North Korea offered 3,500km intermediate range ballistic missiles to UK arms dealer Michael Ranger, information detailed in a new UN report has revealed for the first time.
Representatives from the North Korean front company Hesong Trading Corporation allegedly offered Mr. Ranger modern and vintage small arms and light weapons, GPS jammers, multiple launch rocket systems, and “extraordinarily,” ballistic missiles with a range of up to 3,500 km.
“The price per unit was in excess of US$ 100 million for those intermediate-range ballistic missiles and would be sold not less than three at a time, mixed as one long-range and two medium-range missiles or one medium-range and two long-range missiles”, testimony provided by Mr. Ranger to the UN explained.
Although North Korea has a long history of selling short-range SCUD-type ballistic missiles to governments in the Middle East, to date there have been no reports of “medium” and “long-range” missile-types being offered to foreign clients.
While no explicit link is made in the report, the range of the missiles offered to Mr. Ranger coincides very closely with North Korea’s only known intermediate-range missile, the Musudan, says Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“3,500km is the range sometimes mentioned for the Musudan. They don’t have any other missiles in that medium-range category,” Fitzpatrick told NK News by email.
North Korea first showcased the Musudan to the outside world at an October 2010 military parade covered by international media. But despite the strident parade and subsequent spike in reporting on the missile type, the Musudan is not known to have ever been flight-tested.
“It’s very disturbing that North Korea is seeking to sell such systems, though the fact that they have never been tested in North Korea should make any would-be buyers wary,” Mr. Fitzpatrick further explained to NK News.
The Korean People’s Army was suspected of putting two Musudans into “launch-ready” status during tensions with South Korea and the U.S. earlier this year.
However, those launches never took place, leading some analysts to question whether the Musudan is real or not. That Mr. Ranger was offered the Musudan is therefore a noteworthy development.
Although Mr. Ranger’s claims shed new light on how North Korean officials might be marketing the DPRK’s latest missile capabilities to foreign clients, experts suggest that his allegations should be taken with a pinch of salt.
“Regarding the price, number and specifications of intermediate-range ballistic missiles claimed to have been on offer to Mr Ranger- there appears to be no means of verifying his claims,” Lawrence Dermody, an arms researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute told NK News.
“However, it’s certainly possible that Hesong representatives had an interest in exaggerating technology on offer to establish relationships with potential buys or secure related contracts.”
Another analyst familiar with the UN report, who wished to remain anonymous, echoed Mr. Dermody’s suspicions: ”It is possible that this was the DPRK flying a kite to observe Mr Ranger’s reaction.”
INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING CONUNDRUM
Even if Musudan missiles really were for sale, tightened international sanctions and intensified monitoring of cargo into and out of the DPRK would have made it extremely difficult for someone like Mr. Ranger to guarantee deliveries to would-be-clients.
“It is not clear how the DPRK would ship such missiles if indeed they sold them. Given their bulk, however, they would probably use maritime rather than air routes,” an analyst familiar with sanctions told NK News.
But after the high-profile turnaround of the Kang Nam 1, a North Korean vessel suspected to have been transporting missile parts to Myanmar in 2009, increased scrutiny over DPRK sea-lanes suggest that UN sanctions may be adding serious hurdles to North Korea’s capacity to sell advanced weapons systems.
Faced with an increasingly tight sanctions regime, the latest UN report says that North Korea has few direct connections with mainstream shipping companies and has to “charter feeder vessels to carry cargo to regional hubs in neighboring countries”.
Doing so is not cheap and the principal reason why a sale of between 70 and 100 man-portable air defense systems from North Korea to Azerbaijan, orchestrated by UK national Mr. Ranger, fell apart.
“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea looks carefully at the bottom line and rejects orders for small quantities because of higher per-unit manufacturing and/or transport costs”, the UN report explains.
When Mr. Ranger’s client requested a sample of 10 man-portable air defense systems to be tested in Azerbaijan before committing to the full purchase, North Korea insisted that testing must take place on DPRK territory. But because of the risks involved in shipping even small cargoes, it simply wasn’t cost-effective for Pyongyang to export such a small cache and risk interception.
Despite a tightening sanctions regime and steadily increasing number of arms-related interceptions being revealed the latest UN report, experts warn that sanctioned North Korean weapons exports could still be continuing under the radar.
Nevertheless, Martin Uden, coordinator of the UN Panel of Experts, told NK News: ”While there are gaps in implementation and arms exports are doubtless continuing, it’s clear that the DPRK is having to go to extreme lengths to circumvent UN sanctions, making it more and more difficult, expensive and time-consuming to pursue this illegal trade.”
But an analyst familiar with sanctions said of the repeated references to Dalian based entities in the latest UN report, ”It is clear that the Chinese port [of Dalian] has continued to be deeply involved in the DPRK’s illicit activities during the period covered by the report.”…