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27 April 2014

UN sanctions panel North Korea report shows UK companies contributed to missile programme

The UN Panel of Experts on North Korea sanctions has released a report on the implementation of UN sanctions between 12 May 2013 and 7 Feb 2014. The report highlights North Korea’s continued use of illicit procurement techniques to acquire dual-use items for use in its nuclear and missile programmes. The report also discusses various illicit trafficking methods used by the DPRK, in particular the recent uncovering of illicit cargo on the Chong Chon Gang in Panama.

dprk flag

One particular case of note was included in the report — that British-origin components were utilised in a long-range North Korean missile which was tested in December 2012. The wreckage of the Unha-3 rocket was recovered from the sea by South Korean authorities and was found to contain three types of component believed to be originally sourced from British companies.

The information featured in a lengthy annual report authored by the UN Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1874 (2009) and endorsed by the UN Security Council. The Panel was established when resolution 1874 was passed to scrutinise the implementation and effects of sanctions. The report detailed that the following British manufactured components were identified in the Unha-3 wreckage:[1]




Temperature transmitters


Sold by manufacturer in 2011

Pressure transmitters


Sold by manufacturer in November 2006 and April 2010



Could not be tracked due to insufficient identifiers

However, the report also provided details of other components – 14 types in total – that were sourced from foreign companies.[2] These include those based in China, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, the US and the former USSR. Other types of goods sourced included ball bearings, pressure switches, electric cables, DC to DC convertors and other components. In short, the list indicates that North Korea is looking to a diverse range of sources for technology for its missile programme.

The list provides insights into the types of goods that the North Korean programme requires. The report notes that ‘almost all are off-the-shelf items that do not meet any of the specifications in the lists of prohibited items, in particular the ballistic missile related list’.[3] In fact only one of the 14 listed component types – the ball bearings – met some of the criteria specified in the list of missile-related technologies appended to the DPRK sanctions resolutions. North Korea is not alone in its use of sub-control-threshold goods in their illicit programmes (the Iran Panel of experts have made similar findings). Not all technologies that are of use in a weapons programme are controlled, and actively avoiding goods of controlled specification can help proliferators to avoid the scrutiny of national authorities.

Mitigating Reputational Risk

A key lesson which comes out of this particular finding from the Panel report is reputational. Although the Panel does not name the companies involved, in two out of three cases it was able to identify the British manufacturer of the goods. This was despite the great stresses, heat vibration that the missile underwent during launch and flight, before falling into the sea and the following salvage effort.

The details of the Panel’s investigations regarding the specifics of the sales by British companies has not yet been publically shared. Therefore it is not possible to consider under what circumstances the goods were provided, to what type of end user, and with what level of certainty that they would not be misused. Recent reports have highlighted the increasing complexity of deception in North Korea’s other illicit activities.[4]

The bottom line is that countries such as North Korea continue to seek dual-use technologies from businesses in the UK and elsewhere using clandestine procurement practices.  Businesses must conduct due diligence and ensure that they comply with national export control laws.

[1] United Nations, Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1874 (2009), 6 March 2014, available from, accessed 24 April 2014, pp.22-23.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, p.23.

[4] Sheena Chestnut Greitens, ‘Illicit: North Korea’s Evolving Operations to Earn Hard Currency’, Report of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 15 April 2014,, accessed 24 April 2014.

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