The Iran Korea Nuclear Connection
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
They appear to be two odd bedfellows. Iran is a Shiite theocracy while North Korea is mainly non-religious, and they do not share commonalities regarding ethnicity or geographic location. But for Iran, building alliances is not based on these commonalities. Although it views itself as the sole protector of Islam, religion is not the only factor in Iran’s establishment of alliances with states and non-state actors.
The critical concern for Tehran is commonalities in geopolitical and strategic objectives. The end game is key, and whatever means exist will be used to that end. As a result, for instance, even if a state or non-state actor disrespects Muslims or Islam, Tehran will still ally with it if it helps advance its regional hegemonic ambitions and nuclear development, and as long as they share the same values, such as anti-Americanism and disregard for international norms.
Iranian-North Korean cooperation is mutual and multifaceted. Iran desperately needs North Korea’s technological advancement for its nuclear program. There have long been official agreements to establish joint laboratories and exchange information. These deals are directly linked to nuclear activities.
Tehran has repeatedly bought weapons from North Korea, giving Pyongyang needed cash. Iran has also helped North Korea expand its influence and arms sales among state and non-state actors in the Middle East. The two countries enjoy sophisticated cooperation regarding their rogue missile programs. Their short-, medium- and long-range missiles are identical.
Iran desperately needs North Korea’s technological advancement for its nuclear program. There have long been official agreements to establish joint laboratories and exchange information. These deals are directly linked to nuclear activities.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Only two nations in the world use the Yono-class submarine, which is hard to detect because it can hide in shallow water and operate on battery. The Pentagon says Iran recently test-fired missiles from one of these submarines, which was designed by North Korea. Iran regularly uses these submarines in the Gulf. This creates significant regional instability, and poses a security threat to the Gulf states and the US.
Iran and North Korea take advantage of the fact that they are not signatories to the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF), which prohibits the development of short-, medium- or long-range missiles. They share the same values of disregarding international law, creating insecurity for their neighbors, pursuing the development of nuclear weapons regardless of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and threatening to destroy other countries.
Detecting the nuances of cooperation, financial transactions, and illicit arms or nuclear exchanges has become very challenging since four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions were lifted from Iran due to the nuclear deal, thanks to former US President Barack Obama.
The sophisticated relationship between North Korea and Iran has grave repercussions for the international community, as well as regional security and stability. If the international community is determined to counter North Korea, one effective approach would be to restrict or cut off its ties with Tehran.
This can be done by closely monitoring illicit weaponry and technological and nuclear cooperation. Ending such cooperation would significantly reduce the risk of Iran becoming a nuclear state, and would restrict its military adventurism.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.