Satellite images taken this month suggest that North Korea is readying to show off yet another arsenal of long-range ballistic missiles. Analysts say the potential unveiling is likely to coincide with the country’s military parade next month. The celebrations will mark the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Images of the training grounds where parade rehearsals have taken place in the past show large temporary structures in places which appear big enough to conceal from view the North’s largest and longest-range missiles.
The North has long been on a campaign of expanding its missile collection – an expensive endeavour for any nation.
Supreme leader Kim Jong-un has near total control over the state coffers, with the North’s economy described as one of the world’s “most centrally directed and least open” and faces “chronic economic problems,” according to the CIA World Factbook.
The factbook projected data from a 1999 OECD study to estimate North Korea’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011 to be $1,800 (£1,400) per capita. It puts growth at 0.8 percent.
However, UN estimates for 2011 put per capita GDP at $506 (£391) and growth at -0.1.
Things are made more difficult as most countries around the world have imposed trading sanctions on the North.
It has led the North to become reliant on trade through China, which accounts for 67.2 percent of the country’s exports and 61.6 percent of imports according to 2011 data.
Other countries and blocs like South Korea, India, and the EU make up the rest of the North’s official imports and exports.
However, North Korea is understood to secretly trade and have money-making operations elsewhere in the world, mainly exporting weapons to countries such as Iran and African nations.
The illicit trade has allowed the dictatorship to amass considerable wealth.
During the 1980s, North Korea emerged as a legal arms trader to primarily Third World countries.
It exported inexpensive, technically unsophisticated, but reliable weapons, according to a US Foreign Policy document dated October 1991.
While the Iran-Iraq war waged, some 90 percent of arms exports from the North went directly and indirectly to Iran, and between 1981 and 1989, the Kim family reeled in an astonishing $4billion (£3.8bn) from arms sales.
It also has a track record in proliferating nuclear and missile technology and, in 2001, reports suggested the country made sales of around $550million (£425m).
Modern-day UN sanctions on North Korea now ban its sale of all arms, although an intricate network of indirect sales and multiple middlemen has made a way for the North to
In a 2014 UN report, Syria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia and Iran were all suspected to have bought weapons from North Korea.
It isn’t just arms the North has used to build its economic empire.
The state is believed to have businesses around the world, who use frontmen to disguise the real beneficiary.
Earlier this year, a German court ruled that a Kim-owned hostel in the heart of Berlin had to shut down.
circumvent the sanctions and use front companies and embassies to traffic weapons.
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German media said City Hostel Berlin was run by a Turkish hotelier who pays more than €38,000 (£32,000) a month in rent to North Korea.
The embassy also drove income from a conference hall at the site.
The move was in line with UN sanctions aimed at curbing Pyongyang‘s nuclear weapons capability.
What is known as “Room 39” or “Office 39” has also attracted much attention in recent years – a centralised government organisation that seeks to maintain the foreign currency slush fund of Kim.
The Office is claimed to oversee the government’s illegal activities such as counterfeiting and drug production, and allegedly has 17 overseas branches, 100 trading companies and banks under its control, according to Daily NK.
The Office’s assets alone are thought to total to some $5billion (£3.8bn).
Despite all of this, North Korea is constantly on the brink of economic fallout.
The country regularly faces droughts and extreme weather, as reported earlier this month after Typhoon Maysak devastated swathes of the country.
The UN estimates that more than 10million people – around 40 percent of the population – face severe food shortages in such disasters.
After a drought last year, an assessment by the UN suggested North Koreans were living on just 300g of food per person a day.
In the 1990s, a devastating famine is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of people.
China regularly sends aid to the North, providing 240,074 tonnes of food aid in 2012.
That was more than 80 times the amount the European Commission handed North Korea that year.