Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons has grabbed the world’s attention in recent days, raising new questions over relations between states of concern. The list of such states includes North Korea and Syria, in particular regarding the possible proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Suspicions of this nature are notoriously hard to confirm. However, North Korea has been developing its nuclear and chemical weapons capacities since the mid-20th century, and many refugees and North Korea experts alike suspect that Pyongyang may have sold its substantial knowledge to Syria in exchange for foreign currency.
A one-time life science major from Pyongsung College of Natural Sciences and current head of the North Korea Strategic Information Service Center, Lee Yun Keol told Daily NK of his personal suspicions on the 11th, saying, “In my understanding, North Korea is researching chemical weapons that do things like causing genetic changes leading to lung dysfunction. This research is carried out in the Yongseong area of Pyongyang, Heungnam, Kanggye, and Songcheon.”
“Just as with nuclear weapons, they have probably looked at making it possible to load chemical weapons onto ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) and use them without regard for distance,” Lee mused. “The international community views North Korea’s nuclear weapons as the main threat, but the chemical weapons they possess need to be monitored, too.”
An anonymous North Korean refugee in his late 60s agreed, telling Daily NK, “There was this widespread rumor that North Korea was developing chemical weapons back in the late 1960s. The main researcher was said to be Dr. Lee Seung Ki from South Korea, and some cadres were even said to have bragged that they could kill millions of the enemy within ten minutes.”
“At the time, many people doubted whether Dr. Lee had really only developed Vinalon,” he added, referring to a notoriously inflexible oil-based fiber produced in North Korea at a similar time. “There were rumors going around that that Dr. Lee was helping to develop other weapons, also.”
Doctor Lee Seung Gi received his PhD in Applied Chemical Engineering from Kyoto University in 1939, and went on to work as head of the Engineering Department at Seoul National University. During the Korean War he was taken to the North.
Another refugee, this time from South Hamgyung Province, noted the story of Dr. Lee, explaining, “Many people said that Dr. Lee was pursuing chemical weapons development at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Hamheung. I even heard the story that Kim Il Sung had personally summoned him and given him tasks for weapons development.”
North Korea is not a party to the UN Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. The convention has 189 signatory states.