North Korea has once again been designated a state sponsor of terrorism, almost a decade after the Bush administration removed the country from the list in the hopes of salvaging talks on its nuclear program.
In practical terms, President Trump’s announcement Monday, which was widely expected after the president hinted at it several times during his visit to Asia this month, will impose additional sanctions on what is already one of the most sanctioned countries on Earth. It also will likely complicate any attempts at negotiating with Pyongyang on its ballistic-missile and nuclear-weapons programs—something the Trump administration has said it’s open to.
The designation could instead provoke the North to resume its missile or nuclear testing. After a flurry of such tests early in the year, North Korea hasn’t conducted one since September, though the reasons are unclear. (It may have less to do with pressure from the U.S. than with the North’s own winter military training schedule.) In any case, the South Korean intelligence agency said Monday that the North could conduct more tests this year. Monday’s designation could give the country an impetus.
North Korea joins Iran, Sudan, and Syria as countries that have, in the words of the U.S. State Department, “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” North Korea does indeed fit this criterion, though the overwhelming majority of its support for international terrorism dates back decades. In the 1970s and ’80s, the North Korean regime abducted Japanese citizens, and carried out attacks in South Korea before, during, and after that period. As my colleague Uri Friedman wrote recently, North Korea attacked the South Korean president’s residence in 1968; hacked two U.S. soldiers to death near the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea in 1976; killed South Korean officials in Burma in 1983; and sank a South Korean warship in 2010. North Korea’s bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987, which killed more than 100 people, is what first put it on the state sponsor of terrorism list. Friedman wrote: “Since 1961 … North Korea has been involved in more than 1,300 incidents that have left 89 Americans, 578 South Koreans, and 887 North Koreans dead.”