The recent unveiling of North Korea’s Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), notable for its use of solid rocket fuel, has sparked fresh speculation about Russia’s potential role in the secretive state’s rapid missile advancements.
A report published by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, authored by Dr. Theodore Postol, suggests that the technical cooperation behind the Hwasong-18 may have been influenced by Russia.
The Hwasong-18 ICBM, which completed two tests, including its longest flight on July 12, is the North’s first to utilize solid propellants.
These propellants enable quicker and more convenient missile deployment during warfare, representing a significant leap in North Korea’s missile capabilities.
Dr. Postol’s report raises the possibility of Russia contributing to this development by transferring advanced technology, possibly the “Topol-M,” to North Korea.
However, Russia and North Korea have both denied arms dealings, and skepticism has arisen in response to the CSIS report. Analysts from California’s James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) identified factual inaccuracies in the report, questioning Dr. Postol’s conclusions.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan expressed the Biden administration’s concerns about potential missile cooperation between Russia and North Korea.
While he refrained from confirming the CSIS report’s validity, Sullivan noted that the intelligence community was examining the matter closely.
He also highlighted Russia’s history of seeking material support from countries like North Korea in exchange for security cooperation.
Debating Russia’s Role in North Korea’s Hwasong-18 Missile
The CNS researchers acknowledged design inspirations from Russian missiles in the Hwasong-18’s development but emphasized distinct differences that argue against the complete transfer of an ICBM system from Russia.
They pointed to Chinese design elements and North Korea’s history of publicly developing solid-fuel missiles since 2017.
Experts like Markus Schiller, a missile specialist, agreed that the CSIS report had significant flaws but stressed that the missile’s configuration and successful test suggested Russia’s possible involvement.
North Korea’s missile program has historical roots in Soviet and Russian assistance. While the level of assistance post-1990s remains debated, the recent Hwasong-18 developments, along with their resemblances to prior Soviet designs, underscore the complexities of international technology sharing and intelligence gathering.
The extent of Russia’s role, if any, in North Korea’s missile advancements continues to be a topic of intense scrutiny, revealing the intricate dynamics at play in global security and arms development.
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