Discovery of foreign components represents a setback for the Obama administration’s non-proliferation policies. The administration has sought to use economic sanctions and financial controls to prevent North Korea from getting long-range missiles. But the North’s missile program has advanced steadily over the past decade, creating more lethal road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Additionally, Pyongyang’s use of foreign missile parts in the Taepodong-2 is expected to complicate the administration’s push to loosen exports controls on high-technology goods. President Obama has been seeking looser controls to boost U.S. economic competitiveness.
Covert weapons procurement networks by rogue states like North Korea and Iran, however, raise questions about whether loosening high-tech controls will increase national security threats to the U.S. and its allies.
Officials confirmed the foreign parts in the North Korean missile after the discovery was first reported last week by Japan’s NHK television.
U.S. and South Korean technicians discovered that the missile debris contained U.S.-made electronic circuits, British transmitters and a Swiss-made electrical component. Other parts were made in China and states of the former Soviet Union.
The parts were manufactured during the past several years, indicating they were procured covertly by the North Koreans despite multiple U.N. sanctions against such trade. The parts were described as dual-use components not covered directly by U.N. sanctions that North Korean procurement agents imported by circumventing international controls.
The discovery could result in future U.N. sanctions aimed at closing the loophole on dual-use components.
State Department spokeswoman Sandra Postell declined to comment. “We do not comment on intelligence matters,” she told Inside the Ring.
Thomas Moore, a former professional staff members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations involved in export control issues, said the discovery is “not particularly shocking to me.”
“You can expect to see many more of these items appearing in the missile programs of U.S. adversaries, given the relaxed posture evident in the Obama administration’s treatment of space technology export controls combined with the oft-stated but usual phrase of the era: ‘When it doubt, ship it out,’” Mr. Moore said.
“It’d be one thing if they were also working the threat by providing for better defense of the homeland from long-range attack, but they’ve gutted that, too,” he said. “I suppose their crass view might be that this makes lawyers and shifty businessmen more profitable, but really does show how far down we have come in the last decade.”
U.S. intelligence agencies estimate North Korea will be capable of hitting the United States with a nuclear warhead within the next two years.
• Contact Bill Gertz at @BillGertz.