January 27, 2016 | Monograph
The Iran-North Korea Nuclear Nexus: Unanswered Questions
Co-authored with Scott Modell
Is there a nuclear proliferation nexus between Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)? Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon in early January – its fourth such test in a decade and its third since President Barack Obama took office. A top Iranian official overseeing Tehran’s nuclear program was present during the last test, in 2013, and if experience is any guide, the Islamic Republic may have sent representatives to this year’s as well. And just as North Korea unilaterally withdrew over a decade ago from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and proceeded to conduct nuclear tests, an Iranian repeat of such a “breakout” scenario remains a disconcerting possibility.
Despite nearly two decades of Iranian denial and deception pointing to an ultimate objective of obtaining nuclear weapons, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gave its go-ahead for the implementation of the nuclear agreement signed by Tehran and the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, France, and Germany) in July 2015. This approval came despite the fact that Iran had not addressed many of the most troublesome aspects of its nuclear program – the so-called possible military dimensions.
The U.S. government states that there is no proof attesting to Iran’s nuclear cooperation with the DPRK. An April 2014 report by the Congressional Research Service, for example, found “no evidence that Iran and North Korea have engaged in nuclear-related trade or cooperation with each other,” while conceding that “ballistic missile technology cooperation between the two is significant and meaningful.”
That report, however, intimates that the sources on which it was based might have been insufficient. It noted, for example, that the number of unclassified reports to Congress on nuclear-weapons issues had decreased considerably following the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which repealed requirements for the intelligence community to provide an unclassified annual report to Congress on the “Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions.”
There is significant reason to believe Iran-North Korea nuclear cooperation is closer than commonly recognized. But with proof elusive, we have more questions than answers. This report endeavors to pose the most important among them.