The United Nations Panel of Experts, in its latest report to the Security Council released Thursday, disclosed that North Korea “continued to enhance its nuclear and missile programs” even during the period of diplomatic efforts for denuclearization. The panel also assessed that the North continued to operate nuclear facilities including the Yongbyon uranium enrichment facility, and achieved clear progress on its missile development. In particular, the regime used cyberspace to launch attacks on cryptocurrency to generate income, according to the report.
The report reveals that North Korea, despite a hiatus on nuclear testing and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) development, has continuously enhanced its nuclear and missile programs. It is still enlarging its weapons inventory by producing nuclear materials such as highly enriched uranium, and its “capacity to penetrate ballistic missile defense systems” has reportedly increased. The North is also likely to use a series of short-range missile launches it conducted lately as a bargaining card in future nuclear talks with the United States.
Moreover, Pyongyang’s hacking into cryptocurrency exchange served as a new means to raise money for the Kim Jong Un regime, the panel said. The North’s cyber actors attacked “financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges and mining activity designed to earn foreign currency” on “at least 35 instances” in 17 countries, with “some estimates placing the amount illegally acquired by the regime at as much as 2 billion dollars.” The panel also noted the use of more sophisticated evasion techniques, including “physical disguise, the use of small vessels without IMO numbers, name-changing, and night transfers,” which allowed the regime to procure luxury cars and goods.
All these happened during the period when parties concerned, including at the highest levels, continued diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Despite a series of high-profile summits between the two Koreas and the United States since last year, no actual progress has been made on the denuclearization front. This means that in the end, these were just political shows for the regime to buy time. However, North Korea’s con game through which it carries out provocations while refusing to talk, cannot last long. In the world of international relations, disillusionment and transition always happen in an unexpected and dramatic way. Just like the way nuclear talks began last year.