ranging, impactful news across the globe.

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