Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation

April 16, 2014

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile


Paul K. Kerr, Mary Beth D. Nikitin, and Steven A. Hildreth

Related Country: 

  • North Korea
  • Syria

Congress has at times expressed concern regarding ballistic missile and nuclear programs in Iran, North Korea, and Syria. This report focuses primarily on unclassified and declassifeid U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) assessments over the past two decades. These assessments indicate that

  • there is no evidence that Iran and North Korea have engaged in nuclear-related trade or cooperation with each other, although ballistic missile technology cooperation between the two is significant and meaningful, and
  • Syria has received ballistic missiles and related technology from North Korea and Iran has also engaged in nuclear technology cooperation with North Korea.

All three countries discussed in this report have short-range ballistic missiles. Iran and North Korea also have medium-range ballistic missiles; North Korea has intermediate-range ballistic missiles as well. North Korea has tested nuclear weapons on three occasions; Iran and Syria's nuclear programs have raised suspicions that those countries are pursuing nuclear weapons. However, Iran has, according to the IC, halted its nuclear weapon program, and Syria does not appear to have an active nuclear weapons program.

Congress has held numerous hearings regarding these countries' nuclear and missile programs. It has also passed legislation providing for sanctions on countries whose entities assist Iran, North Korea, and Syria to obtain weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile delivery systems. For example, the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA, P.L. 106-178) imposes penalties on countries whose companies' exports assist the efforts of Iran, North Korea, and Syria to acquire WMD and missile delivery systems.

Congress has also established reporting requirements concerning these countries' missile and nuclear programs. Congress may wish to consider requiring additional reporting from the executive branch on WMD proliferation because the number of unclassified reports to Congress on WMD-related issues has decreased considerably in recent years.

This report describes the key elements of a nuclear weapons program; explains the available information regarding the cooperation among Iran, North Korea, and Syria on ballistic missiles and nuclear technology; and discusses some specific issues for Congress.