Since public disclosure by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) of its uranium enrichment program in 2002 and the subsequent restarting of its plutonium reactor, policymakers and academics have expressed concern that the DPRK will one day export nuclear material or components. An examination of North Korea's involvement in nonnuclear criminal activities shows that the DPRK has established sophisticated transnational smuggling networks, some of which involve terrorist groups and others that have been able to distribute counterfeit currency and goods on U.S. territory. These networks provide North Korea with a significant amount of much-needed hard currency, but the DPRK regime's control over them has decreased over time. These developments suggest that North Korea has both the means and motivation for exporting nuclear material, and that concerns over nuclear export from the DPRK, authorized or not, are well founded. When placed in the context of the global nuclear black market, the North Korea case suggests that criminal networks are likely to play an increased role in future proliferation. In addition, it raises the concern that proliferation conducted through illicit networks will not always be well controlled by the supplier state. It is therefore imperative to track and curtail illicit networks not only because of the costs they impose, but also because of the deterrent value of countersmuggling efforts. New strategies that integrate law enforcement, counterproliferation, and nonproliferation tools are likely to have the greatest success in addressing the risks posed by illicit proliferation networks.

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