Today, Panama has announced that it stopped a North Korean cargo ship passing through the Panama canal from Cuba which contained materials used in the construction of missiles under the guise of trading sugar. The ship was suspected to have been carrying drugs when the much more sinister reality was discovered. The need for secrecy was so imperative that apparently the crew resisted the search and the captain even attempted suicide. Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli has said that this violates United Nations resolutions on arms trafficking.
This kind of lucrative cooperation between pariah states, hostile to many of their neighbours, is not unusual – particularly not between Communist countries (at least, the few countries which remain Communist in name; in reality all have abandoned the essential principles of Socialism and North Korea no longer even refers to Communism as its official doctrine). To see similarities between the countries, simply look at their flags! Both exist in a world which increasingly rejects their economic and political models and face threats from the USA. I’ve read similar stories in the past regarding Iran and North Korea. Of course, once you start looking at the Middle East these kinds of secret deals are everywhere: Iran and Russia to Syria; Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Libya to the Syrian opposition; Iran to Hezbollah; probably most of the countries mentioned to Hamas; etc.
Secret agreements between countries has always been a feature of international relations. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars there were various understandings that some great powers, most commonly Austria, would step in to prevent revolutionary uprisings and prop up Monarchies in any way possible. Before the First World War a complex web of alliances spanned the globe. During the Cold War the tap really opened and weapons flowed to Africa, Asia, South America – everywhere, really – in the many proxy wars between Capitalism and Communism.
However, since the collapse of Communism this business really has begun to dry up. The fact that an Arms Trade Treaty can pass through the UN is proof of this. The last 20 or so years has seen this business occur largely between the small number of authoritarian, isolated countries that still remain opposed to the international consensus – usually countries particularly opposed to the USA. Even during this period the number of such ‘rogue states’ has dwindled – 2003 saw the collapse of Hussein’s Iraq and 2011 saw Gaddafi’s Libya fall, for instance.
I’m sure the vision of many – a vision that I share – is that one day we’ll see a world of democratic, friendly countries working in harmony with one another. This is unlikely to happen for many reasons – tensions between the mostly democratic South America and the USA is proof of this – but I do believe we can get to a stage where the more ‘rogue’ states are integrated enough with the international consensus that the need for such illicit arms transfers might become a thing of the past. At the moment, all we can do is work towards preventing these illegal transfers of weapons (and continue cracking down upon those which are are still legal, though that’s a different issue) and edge slowly closer to this dream.