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Target Markets: North Korea’s Military Customers in the Sanctions Era (WHP 84)

Andrea Berger
Whitehall Papers, 8 December 2015
Proliferation and Nuclear Policy, North Korea, Proliferation and Nuclear Policy
Despite a decade-long UN arms embargo, North Korea continues to export conventional weapons to state and non-state clients around the world. Understanding the drivers of this trade is essential if the sanctions regime is to be strengthened.

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A UN arms embargo has been in place against North Korea for nearly a decade, as part of a broader sanctions regime designed to deny it the goods and funds needed to fuel its nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile programmes. Yet despite these sanctions, a host of state and non-state actors continue to buy arms, materiel and services from Pyongyang – and inject funds into the same coffers that drive North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. While some of North Korea’s military customers in the sanctions era since 2006 are well known – such as Iran, Syria and Burma – Pyongyang’s wider client base receives little international attention. North Korea has continued to enjoy access to other defence markets across Africa and the Middle East.

The drivers of these clients’ decisions to buy weapons and related goods from North Korea are rarely discussed. This gap in analysis is essential to fill. If tailored and effective approaches are to be developed to convince North Korea’s customers to buy elsewhere, they must be based on a sound understanding of the considerations that motivated the client to turn to Pyongyang in the first place.

Target Markets comprehensively analyses the available information on these procurement decisions. It concludes, contrary to conventional wisdom, that the reasons that customers buy weapons and related goods and services from North Korea vary, often greatly. This study also concludes that one of the greatest achievements of the UN sanctions regime to date has been to deny North Korea access to modern conventional weapons technology that it can learn to manufacture at home and sell on to its clients around the world. Without more contemporary wares to tempt foreign buyers, North Korea will likely continue to see its client list for weapons and related goods and services shrinking.

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I. North Korea in the Global Arms Market

II. North Korea’s Contemporary Defence-Export Industry

III. Resilient Customers




Democratic Republic of the Congo          



Armed Palestinian Organisations and Hizbullah

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

IV. Reluctant Customers



V. Ad Hoc Customers

Republic of the Congo   



VI. Know Your Customer

Conclusion: Remaining Seized of the Matter

Appendix A: North Korean Brochure for AT-4 Anti-Tank Missile

Appendix B: Brochure for Gafat Armament Industry


Andrea Berger is the Deputy Director of the Proliferation and Nuclear Policy programme at the Royal United Services Institute, where she is also a Senior Research Fellow. Her research focuses on non-proliferation, arms control and sanctions policy, and she takes special interest in the operations of proliferation networks. Andrea has worked extensively on North Korean nuclear issues, having led RUSI’s engagement with the Korean Workers’ Party, Korean People’s Army, and the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs over a number of years, both in London and Pyongyang. Prior to joining RUSI, Andrea worked in non-proliferation research at the International Centre for Security Analysis. She has also worked for the Government of Canada in a number of analytical capacities, latterly in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

Andrea Berger
Associate Fellow

Andrea Berger is a Senior Analyst in the Canadian Privy Council Office, which serves the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Prior to... read more

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