Tracing the International Origins of North Korea’s Sanction-Defying Missile Technology

Conflict Armament Research (CAR) found that a North Korean ballistic missile that struck Ukraine contained over 290 non-domestic electronic components, many of which were manufactured within the last three years and predominantly by companies based in the United States. This discovery in Kharkiv underscores North Korea’s capability to incorporate modern technology into its missile program, despite UN sanctions aimed at preventing such activities. Notably, this case highlights North Korea’s, as well as Iran’s and Russia’s, reliance on international semiconductor markets for military production, challenging global non-proliferation efforts.

The missile, likely a KN-23 or KN-24, featured components from 26 companies across eight jurisdictions, indicating a sophisticated procurement network that circumvents international sanctions. CAR’s investigation, marking the first identification of such reliance by North Korea, suggests the missile was assembled no earlier than March 2023, based on the production dates of these components. This finding is critical as it demonstrates the difficulties in controlling the flow of commercial electronics and the reliance of sanctioned countries on them for military capabilities.

CAR documented more than 290 components, comprising 50 unique models. From marks observed on these components, CAR identified 26 companies, headquartered in eight jurisdictions (China, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United States), that are linked to the production of these components.
Seventy-five per cent of the components documented are linked to companies incorporated in the United States. Sixteen per cent of documented components are linked to companies incorporated in Europe. Nine per cent of documented components are linked to companies incorporated in Asia.

CAR’s work underscores the challenges faced by global non-proliferation regimes, with North Korea’s actions representing a breach of UN Security Council sanctions. The organization’s ongoing documentation and monitoring are pivotal in understanding the efficacy of export controls and sanctions, emphasizing the need for more stringent measures to prevent the flow of critical technology to sanctioned states. This incident condemns North Korea, alongside Iran and Russia, for their efforts to undermine global peace and security, as well as terrorist attacks on peaceful Ukrainians.

Related Posts