I was watching the latest North Korean video on its military parade. Looks like they have developed an impressive arsenal, and more importantly, a formidable defense industry.

Can any country purchase conventional arms from North Korea?

Or, is it forbidden?

  • 5
    What are you thinking of getting?
    – Strawberry
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 14:07

3 Answers 3


Can any country purchase arms from North Korea?

Yes, any country can purchase arms from North Korea.

Or, is it forbidden?

Yes, It's forbidden.

It is forbidden because of various sanctions, but they can sell to anyone (or anyone can buy from them) by using bypassing techniques.


  1. Wikipedia page Sanctions against North Korea
  • The European Union has imposed a series of sanctions against North Korea since 2006. These include: embargoing arms and related materials, banning the export of aviation and rocket fuel to North Korea.

  • The UN Security Council has passed a number of resolutions since North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006. Resolution 1718, passed in 2006, demanded that North Korea cease nuclear testing and prohibited the export of some military supplies and luxury goods to North Korea. Resolution 1874, passed after the second nuclear test in 2009, broadened the arms embargo. Member states were encouraged to inspect ships and destroy any cargo suspected of being related to the nuclear weapons program. Resolution 2087, passed in January 2013 after a satellite launch, strengthened previous sanctions by clarifying a state's right to seize and destroy cargo suspected of heading to or from North Korea for purposes of military research and development.

  • According to the United Nations Panel of Experts in April 2019, North Korea had developed a number of techniques and a complex web of organizations to enable it to evade the sanctions. The techniques included falsification of documents and covert ship-to-ship transfers of cargo at sea.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Security_Council_Resolution_1718
  • UNSCR 1718 banned a range of imports and exports to North Korea and imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on persons involved in the country’s nuclear program. This trade ban included “battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems.”

  1. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/north-korea-has-made-billions-dollars-selling-weapons-around-world-166542
  • According to a 2019 UN report, North Korea has developed a sophisticated criminal network to continue selling arms through a diverse cast of proxies, front companies, and foreign middlemen. In recent years, North Korea became a leading arms supplier to the Houthi movement in Yemen, as well as militant groups in Uganda and Sudan, mainly by funneling its merchandise through a Syrian company registered to arms trafficker Hussein al-Ali. Pyongyang has likewise succeeded in cultivating valuable ties at the highest echelons of the Libyan Defense Ministry, resulting in an arms contract that O Chol Su, the Deputy Minister of DPRK’s Ministry of Military Equipment, described as necessary “for the required defence systems and ammunition needed to maintain stability of Libya.”

  • North Korea also heads a robust maritime smuggling ring. In what the UN described as the "largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea,” customs officials found a cache with 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades aboard a North Korean vessel en route to Egypt. As it later turned out, the client was none other than the Egyptian Armed Forces themselves; Egypt’s military ordered the North Korean munitions through a complex web of Egyptian business proxies.

  • UNSCR 1718 covers most countries but what about the others? The UN also recognizes the Holy See and Palestine. I don't know if the Holy See is party to that EU agreement, or if either of those two states are party to other agreements or have local laws on the matter. What international law applies to non-UN recognized states like Kosovo and the Republic of China?
    – Jetpack
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 14:23
  • @Jetpack Taiwan is reportedly complying with the sanctions. I don't know much about Kosovo. Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 8:35
  • These - incliding UNO, EU and the others - are contracts between states. No state is enforced to take part in them. Furthermore, there is no "world police", i.e. nothing can legally enforce even the member states to always keep all these contracts. There is no such thing like "forbidden" for a state. Of course there might be political consequences which make things de facto forbidden for them.
    – Gray Sheep
    Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 18:02

UN Security Council Resolution 1718 of 2006 says that:

8 (a) All Member States shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the DPRK, through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in their territories, of: (i) Any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems


8 (b) The DPRK shall cease the export of all items covered in subparagraphs (a) (i)

Resolution 1874 in 2009 then extended that specific list of prohibited weapon systems to all kinds of weapons and weapon-related services as well:

  1. that the measures in paragraph 8 (b) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall also apply to all arms and related materiel, as well as to financial transactions, technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms or materiel;

So no, other UN member states would be in breach of that UN security council resolution if they would buy any weapon from North Korea.

However, as the answer by Severus Snape points out, what's legal and what's happening in reality are two different issues, especially when the customers are not internationally recognized governments.

And then there is of course the question if all those weapon systems the DPRK likes to parade around are actually as impressive as they look. Most public data about the capabilities of these weapons is provided by the North-Korean government media, which is known to heavily exaggerate the prowess of the DPRK. I am no weapons expert, but I am pretty certain that most countries should be able to procure far better gear from less politically controversial sources (except of course for those who are under international arms embargoes themselves).

  • 3
    And then there is of course the question if all those weapon systems the DPRK likes to parade around are actually as impressive as they look. --- purchasers will surely try before they buy.
    – user366312
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 9:36
  • I don't see where it is said: "A third country can't purchase conventional weapons from Noth Korea"
    – user366312
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 23:52

The UN sanctions speaks about export to DPRK of weapons or possible components or material for weapon production, not of importing from them.

But, coal and iron ore can be used to produce steel which can be made into an good cannon. I don't think raw materials like that is forbidden by some UN resolution.

  • 1
    They do. UN Security Council Resolution 1718 8 (b) says the DPRK must not export arms either, so any country which buys from them would be violating that resolution.
    – Philipp
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 6:55

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