As North Korea continues to push forward with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programme, one wonders how the country acquired its scientific know-how that has allowed it to progress so quickly.
Earlier this year, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear weapons test, and just recently it successfully launched a ballistic missile from a submarine, which is just the latest in a recent series of tests.
An Al-Jazeera investigation in June found that North Korea has sent 30 scientists to India between 1995 and 2016 to study at the Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTEAP). The first of these North Korean students is now serving in India as the North Korean embassy’s new first secretary.
CSSTEAP was established by the United Nations to ensure all countries gain expertise in space science and technology application. In 2006, the UN issued sanctions prohibiting member countries from providing technical training related to nuclear development to North Korea.
India, despite the sanctions in place continued to provide technical training as well as illegally transferred knowledge about satellite communications to the North Koreans. In March 2016, an annual UN Security Council report found that the training India provided to the North Koreans scientists directly helped them in their development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Almost all of the North Korean graduates of India’s CSSTEAP have gone on to senior level positions in North Korea.
The Al-Jazeera investigation found that “after finishing his course in India, Hong Yong-il, the official at the North Korean embassy in Delhi, went on to head a research group on remote sensing technology at the State Commission for Science and Technology, where he worked until his assignment in India.”
The UN Security Council has asked India’s explanation following the exposé. India has thus far played dumb, claiming to be looking into the matter. A former Indian ambassador to North Korea said that India would never “knowingly violate US sanctions.”
This is not true. Despite the US sanctions on Iran, following the September 2009 revelation that Iran had built uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, India continued to import oil from Iran, and conducted business as usual. India has also ignored the US sanctions on Russia following the 2013 crisis in Ukraine. To this day, even as the Obama administration prolongs sanctions on Russia over Ukraine crisis, India continues to have normal relations with the Russians.
India’s credentials on non-proliferation must be questioned, and the international community should scrutinise the country’s nuclear related activities further. This is imperative because New Delhi is striving hard to gain membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a cartel that was created in 1975 owing to Indian proliferation that led to its first nuclear weapons test in 1974. The 48-member group should take serious note of India’s ongoing and past proliferation activities before deciding further expansion in its members.
Over the past three decades, India has had a number of nuclear accidents, including a major leak earlier this year at a nuclear facility in Gujarat. India is also at the bottom of the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s ranking for prevention of theft. India’s nuclear materials security is also questionable because it lacks an independent nuclear regulatory authority.
The latest NTI report also states: “India’s nuclear materials security conditions remain adversely affected by its continued increase in quantities of nuclear material, high levels of corruption among public officials, and the presence of groups interested in and capable of illicitly acquiring nuclear materials.”
India has failed time and again to meet the non-proliferation obligations it made to the Bush administration in 2008. They have not separated civilian and military reactors; have not placed all of their so-called civil nuclear reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards in accordance with their September 2008 commitment to the IAEA.
India continues to produce fissile material at an alarming rate. Adrian Levy, an investigative journalist from the Guardian, reported last year that India is building a top-secret nuclear city that is devoted to producing thermonuclear weapons. Imagine if India passes this knowledge on to North Korea unintentionally, as they claim they might have done in the past.
The 2016 UNSC report and the Al-Jazeera investigation prove that India helped train North Korean nuclear scientists and was also complicit in the transfer of knowledge, a clear violation of UN sanctions. India is trying to make a fool out of the international community by claiming that it had no idea what it was doing, and if North Korean scientists were trained, it was unintentional. While absorbing India in the non-proliferation with this poor track record, the world would likewise have ‘no idea what it [would be] doing’ – harming the regime irreversibly.
It does not matter whether India knew that it was training North Korean nuclear scientists or not; the fact is that their actions and poor nuclear non-proliferation, safety, and security record proves that they are an irresponsible nuclear state.
The international community should take immediate action to prevent India from further vertical (increasing its numbers) and horizontal proliferation (sharing the nuclear, missile and space technology with others).
The writer is an assistant professor at NUST in Islamabad.
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