Egypt Still a Weak Link in North Korea Arms Embargo

Earlier this month U.S. and Egyptian authorities blocked an illegal arms shipment heading from North Korea to Cairo. It is unfortunately just yet another big leak in the North Korean embargo.

The shipment came in the form of a freight ship named Jie Shun that bore a Cambodian flag, and was heading on its way to Cairo at the end of September.

U.S. intelligence sources had recently learned of a ship heading to an unknown destination near Egypt. That ship reportedly had a North Korean crew and unknown cargo. The U.S. notified Egypt of the shipment in secret. Egyptian customs agents seized the ship at the Suez Canal, then proceeded to dig through what was really on board.

What they found was an illegal cargo of 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades provided by North Korea. They were hidden under layers of iron ore.

The shipment, which the United Nations announced soon afterwards said was the “largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, was valued at approximately $23 million. It was apparently ordered and/or coordinated with an as-yet unnamed Egyptian businessman.

While no public pronouncements of blame in the matter have yet been made public, this and other similar leakages in trade between North Korea and Egypt are behind why the Trump administration slowed down an estimated $300 million in military aid for Egypt.

On its side, Egypt continues to proclaim its innocence in the matter, calling what happened the actions of individuals within the country and not at all related to a weakly-held public policy against North Korea. According to a statement released from the Egyptian Embassy in the United States – after this latest arms seizure, “Egypt will continue to abide by all Security Council resolutions and will always be in conformity with these resolutions as they restrain military purchases from North Korea”.

Besides North Korea, Egypt is far from the only ‘bad actor’ in international global arms deals. Saudi Arabia, along with suppliers the United Kingdom and the United States, the latter being the single largest arms merchant in the world, are also feeding the arms value chain for unsanctioned and illegal military activity. The Saudis and the U.S. have in particular been directly implicated in the arming of regional terrorists when it suits their objectives, yet despite the sanctions against North Korea -- which are clearly justified -- there are no similar ones even being called for against the Saudis or the U.S. Together all of them, especially with the U.S. being so deeply attached to nuclear weapons as part of its arsenal, are helping make the world more unstable and more at risk than in the past several decades.

Despite the many other sources of weaponry, North Korea’s ability to get so close to a successful illegal shipment of rocket-driven grenades into Egypt just underscores how poorly international sanctions are really working. Even with intelligence as good as what the U.S. uncovered that stopped these arms, there are likely many others successfully making their way to their intended recipients. That in the end is the most worrisome aspect of what just happened here regarding the Jie Shun and the 30,000 grenades.