By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Revelations that a North Korean missile fired by Russia in Ukraine contained a large number of components linked to U.S.-based companies underscore the difficulty of enforcing sanctions against Pyongyang, but could help uncover procurement networks. illicit, experts say.

Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a UK-based organization that traces the origins of weapons used in conflicts, examined the remains of a North Korean ballistic missile used by Russia against Ukrainian forces in Kharkiv on January 2.

In a report released this week, it said it examined electronic components, including the missile’s navigation system, and found that many were recently manufactured and bore brand names from U.S.-based companies.

It said 75% of the documented components were “linked to companies incorporated in the United States,” 16% to companies in Europe and 11% to companies in Asia.

Component date codes indicated that more than three-quarters were produced between 2021 and 2023 and that the missile could not have been assembled before March of last year, according to the report.

Sanctions experts said the findings were not surprising even though the United States has for years led international efforts to restrict North Korea’s ability to obtain parts and financing for its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

The CAR said its findings showed how difficult it is to control the export of commercial electronic components and how dependent countries such as North Korea, Russia and Iran are on imported technology.

“North Korea (and Russia and Iran) are experts at avoiding U.N. and U.S. sanctions through front companies and other efforts,” said Anthony Ruggiero of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington. who led North Korea sanctions efforts during the Trump administration.

“While US sanctions are strong on paper, they must be enforced to be effective,” he said, highlighting the need for Washington and its allies to continually update sanctions lists and spend on their enforcement.

“We’re not going to do either with respect to sanctions on North Korea,” he said, adding that the Biden administration particularly needed to do more to target Chinese companies, individuals and banks that help evade sanctions.

The Central African Republic said it was working with industry to trace the missile’s components and identify the entities responsible for its diversion to North Korea, so it would not identify companies linked to its production. It also did not identify specific components.

Martyn Williams of 38 North, a North Korean project based in Washington, said many components made by American companies were readily available online or in electronics markets around the world.

“That North Korea could obtain them is not surprising at all, and I don’t think anyone imagined that the sanctions regime would be able to stop the flow of common components,” he said.

“However, there are much more specialized components in the missiles and some of them are not a click away on the Internet. That is also the type of thing that sanctions are intended to stop, so the presence of more specialized components would be more worrying”.

Katsu Furukawa, a former member of the U.N. Panel of Experts in charge of monitoring U.N. sanctions against North Korea, said most of the components shown in a photo of the Central African Republic report appeared to be widely available commercial items. .

However, in previous UN investigations, he said, there were usually some specific items, such as pressure transmitters and flight control computers, that allowed investigators to trace acquisition routes and identify perpetrators.

38 North director Jenny Town said these specialist items could only be sourced from a small number of suppliers and should have more documentary records of procurement.

The U.S. State Department said Washington uses export controls, sanctions and law enforcement actions to prevent North Korea from acquiring technology for its weapons programs and to prevent Russia from acquiring such weapons.

“We are working closely with the American private sector, as well as allied states and foreign partners, on these efforts,” a spokesperson said.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Don Durfee and Daniel Wallis)

By Sam