Can North Korea Be Re-Designated as 'State sponsor of Terrorism'? Should It? HT: 38north.org.
Given the March 8 statement by the Malaysian Prime Minister implicating the government of North Korea in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, it would seem to qualify as an act of state sponsored international terrorism under the law.
The use of a prohibited chemical weapon in an attack in a public area of another nation makes it particularly heinous. True, it is not of the same level of viciousness as North Korea’s past campaign of state sponsored terrorism. The victim was a single North Korean terminated apparently in Pyongyang’s Byzantine family power struggle, whereas in Pyongyang’s previous campaign of state sponsored terror, the targets were South Korean civilians and officials in large numbers.
This included a bomb attack in Rangoon that murdered a significant part of the ROK Cabinet and the bombing of a South Korean civilian airliner killing 115 people in the 1980s. Moreover, a single intra-family assassination does not necessarily meet the “repeated” support criterion for designation, but if the international outcry over the assassination is loud enough (e.g., through some decision of the UN Security Council), one suspects a means could be found to move forward. It would seem absurd to have to wait for Pyongyang to conduct a second VX attack in order to do so.
It is possible that the Secretary of State could simply conclude that the DPRK had violated assurances that permitted President Bush to lift the designation as a state sponsor, requiring him to re-designate Pyongyang; he could also consider North Korea’s recent cyber attacks on the US and South Korea as an act of state-sponsored terrorism.
So, in all probability, the Secretary could designate North Korea. This might take a little time—even in this post-truth era—as sanctions decisions are fact-based and must meet legal and procedural standards. This will require some concrete, legal basis for concluding there was a definite North Korean government role in the assassination. The real issues are whether and when he should do it.
There are two strong reasons to do so.
The first is the heinous nature of the killing—particularly the use of a chemical weapon on the territory of a previously friendly country.
The second is that the diplomatic context for removing the DPRK from the state sponsors list has evaporated. Prior to the assassination, the second reason was often given for returning North Korea to the list. It never gained traction largely because it did not give the Secretary any legal basis for such a step. But, now that there is an actual act of terrorism to consider, the lack of a diplomatic context for keeping North Korea off the list provides support for taking the step. It is hard to find a tactical basis for not taking the step when our previous nuclear dialogue is in a state of collapse. There is certainly a diplomatic logic to withdrawing what was, in fact if not in law, a concession made to Pyongyang in the context of progress on nuclear and missile issues now that the North Koreans are hell-bent on developing a strategic nuclear deterrent. Read the full story here.