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Are North Korean Missiles Guided by Russia's Hands?

Published: September 8, 2000 (Issue # 601)


AT the moment, some of the world's leading experts on missile technology are intensively studying an explosive theory about North Korea's infamous missiles.

It is a hypothesis with far-reaching ramifications for American diplomacy, but also one that sounds almost like a Hollywood movie script.

It goes like this: The North Korean missiles - the ones that frightened Japan and prompted the United States to begin thinking seriously about missile-defense systems - aren't really North Korean at all. They're Russian, secretly built with Russian components and the active and ongoing help of some errant Russian scientists inside North Korea.

Under this theory (and here's the Hollywood plot), a rogue team of Russian missile scientists - thrown out of work after the collapse of the Soviet Union - may have moved to North Korea. And there, for profit or glory or both, they have directed the North Korean program - with the North Koreans themselves doing little more than putting the pieces together.

The missile experts who have been gathering evidence to support this theory phrase it in much drier terms, of course.

"It must be concluded that various Russian companies - not necessarily the Russian government - and North Korean authorities are closely cooperating in the missile programs," wrote German missile-technology specialist Dr. Robert H. Schmucker in a recent paper.

"From these [Russian] institutions, North Korea received everything necessary to manufacture or assemble missiles. ... The future of North Korea's work and success depends completely on the Russian involvement."

Timothy McCarthy, senior analyst at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, says he has been quietly examining for months the possibility that some Russians are continuing to provide key components for the North Korean missiles.

There is no evidence to suggest that the Russian government has been involved. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang last July and suggested afterward that North Korea might be willing to abandon missile development if other nations would launch North Korean satellites.

Still, if even individual Russian scientists or factories were privately helping to produce the North Korean missiles, there would be important implications for U.S. foreign policy.

"If the North Korean program isn't viable without Russian components, then you'd have to look at Russia, not North Korea, for the solution to the problem," McCarthy said.

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Tuesday, Sept. 30


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