President Donald Trump announced on Monday that he has designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, reversing President George W. Bush’s 2008 decision.

“Today, the United States is designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “Should have happened a long time ago should have happened years ago.”

The designation will allow the United States to impose additional sanctions and economic penalties on the reclusive state, intended to further pressure Pyongyang to discontinue its pursuit of increasingly advanced nuclear weapons and ballistic missile platforms. According to the president, those new sanctions will be announced by the U.S. Treasury on Tuesday.

Per the president’s statement, the decision to place North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terror was not specifically incited by the nation’s nuclear arms programs, however, but was rather incited by recent revelations regarding North Korea’s other aggressive behavior, such as attempts at “assassinations on foreign soil.”

“This designation will impose further sanctions and penalties on North Korea … and supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime,” Trump said.

Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was assassinated on February 13th of this year at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.  Kim was attacked by two young women using a banned chemical nerve agent known as VX, popularized in the Michael Bay movie, “The Rock.”  Upon his death, foreign relations between North Korean and Malaysia suffered, as the investigation soon indicated the involvement of the North Korean government in the attack.

Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son and original successor to Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il, before he was caught attempting to enter Tokyo Disneyland with a falsified passport.  The incident was said to embarrass the nation, prompting Kim Jong Il to choose Kim Jong Un as his replacement instead.  However, due to the dynastic form of government within North Korea, many maintained significant respect for Kim Jong Nam, who would eventually begin to speak out against his half-brother’s foreign policies.

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Recently, two North Korean agents were taken into custody in China, where they were reportedly attempting to carry out another assassination; this time, on Kim Jong Nam’s eldest son, Kim Han Sol. Kim Han Sol has also spoken out against his uncle’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and as the grandson of Kim Jong Il, many believe the young man is now the Supreme Leader’s largest obstacle in his efforts to consolidate power within the nation.

Nonetheless, some critics have questioned President Trump’s decision to add North Korea back onto the state sponsors of terror list, indicating that the nation has not met the requirements for the designation.  In order to qualify, a nation must “repeatedly provide support for acts of international terrorism,” and despite North Korea’s aggressive rhetoric, there is little public evidence to support such a claim.

There is evidence of North Korean weapons finding their way into a number of armed conflicts around the world, including in Africa and Afghanistan, but the mere presence of North Korean weapons in such conflicts does not denote direct support of terrorism.

While the president may be privy to evidence linking North Korea to acts of international terror that the public is not, the concern that the president is abusing the administrative power of such a designation will remain until that evidence has been revealed.

Egregious as Kim Jong Nam’s assassination was, it has not been formally confirmed to be a North Korean operation, and the recent attempt on Kim Han Sol’s life likely would also not be sufficient for such a designation.  The president may indeed simply be using the state sponsor of terror list as a means to tighten the financial noose around Kim’s North Korean regime, but if that is the case, the question of whether or not the ends justify the means will remain.

 

Image courtesy of North Korea’s KCNA