In early April 2003 a team of Australian Special Forces troops backed by Australian police boarded the North Korean ship
Pong Su. The joint military-police operation nailed all 30 members of the crew on charges of heroin smuggling.
The ship, intercepted just north of Sydney, had been under covert surveillance by Australian customs officials. Four days
prior to the seizure by Australian military force, the Pong Su was videotaped offloading 50 kilograms of heroin to a small
dinghy. Australian law enforcement officers arrested the four suspects who carried the heroin ashore.
International law enforcement and intelligence experts believe the capture of the Pong Su represents a small part of an
organized effort by the North Korean government to fund itself using illegal narcotics. The experts believe that North Korea
is using narcotics as a way of earning foreign currency to pay for its large military and non-conventional weapons programs.
In March, Japanese Defense Forces (JDF) boarded a North Korean fishing boat inside territorial waters and seized hundreds
of pounds of methamphetamines. The capture of a North Korean flag vessel carrying narcotics has resulted in several Japanese
politicians accusing Pyongyang of "state-organized crime."
Illegal Drugs for Weapons
According to South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS), North Korea operates a narcotics-processing factory inside
a legitimate pharmaceutical facility called Nanam. The drug factory was established in 1993 at the specific instruction of
late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung.
The NIS issued a report estimating that the North earns up to $100 million each year from its illegal opium-related drugs
trade. The report also stated that in recent years it has shifted to the production of methamphetamines.
The Bush administration is very aware of the North Korean-narcotics connection. The U.S. State Department recently released
an annual report on the worldwide drugs trade, noting that the North Korean regime cultivates opium illicitly and refines
it into heroin for export.
The State Department report stated that North Korea also manufactures illegal methamphetamines as a state-organized and
state-directed activity aimed at earning revenue.
The State Department report noted official accounts of uniformed North Korean personnel transferring drugs from North Korean
vessels to traffickers' boats. Two major drug busts in 2002, off the coasts of Taiwan and Japan, involved at-sea rendezvous
between smugglers and ships manned by uniformed North Koreans.
Some North Korean intelligence experts believe that the tiny nation is not capable of producing enough opium to fuel the
illegal international market. This belief is based on its geographic location, weather patterns and limited cultivation area
available to Pyongyang.
However, the estimate has led U.S. intelligence services to re-examine North Korea's relationship with Pakistan. The Pakistani
military and Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency has direct connections to Afghanistan's opium crop. Afghanistan is the
world's largest opium producer and could not export its illegal narcotics without the help of the Pakistani ISI.
In recent years, Islamabad has acquired several dozen North Korean No Dong ballistic missiles. Pakistan, itself a poor
country, could hardly afford to pay North Korea for the missile shipments. At least a portion of Pakistan's payment for the
North Korean missile technology could be in the form of Afghan opium.
Japan Reacts to Threat
The March narcotics seizure inside Japan's home waters was in the same area in which, in 2002, a firefight erupted between
a North Korean navy patrol boat and a Japanese Defense Force ship. The 2002 incident led to the sinking of the North Korean
boat, which was later recovered by Japanese navy divers.
According to JDF sources, the North Korean patrol boat was heavily armed with cannons, rocket-propelled grenade launchers
and SA-14 shoulder-fired surface to air missiles. Japanese military officials were also surprised to find the North Korean
ship equipped with advanced radios, GPS navigation gear and electronic surveillance equipment purchased from Western countries.
Japan has reacted to the sudden expansion of North Korean military power in the region by orbiting a surveillance satellite
capable of tracking missile, air and sea activity. In addition, Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba has ordered the JDF
to study the introduction of the U.S.-made Tomahawk missile.
The Tomahawk study and satellite launch are reactions by Tokyo to North Korea's Tae Po Dong missile tests and Pyongyang's
recent admission that it has a nuclear weapons program.
The Japanese air force is also seeking funding in fiscal 2004 for the Patriot PAC 3 missiles. The order follows the PAC
3 success in the U.S. Iraqi Freedom operation. Japan will seek to manufacture the PAC 3 missiles under license by Mitsubishi
Taiwan Seeking Regional Alliance
Japan is not the only nation seeking to beef up its defenses in the Asian theater. Officials from Taiwan's ruling Democratic
Progressive Party and the Japanese Diet Consultative Council recently convened a seminar in Taipei to discuss post-stability
in the Asia-Pacific region.
Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian stated that democracy, security and economic stability are the three mainstays in supporting
the prosperity and peace of the region.
"Because Japan and Taiwan share common interests and challenges [including] economy and security issues due to geographic
proximities, it is of greater importance for the two sides to strive for better regional security through party cooperation,"
stated Taiwanese President Chen.
Chen noted that the recent missile tests by North Korea and China's growing military expansion were threats to Asia-Pacific
regional security. He urged the inclusion of Taiwan in the future establishment of a security mechanism in the region led
by the U.S., South Korea and Japan.
adapted from NewsMax.com