Since the 1960s, North Korea has sold arms and equipment to Syria, and provided other sorts of military-to-military assistance, such as training and technical assistance. Of particular importance, Pyongyang has helped develop Syria’s chemical weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Today, North Korea, faced with United Nations sanctions over its ongoing missile and nuclear tests, denies providing such assistance to Syria. But evidence has emerged suggesting that in one way or another, via front companies and elaborate logistics, war materials from North Korea have ended up in Syria, ultimately enriching the Kim regime.
“It’s a gold mine for North Korea,” said Bruce Bechtol, a political science professor at Angelo State University in Texas who’s penned a handful of books on the country. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to North Korea—as long as Syria doesn’t fall, which could happen.”
Pyongyang has reportedly also supplied troops and advisors, who have gained valuable real-world experience from the Syrian conflict. Any lesson learned by the North Koreans in Syria, of course, could be applied to future battles on the Korean peninsula.
“Korean analysts should take note of how chemical weapons were used in the Syrian civil war because this is likely going to be a test-bed for future North Korean actions in a conflict with the South,” Bechtol noted in a 2015 research paper (pdf, p.1) entitled “North Korea and Syria: Partners in Destruction and Violence.”
Defectors from North Korea have described horrific chemical experiments on humans in concentration camps holding political prisoners.)
As has been noted previously in Quartz, North Korea’s missile tests and nuclear explosions are in some ways sales pitches to countries like Iran, Syria, and Pakistan. Meanwhile China, North Korea’s main trading partner and economic lifeline, seems to be getting more serious about imposing sanctions on its unruly neighbor, for example by recently turning back a fleet of coal-laden cargo ships.
That could mean income from selling military gear becoming all the more important to Pyongyang