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The Iran, North Korea, Pakistan Nuclear Missile Axis

Back in 2002 when I served as Director of Policy and Communications for Congressman Adam Putnam (FL-12) then Vice Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on National Security North Korea Iran Missileand Foreign Affairs he requested a staff report on North Korea’s nuclear program. 

Among the unclassified findings of the 38-page report (prepared through the hard work of Legislative Assistants Casey Welch and Tim Coleman) was this appreciation of the nuclear weapons and missile technology cooperation between North Korea and Iran:

Both North Korea and Iran seem to be using the "building block approach," by developing space boosters that could be reengineered and deployed as ballistic missiles. This approach could allow North Korea and Iran to possess a Limited Range ICBM within the next five or ten years, while retaining the option to develop a Full Range ICBM, without initially committing to such a course. In general, the performance attributed to the various missile systems appear to far exceed the performance that would be seen under real-world conditions while carrying a legitimate strategic lethal payload mass, which would not be sufficient to reach the continental United States. However, they present a legitimate lethal threat to the Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and much of Africa. 

It seems that the building block approach is intended to allow these countries to develop the technological and managerial infrastructure of their scientific and industrial base that they do not have now, but which are necessary for the development of a Full Range ICBM in the next 10-15 years… 

Although the majority of systems being developed and produced today are short- or medium-range ballistic missiles, North Korea's three-stage Taepo Dong-1 SLV demonstrated Pyongyang's potential to cross the 5,500-km ICBM threshold if it develops a survivable weapon for the system. Other potentially hostile nations could cross that threshold during the next 15 years. While it remains extremely unlikely that any potential adversary could inflict damage to the United States or its forces comparable to the damage that Russian or Chinese forces could inflict, emerging systems potentially can kill tens of thousands, or even millions of Americans, depending on the type of warhead, the accuracy, and the intended target… 

The proliferation of medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs)--driven primarily by North Korean No Dong sales--has created an immediate, serious, and growing threat to US forces, interests, and allies, and has significantly altered the strategic balances in the Middle East and Asia. We judge that countries developing missiles view their regional concerns as one of the primary factors in tailoring their programs. They see their short- and medium-range missiles not only as deterrents but also as force-multiplying weapons of war, primarily with conventional weapons, but with options for delivering biological, chemical, and eventually nuclear weapons

The report also noted that the nuclear and missile cooperation between North Korea, Iran and Pakistan was brokered by the notorious anti-Western Pakistani nuclear weapons pioneer A.Q. Khan. 

As we reach the end of the 15-year window projected in our report to Congressman Putnam, the Voice of America reports that satellite images taken and analyzed by the intelligence firm Strategic Sentinel discovered a missile silo in Geumchang-ri, a mountainous area in North Pyongan province, where American intelligence believed that the country was conducting nuclear weapons research in the late 1990s. 

According to Strategic Sentinel, the missile silo has dimensions very similar to one known to exist in Tabriz, Iran

“If this Iranian site is housing missiles and the North Korean site that we have uncovered is the exact same dimension, then it’s quite possible that the site that we have uncovered is housing missiles as well,” explained Strategic Sentinel founder Ryan Barenklau. He also suggested that the two countries could be collaborating on nuclear research.  

Mr. Barenklau’s politesse is understandable, but there was no question in the intelligence we reviewed in 2002 that North Korea, Iran and also Pakistan had for many years been cooperating on missile technology and nuclear weapons research. And the evidence that cooperation has continued is overwhelming. 

The bulk of Iranian ballistic missiles are reverse-engineered North Korean designs. You can see their parallel evolution in this illustration by globalsecurity.org

Moreover, in the January 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, investigative journalist Claudia Rosett offered some background on the two rogue nations’ history of joint missile development. 

Rosett wrote:

In 1992, for example, a North Korean freighter slipped past U.S. Navy surveillance and delivered a cargo of Scud missiles to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. In 2003, a North Korean defector testified before Congress that he traveled from North Korea to Iran in 1989 and helped the Iranians test-fire a North Korean missile. In 2007, a secret State Department cable made public by Wikileaks stated, 

Iran and North Korea have continued their longstanding cooperation on ballistic missile technology via air-shipments of ballistic-missile related items. We assess that some of the shipments consist of ballistic missile jet vanes that frequently transit Beijing on regularly scheduled flights of Air Koryo and Iran Air. 

In 2010, a Congressional Research Service report by analyst Larry A. Niksch estimated that “North Korea earns about $1.5 billion annually from missile sales to other countries. It appears that much of this comes from missile sales and collaboration with Iran in missile development.” Also in 2010, the New York Times reported that Iran obtained 19 missiles from North Korea that were “much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.” This too was based on a classified State Department cable made public by Wikileaks. In 2013, a report from the National Air and Space Intelligence Center stated, “Iran has an extensive missile development program, and has received support from entities in Russia, China, and North Korea.” Among Iran’s ballistic missiles is the intermediate-range Shahab 3, based on North Korea’s No Dong missile, with a range long enough to strike Israel. 

This longtime partnership continues to raise the possibility, said Rosett in an article for Forbes, “the two countries are also in nuclear cahoots, because ballistic missiles are basically cost-efficient only as vehicles for delivering nuclear warheads” 

Once again, there is no question, based on our 15-year old research that Iran and North Korea – and Pakistan – have cooperated on nuclear weapons and missile technology. 

The Executive Summary of our report concluded:

For many years, there has been a lack of understanding of the origin and direction of the North Korean nuclear weapons program, particularly the DPRK’s ongoing effort to develop the capability to deploy a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile.  Equally absent from public discussion and concern is the clear, high level of cooperation between the DPRK and other anti-western regimes and actors, such as A.Q. Khan the father of Pakistan’s bomb, and Iran.  While this briefing focuses on the history and capabilities of the North Korean nuclear program, recognizing the relationship between Iran, North Korea and individuals associated with the Pakistani nuclear program will enhance the understanding of this strategic threat. 

After the North Koreans tested a nuclear weapon in last January, retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College, explained in simple terms how the cooperation works today. 

As our friends at TheTower.org reported, Scales told Fox News that “We know that the Iranians were at the last [North Korean] nuclear test a couple of year ago, [and] we know that the Iranians are helping the North Koreans miniaturize their nuclear weapons.”  

Scales further indicated that the North Korean nuclear program experienced several failures until it received assistance from Iran. “What does this say about our nuclear deal with Iran?” Scales asked. “It says Iran is able to circumvent it by using their technological colleagues in Pakistan and their test site facility in North Korea to push their own nuclear ambitions…. The Iranians and North Koreans are both developing long-range ballistic missiles by collaborating together.” 

The Axis of nuclear weapons and missile technology proliferation between North Korea, Iran and Pakistan accelerated under Obama, but has proceeded unimpeded through both Republican and Democratic administrations.  

When asked what the lesson of the first Gulf War was General S.F.Rodrigues, formerly Chief of Staff of the Indian Army said, "Don't fight the Americans without nuclear weapons." The George Rasley corollary to that observation is “You don’t seek nuclear weapons unless you plan to fight the United States.” 

This growing tripartite threat represents one of the great undiscussed strategic challenges facing the incoming Trump administration, and we here at CHQ believe it has gone undiscussed long enough. It is time that Americans know the truth about the threat and that American policymakers deal with it. 

Go here to read Claudia Rosett’s “The Audacity Of Silence On Possible Iran-North Korea Nuclear Ties” 

Go here to view the Strategic Sentinel satellite images of the North Korean nuclear weapons and missile site.

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