David Frum

12.06.12

A Worrying North Korean Missile Test

North Korea has announced it will launch a missile in the month of December, purportedly to launch a satellite. Is it a Korean missile - or Iranian?

Gordon Chang thinks aloud:

[W]hy launch now? That’s a mystery, but the one reason that should concern us involves Iran. In short, Tehran needs a launch vehicle for the warhead it has been developing, and the North Koreans need a successful test for their best missile customer.

For more than a decade, Pyongyang and Tehran have run what is essentially a joint missile development program. Iranian observers, for instance, were present in the North for all four of its long-range missile tests, those in 1998, 2006, 2009, and this April. Moreover, American intelligence sources indicate Iran tested a North Korean missile for Pyongyang and the North almost certainly provides missile flight-test data to Iran.

In view of these links, it’s no surprise that Iran’s Shahab-3 is based on a North Korean Nodong missile and more advanced Iranian missiles, the Shahab-5 and Shahab-6, appear to be variants of North Korea’ long-range Taepodong models.

Iran has been financing the North Korean program either by purchasing the North’s missiles or by sharing development costs and receiving missiles in return. Tehran’s support explains how a destitute North Korea has the funds to carry on a sophisticated weapons program. In early September the two countries signed a technical cooperation agreement.

More ominously, Japan’s Kyodo News on Sunday reported that Iran started stationing personnel in North Korea in October at a military facility close to the Chinese border. The Iranians, from the Ministry of Defense and associated firms, are there to develop stronger cooperation on missile and nuclear programs, according to an unnamed Western diplomatic source.