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Oct 29, 1998 | 06:00 GMT

5 mins read

U.S. Gives Israel Permission To Begin Tech Transfer to North Korea


According to Israeli reports, the United States has given Israel permission to begin offering assistance to North Korea in agriculture, mining and technology. The United States, concerned that North Korea will begin selling the Dong-1 missile in the Middle East, has initiated a policy of support to North Korea designed to dissuade them from following this course. The new Israeli policy is the first step in the strategy. This represents a tremendous victory for Pyongyang, which has tried desperately to protect itself from external pressure.


According to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharnot, one of the outcomes of the recent discussions between Israel and the CIA has been that the United States has given Israel clearance to begin normalizing relations with North Korea. According to the report, the United States has given permission for Israel to provide the North Koreans with assistance in agriculture, mining and technology. The report states that this is part of a broader American strategy to help alleviate economic problems in North Korea and thus limit the North Korea's need to export its long-range missile, Tapeo Dong-1, to Iran, Syria and other countries in the Middle East.

It has been our view for several years now that North Korea, playing a very weak hand, has deliberately portrayed itself as being as dangerous as possible. The end of the Cold War and massive changes in Chinese domestic and foreign policy left North Korea both isolated and extremely vulnerable to both internal instability and external pressure. The North Koreans have deliberately crafted a policy to make them appear more ferocious than they are and more desperate as well. On one side, they wished to appear ready to go to war. On the other side, they tried to portray their internal conditions as so dangerous, that all-out war might be regarded as the more prudent option.

North Korea had two motives in this policy. The first was to dissuade outsiders, particularly South Korea and the United States, from bringing pressure to bear on North Korea. By portraying themselves as being on a hair-trigger, the North Koreans were creating a psychological deterrence pattern, in which their opponents would be afraid of their response to pressure, avoiding any actions which would possibly trigger a North Korean military response. The policy worked by the only measure we know: in spite of events in the Soviet Union and China, North Korea is still there, its regime intact. Its neighbors are anxious about its intentions, when the objective balance of power should actually have North Korea terrified of its neighbors. North Korea has played its hand well.

The launch of the Dong-1 has brought this policy to a new level. In the past, South Korea, the U.S. and Japan had to measure North Korea's likely response to pressure. Now, North Korea has pro-active capabilities beyond direct military action. The real threat posed by the Dong-1 is not that North Korea would use it against Japan or even South Korea. North Korea knows that the U.S. response to that would be devastating. Rather, the threat is that the North Koreans will sell it in areas of the world that are of fundamental strategic importance to the United States.

The presence of the Dong-1 in North Korea frightens the Japanese. From the American point of view, this is not altogether a bad thing since it makes Japan far more flexible on national security issues. Transferring the missiles to Iran, Syria or even Iraq is a much more disturbing prospect as the Dong-1 would have serious implications for U.S. strategic interests in the region. One of those implications would be for the national security of Israel. This disturbs the United States, not only because of its concern for Israel, but also because it might cause Israel to take military action against these countries to knock out the missiles. At a time when the United States is in a quiet courtship with Iran, an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran is the last thing the U.S. wants. Since the Israelis were signaling their willingness to do just that a few weeks ago, it became vital to the United States that North Korea be dissuaded from selling the missiles.

Now, the United States would find it difficult to make a direct approach to North Korea, offering technology transfer in exchange for limiting missile sales. But Israel can make such an approach. As has happened many times before, the United States is using Israel to transfer technology, in this case to North Korea in exchange for North Korea not selling missiles in the Middle East. The United States retains plausible deniability with South Korea and congress, the Israelis get a new market for their products and skills, and both countries get increased traction against North Korea.

The real winner, of course, is the North Korean regime, whose long-term policy has finally paid off. The vast investment in its military plant and advanced weapons technologies has gotten not only the rapt attention of the United States, but the badly needed economic and political payoff. Economically, North Korea will get access to technologies and assistance it badly needs from a country, Israel, with a real economic motive to provide it. Politically, North Korea increases the viability of its regime, not only by strengthening its economy but also by putting its enemies in a position where they are actually acting to strengthen the regime.

Israel has long been a major presence in Asia, not only in countries like Singapore but also in China, where many exchanges under the eye of the United States have taken place. Now this policy is merely being extended to a new venue. However, as we have said for several years now, we expect the North Korean communist regime to survive. With this new policy, while it may not actually flourish, it may do much better than it has done in the past.

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