Seoul’s diplomacy targets North Korea’s arms trade in Africa

Just last week, I wrote that South Korea’s diplomatic efforts to secure compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2270 were putting ours to shame. Seoul is now offering fresh evidence of this by doing what I’ve said for weeks that our own diplomats should be doing — going on tour in Africa to pressure defense ministries to stop buying from Pyongyang.

Seoul’s direct approach to two countries with close military ties to Pyongyang highlights its push to stem North Korea’s cash flows from overseas after its nuclear test. Military exports have for decades been a major source of funds for North Korea. Earlier this year, the U.S. also accused North Korea and Iran of working jointly on a missile engine. [….]

Ms. Park will be accompanied in Uganda by South Korea’s vice defense minister to increase military cooperation with Seoul, according to a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman. Officials in Seoul have made clear that North Korea is on the agenda for the Uganda visit.

“In light of the fact that Uganda is a strategic foothold in East Africa for North Korea, President Park’s visit will provide an important opportunity to strengthen cooperation…with regard to the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue,” Kim Kyou-hyun, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security, said earlier this week. [WSJ, Alastair Gale]

President Park will also visit Kenya and Ethiopia, where Arirang News says she will bring offers of aid from an expanding assistance budget. But three visits won’t be enough unless this is only the first tour of many. Other suspected African arms clients of North Korea include Angola, The Democratic Republic of Congo, The Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s Kim Yong-nam is currently in Equatorial Guinea, and has a more ambitious itinerary than President Park.

Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim on Friday had “friendly talks” with national leaders from Chad, Gabon, Central Africa, Congo and Mali. A day before, Kim met the president of Burundi and the former president of Mozambique. [NK News, Choi Ha-young]

That would be Mozambique, the only country with an AK-47 on its flag. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the latest addition to the list of probable North Korean arms clients, following a “confidential” report to the U.N. Security Council, prepared by six independent experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against the D.R. Congo.

The U.N. experts also reported that several Congolese officers told them North Korea has supplied Congolese troops and police with pistols and sent 30 instructors to provide training for the presidential guard and special forces.

There is a U.N. arms embargo on North Korea that prevents Pyongyang from importing or exporting weapons and training. An arms embargo on Congo requires states to notify the Security Council sanctions committee of any arms sales or training.

The experts said they found that several Congolese army officers, as well as several police deployed abroad in a U.N. mission, appeared to have North Korean pistols.

The Congolese officers said the pistols were delivered by North Korea to the Congolese port of Matadi in early 2014. “The group also found that the same type of pistols was available for sale on the black market in Kinshasa,” the report said.

The experts said they had asked Pyongyang and Congo for information but had not yet received a response. Congolese and North Korean officials had no immediate comment. [Reuters]

This is too big a job for South Korea to do alone. Not only must the U.S. State Department get into the game, it should try to recruit partners among close allies, such as Japan, France, and the U.K., to help persuade African states to buy their implements of death somewhere else. You’d think that in light of President Obama’s popularity in Africa and his origins on that continent, he’d be an especially effective advocate of our interests.

But let’s also give credit where it’s due. President Obama personally raised the enforcement of North Korea sanctions in a recent visit to Vietnam, another long-standing arms client of Pyongyang. More of this, please.

Previous posts on North Korea’s Africa arms trade here.

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