Recently we reported that North Korea’s apparent openness to engage in talks was a positive sign, yet far from one of any significance. These pledges have been made in the past, and the result has always been a return to the brink of conflict, where we have been for the recent past. Now, it seems that the conflict is closer than ever, as it has been reported that North Korea has been linked to chemical weapons used in Syria by the United Nations.
According to several sources, the North Korean government sent not only chemical weapons, but materials necessary for ballistic weapons as well, carried by missile technicians from the DPRK. Between 2012 and 2017, the UN ‘experts’ report, North Korea has executed more than 40 shipments of such materials to Syria. According to the Wall Street Journal, the total amounts to comes out to approximately 50 tons of ‘supplies’ to be used in building an ‘industrial-scale chemical weapons factory’ in Syria.
It remains unclear what prompted this discovery, or how the United Nations came across such information. But regardless, such a discovery is almost certainly going to serve as justification to elevate military operations against both Syria and North Korea. It’s an undeniable step in the wrong direction for those that hoped, albeit gullibly, that the Olympic semi-olive branch between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States delegations was a sign of things to come. Chemical weapons have qualified as taboo since at least World War I, and their possession and/or use, particularly by nations which are already under international scrutiny, is most often a harbinger of greater military conflict.
Even worse, China is tangentially caught up in this report.
‘A Chinese trading firm working on behalf of Pyongyang made five shipments in late 2016 and early 2017 of high-heat, acid-resistant tiles, stainless-steel pipes and valves to Damascus, the report said, citing them as evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is paying North Korea to help his country produce chemical arms.’ (WSJ)
And, knowing that nations such as Iran and Russia remain involved in relationships with both Syria and North Korea, this development has the potential to serve as a catalyst for conflict that the world has thus far managed to avoid. The United States has already openly threatened heightened military action against Syria, citing chemical weapons use as the sticking point upon which such a reaction could be provoked. Now, that threat will almost certainly be extended to North Korea, and it is plausible that more than a threat is levied against the Pacific firebrand. Observers should not be surprised if the chemical weapons-related threats are extended to another nation which the Trump administration has proven prone to criticizing, if only by association with the two enemy nations coming under fire.
‘The shipments are part of a steady stream of weapons-related sales by Pyongyang to Syria and to Mr. Assad’s patron, Iran, estimated by some experts to be worth several billion dollars a year.’ (WSJ)
While the Assad regime continues to deny the allegations that they have engaged in chemical attacks, the determinations of organizations such as the Syrian American Medical Society are that at least three chemical weapons attacks have been perpetrated this year alone. In the past, such weapons served as the ‘red line’ which President Obama said would justify more drastic action against the Assad regime. Whether the Trump administration considers it a ‘red line’ remains to be seen, but rhetoric and increasing military operations in the region suggest that it may well be.
Further, it’s known that the weapons and military supplies being shipped to Syria have served as a significant financial boon for Kim Jong-un, and the determination that those shipments include chemical weapons could serve as reason for the United States to further crack down on the regime, whether militarily or through some form of greater sanction. It remains unclear on how sanctions could deter the trade relationship between nations over which the United States or the United Nations have virtually no control. So, the betting man might put their chips on the likelihood that a military-involved escalation looms in the near future.
Considering the unrelenting defiance of United States and UN-imposed sanctions by both North Korea and those with whom it conducts its business, not to mention the massive financial rewards flouting such sanctions provides, it seems unlikely that an un-climactic coming-to-terms is in the cards.
‘Larry Niksch, a former U.S. Congressional Research Service expert on Asia, estimates North Korea’s revenue from cooperation with Tehran on nuclear and missile technology, arms sales and provisions to Iran-backed terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah totaled $2 billion to $3 billion a year in the last decade.’ (WSJ)
Whether conflict involves North Korea alone, China – who, by the way, denies knowledge of these transactions – Iran, Syria or some combination of these long-reviled nations is unforeseeable. But it’s undeniable that the chemical weapons-related development is a tectonic shift in how the United States will approach each of the involved players.