Nigeria Seen as 'Not Responsible Enough' to Possess Ballistic Missiles

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - North Korean ballistic missile know-how in Nigerian hands would cause a major shift in the balance of power in Africa and compromise security, a top military analyst here believes.

The Nigerian government last week confirmed that talks between Vice President Atiku Abubakar and his visiting North Korean counterpart, Yang Hyong-sop, had dealt with the possibility of Abuja acquiring ballistic missile technology from Pyongyang.

The United States subsequently warned Africa's most populous country to steer clear of military collaboration with the reclusive Stalinist state.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. wanted to "stop North Korea's missile activities" and would welcome a decision by Nigeria to turn down the offer.

Abubakar's spokesman, Onukaba Ojo, has denied that his government has made any commitments, adding that Nigeria would act in its own interests in any ongoing discussions with North Korea.

"Our relationship with each country is determined by what we believe is our national interest," Ojo said. "The fact that North Korea has been demonized does not mean that Nigeria should avoid North Korea."

Ojo said military relations with Pyongyang could include training and the manufacture of ammunition.

But what has raised eyebrows are claims that Abuja wants North Korean help to strengthen its defense, specifically in the area of missile technology.

Colonel Jan Kamenju, a security analyst at the Nairobi-based Security Research and Information Center, said any efforts by an African country to acquire ballistic missiles should be discouraged.

Kamenju said the international community, and particularly the U.S, is discouraging the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Nigeria was "not responsible enough" to be entrusted with such weapons, Kamenju added.

If Nigeria decided to go ahead with the deal, he predicted that the U.S may consider seizing the material while in transit, or could impose sanctions on Nigeria.

Although conflict is prevalent in Africa, wars on the continent are characterized by the use of light weapons, particularly machine guns. In rare cases, shoulder launched missiles have been used.

Nigeria is the fifth largest oil exporter in Africa and is a key strategic African partner of the U.S.

Although struggling with ethnic and religious unrest, it does not face any major external military threats.

Nigeria's army is considered one of the best equipped and trained in Africa. It has taken part in several peacekeeping operations in West Africa, including most recently in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Washington would frown on any move by Abuja to collaborate militarily with North Korea, one of half a dozen countries the State Department has designated a state sponsor of terrorism.

North Korea is also engaged in a long-running standoff with the U.S. over its programs to develop nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang has in the past provided missile technology to Libya, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Pakistan and Saddam-era Iraq. Western and South Korean intelligence agencies say it earns much of its hard currency by selling and exchanging missile and other weapons technology.

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