North Korean Defectors Describes Arms Export

A major South Korean newspaper ran an article today about North Korean arms exports, based on information they received from a North Korean defector. It’s a fascinating view of one of the scariest parts of a frightening economy. North Korea sells everything from small arms to warheads, and it has a whole set of structures set up to support the trade. One highlight “North Korea’s main weapons production base is Kanggye General Tractor Plant No. 26”

The defector detailed the methods by which North Korean gets around international sanctions. Apparently, partially filled containers of weaponry are sent to China, where they are forwarded to a third country, filled with other freight, and sent on to their destination. (I find myself wondering why they can’t just add the freight in China. Am I missing something?) The sheer volume of global trade and major ports means that the illegal arms are lost in the flood of freight traffic. Primary arms buyers are identified in the article as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Tractor Plant number 26 is said to have 10,000 workers who produce a wide range of weapons, including chemical and biological agents. It is located by a military weapon research center, in Kanggye, the capital of Chagang province. The city’s other major industrial facility is apparently a timber processing factory.

In case you are wondering what kind of North Korean weapons to purchase, small arms are a hot commodity. “The rugged AK-47s, which can operate flawlessly even in the sand-filled battlefields of the Middle East, are extremely popular…” Tanks, on the other hand, are “extremely poor quality.”

It’s hard to know how much weight to put into one story from one defector. The level of detail given by the unnamed defector comes very close to being suspicious. But we have enough reports on North Korean arms export to know it’s going on, and even an inaccurate report can give us a sense of what the process might look like.