North Korea faces mounting pressure from world leaders to abandon its nuclear weapons program, meanwhile the reclusive communist regime’s chemical weapons stockpile is one of the largest in the world and, if deployed, could cause catastrophic loss of life.
North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un has stockpiled from 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, according to The Center for Nonproliferation Studies. The regime may either use these weapons as an opening move in a conflict or sell the technology and ingredients needed to produce them to the ISIS terrorist group.
“The chance that North Korea might provide jihadis with some of their chemical or nuclear capability is a huge concern at the moment,” Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commanding officer of the U.K. Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Regiment, told NBC.
“What some people forget … is that in 2006 North Korea helped [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad and his regime set up their own nuclear program, which was destroyed by the Israelis,” De Bretton-Gordon added. “But only as recently as a few weeks ago, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons intercepted two North Korean ships heading toward northern Syria with equipment to make chemical weapons.”
Nerve agents VX and sarin are the focus of Pyongyang’s chemical weapons production, according to the Sisa Journal. VX is considered the most toxic chemical weapon ever produced, with a microscopic amount of the substance enough to kill a human being according to De-Bretton-Gordon. According to the Federation of American Scientists, a 10-milligram dose of VX is enough to kill an average adult male, which means that North Korea may possess enough chemicals to kill millions.
Traces of VX were found in the body of Kim Jong Nam after he was assassinated at Kuala Lumpur Airport. VX does not evaporate quickly but is deadly when it comes in contact with skin, even if microscopic amounts.
North Korea is one of six nations that never signed or acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Pyongyang claims not to possess any chemical weapons and has signed the Geneva Protocol, which prohibits the use of chemical weapons in warfare, but does not prohibit stockpiling them.
As sanctions on North Korea intensify, De Bretton-Gordon fears that Kim may sell part of his chemical weapons stockpile to ISIS terrorists in order to stay afloat.
“We know that the jihadis have a lot of money and only last year tried to buy highly enriched uranium from Russian criminals for $40 million a kilogram,” he said. “So, would Kim Jong Un sell deadly VX for $40 million a kilogram? I think absolutely they would the more that they get pushed.”
But a sale to terrorist groups is unlikely to occur, according to professor Hazel Smith at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. North Korea values state sovereignty, Smith said, and is thus unlikely to deal with non-state terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.
“Given the level of surveillance over their shipping activities it’s also unlikely they would be able to, or try to transport weapons,” Smith said.
If Kim doesn’t peddle the chemical weapons to terrorists, he could still use them in open conflict. His missile program has already developed rockets that can travel thousands of miles. A warhead containing half a ton of VX could be attached to a missile, creating a weapon that can kill tens of thousands of people, de Bretton-Gordon said.
“I think we now know that they have 5,000 tons of VX,” de Bretton-Gordon said. “We are focusing on the nuclear … but whatever military option there is [for dealing with] North Korea, it must include mitigating and destroying that very large stock of VX that we know of.”