Drugs, Counterfeiting, and Weapons Proliferation: The North Korea Connection

Testimony of Robert Gallucci, Georgetown University, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, May, 20 2003.

Mr. Chairman, and members of the Subcommittee, let me begin by expressing my appreciation to the Subcommittee for giving me this opportunity to appear at this important hearing.

The issue today concerns North Korea's activities in counterfeiting and drug trade, and the connection between those activities and the North's nuclear weapons development program. It is easy to argue that the United States and the international community should act to prevent the North Koreans from selling illicit drugs and passing counterfeit currency, independent of any concern about the implications of such trade for the North's nuclear program. At the same time, it stands to reason that the hard currency that flows to Pyongyang as a result of that trade contributes to the North's ability to fund military capabilities of all kinds, including nuclear activity, and thus adds to the threat posed by North Korea to the United States and its allies, South Korea and Japan. So, if we needed an additional argument to look for ways to interdict that traffic, its contribution to the nuclear and ballistic missile programs of the DPRK would be a good one.

That said, it would not be a good idea to turn the argument around and claim that an effort aimed at the interdiction of the drug and counterfeit currency trade should be expected to be an effective way of preventing the North from building a nuclear weapons arsenal. If Pyongyang places a sufficiently high value on producing fissile material -- separating plutonium from spent fuel already in storage and from fuel currently being irradiated, and enriching uranium in their gas centrifuge program -- it is not likely that it will be prevented from doing so by denying it the profits of this illicit trade. The cost of these weapons programs is relatively small as compared to the cost of sustaining the North's large conventional forces and, moreover, there is no reason to believe that Pyongyang would not also make brutal trade-offs against the needs of the civilian sector to fund the nuclear weapons program.

Indeed, the principal danger of an international effort led by the United States to stop the North Korean traffic in drugs and counterfeit money is that we and others in the international community might delude ourselves into believing that we had hit upon an effective way of preventing the threat posed by the North's acquisition of a nuclear weapons arsenal. This effort would not address that concern.

Unfortunately, the choices available today to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program remain much as they were a decade ago: first, we can resort to force and risk a war with horrendous casualties; second, we can "manage" the problem by containing North Korea and accepting it as a nuclear weapons state, with all that implies for nuclear weapons acquisition by South Korea and Japan, the sale of fissile material to terrorists and the mating of nuclear weapons with ballistic missiles that could eventually reach California; or third, we can attempt to negotiate a verifiable end to the North's nuclear weapons program, while coping with all the rhetorical baggage about appeasement and blackmail that has been attached to that course. I would recommend that we test North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons program by at least attempting the last option before pursuing either of the first two.