Fox News reported on Monday that North Korea has been working on an international patent application for producing sodium cyanide, which can be used in nerve gas, with the help of a U.N. agency.
The agency in question, the World Intellectual Property Organization, has been assisting North Korea even though sodium cyanide exports to North Korea were banned by the U.N. Security Council over a decade ago.
There was much consternation in 2004 about a large shipment of the chemical to North Korea by a South Korean businessman, in apparent defiance of export control regimes for dual-use chemicals. The other use for sodium cyanide is extracting precious metals from ore, which is something else North Korea isn’t supposed to be doing.
According to Fox News, neither the Security Council nor the U.N. Panel of Experts, which is charged with reporting sanctions violations, was aware of the patent application until now.
Fox found the application by checking WIPO’s website. There, they found documents indicating North Korea began its application in November 2015, just a few months before it conducted its fourth illegal nuclear test.
More alarmingly, the latest document in the file is a declaration that North Korea is fit to apply for a patent on sodium cyanide production, dated just two days ago.
The Panel of Experts certainly seems alarmed by the discovery. Fox News was informed that an investigation into the application was opened immediately.
“This is a disturbing development that should be of great concern to the U.S. administration and to Congress, as well as the U.S. Representative to the U.N.,” said former Panel of Experts member William Newcomb. Another sanctions expert criticized the U.N. for not remaining alert to possible sanctions violations.
Still more alarming is that WIPO has done this sort of thing before, according to Fox News. The agency has a history of “casual and undeclared assistance, with potential WMD implications, to the bellicose and unstable North Korean regime.” Among the previous missteps was WIPO shipping sophisticated American computer hardware to North Korea and Iran, an imbroglio that ended with some of the whistleblowers losing their jobs.
With respect to the current matter, a WIPO spokesperson insisted full compliance with sanctions protocols would be maintained and the relevant U.N. oversight committees would be kept in the loop, even though they obviously have not been informed.
The Fox News piece delves into the curious legalities of the WIPO, which can apparently evade restrictions and resolutions that apply to U.N. member states because it is an “international organization.”
Fox raises the notion of common sense arguing against support for North Korea to patent a low-cost process for creating high-grade nerve gas components and countered with the supremely bureaucratic argument that WIPO is only concerned with helping patent-seekers comply with the fine points of the application process. Big-picture decisions about whether communist states should be manufacturing precursor chemicals to weapons of mass destruction are handled elsewhere.
Writing at the American Thinker, Clyde Ward argues that the concerns expressed by Fox News are overblown because the nerve agent created with sodium cyanide is less effective than other chemical weapons North Korea is known to possess, like sarin and VX.
He argues that North Korea probably would not have been foolish enough to seek the assistance of any U.N. agency if its ultimate goal was nerve gas production; on the contrary, he suggests applauding Pyongyang for “possibly the most compliant thing it’s ever done” by cooperating fully with WIPO.
Ward accuses U.S. media and politicians of attempting to fabricate a scare story that would make armed hostilities with North Korea more likely, and he more broadly accuses the world’s regulatory bodies of ineptly regulating dual-use chemicals with perfectly legitimate uses.