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A group of UN experts is currently examining 58 potential cyberattacks from North Korea that occurred from 2017 to 2023, totaling around $3 billion in value. Allegedly, this money was utilized to support the country’s development of weapons of mass destruction.
According to a recent report given to the UN Security Council, there has been ongoing and significant cyberattacks carried out by North Korean hacking groups affiliated with the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is the main foreign intelligence agency in North Korea. This information was obtained on Friday by The Associated Press.
A report was submitted to the 15-member council, covering the time frame of July 2023 to January 2024. It included contributions from various UN member countries and other sources. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s recent actions, including threats towards South Korea and weapons demonstrations, have increased tensions in the region. As a result, the United States, South Korea, and Japan have ramped up their joint military exercises.
In light of rising military and political tensions in the Korean Peninsula, specialists noted that North Korea has persistently disregarded United Nations sanctions, advanced its nuclear arsenal, and created nuclear materials essential for constructing weapons.
According to specialists, it has been observed that a light-water reactor located at North Korea’s primary nuclear site, Yongbyon, seems to be functioning. The defense minister of South Korea stated in late December that the reactor is expected to be officially operational by summer, raising concerns that North Korea may utilize it as a fresh source of materials for developing nuclear weapons.
North Korea has long produced weapons-grade plutonium from its widely known 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon. The light-water reactor would be an additional source of bomb fuels, and observers say its bigger capacity could allow it to produce more plutonium. Yongbyon has a uranium enrichment facility as well.
The committee stated that there were ongoing activities at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Officials from the US and South Korea believe that North Korea is getting ready to carry out its seventh nuclear test at the site, which would be the first since 2017.
Estimations on the quantity of nuclear weapons in North Korea differ, with some sources citing 20-60 and others suggesting more than 100. Analysts believe that North Korea has the ability to produce six to 18 new bombs annually. Following the breakdown of diplomatic relations with the United States in 2019, Kim Jong Un has consistently pledged to increase their nuclear arsenal and implement advanced weaponry to counter what he perceives as growing hostility from the U.S.
During the six-month period from July to January, the panel reported that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – also known as North Korea – fired a total of seven ballistic missiles. Among these were one three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile, one possibly being an intermediate-range missile, and five short-range ballistic missiles.
According to experts, the DPRK was able to launch a military observation satellite into orbit after two previous unsuccessful tries. Additionally, they have upgraded a diesel submarine to serve as a “tactical nuclear attack submarine” for their military forces.
The group responsible for overseeing UN sanctions against North Korea reported that the country is still bringing in refined petroleum products despite Security Council resolutions. They are using deceptive tactics to avoid sanctions on maritime trade.
Experts reported that the DPRK’s trade volume in 2023 exceeded the previous year’s total, with a diverse range of consumer goods, some of which may be considered luxury items and are prohibited by UN sanctions.
The committee stated that it is currently looking into claims made by member countries regarding the provision of weapons and ammunition by the DPRK in defiance of UN sanctions.
Last month, the United States, Ukraine, and six other allies accused Russia of violating UN sanctions by using North Korean ballistic missiles and launchers to carry out destructive aerial attacks on Ukraine.
In November, South Korea’s military reported that they believed North Korea had sent an unknown amount of short-range ballistic missiles, anti-tank missiles, and portable anti-air missiles to Russia. This shipment also included rifles, rocket launchers, mortars, and shells, which goes against UN sanctions.
In the span of six months, the specialists stated that developments involved North Korea focusing on defense companies and supply chains, as well as an escalation in the sharing of infrastructure and tools.
The committee also looked into allegations of multiple North Korean citizens being employed abroad, specifically in fields such as information technology, dining establishments, and building projects. These individuals were found to be earning money that went against the regulations set by the United Nations.
In another instance of breaking sanctions, it was reported that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is still able to use the global financial system for illegal financial activities.
The UN sanctions were not intended to harm the average citizens of North Korea, however, the panel stated that there is evidence that the sanctions and their enforcement have had an unintended impact on humanitarian conditions and aid efforts. However, they also mentioned that it is difficult to determine the specific impact of the sanctions as there are many other contributing factors.