In late 1987, a Korean Air flight traveling from Seoul, South Korea to Baghdad, Iraq, was bombed by North Korean agents killing all 115 people on board. This event, evidence of clear terrorist motives, prompted the Reagan Administration to designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Today, the United States still grapples with the often unpredictable and volatile nature of North Korea and the regime of its dictator, Kim Jong-un. And earlier this week, President Trump made the decision to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, and promoted a new wave of tougher sanctions on the hermit state.
The list of state sponsors of terrorism began in 1979 and is managed by the U.S. Department of State. The nations that are placed on the list are alleged to have "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism." Although the list has remained small over the years, it has been a symbolic mark of heightened pressure on our enemies and a measure of heavy, unilateral sanctions. North Korea joins Iran, Sudan and Syria on the current list.
After 20 years on the list, the Bush Administration made the decision to remove North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in 2008, in hopes that it would prompt talks toward peace and denuclearization. But since then, it has not been evident that North Korea is making, or will be making any effort to reduce nuclear development, end its human rights violations and halt support of terrorism within its own borders and those of other nations.
It is no secret that in recent months North Korea has been staging a number of nuclear missile tests to strike fear and talks of war across the globe. The United States has taken each test and rogue action by the Kim regime very seriously. Additionally, the untimely deaths of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s brother, and Otto Warmbier, the American student detained in the nation recently, have left no question that the Kim regime is capable of initiating harm against anyone anywhere in the world. Along with heightened military presence in the Pacific and slew of sanctions endorsed by Congress, a designation on the state sponsors of terrorism list is a definitive assessment that North Korea is an enemy of the United States, and is a national security priority.
President Trump is right to designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism again, and I am encouraged by the approach Secretary Tillerson has taken to remain diplomatic, but fully engaged to exert pressure on the Kim regime. Other nations in the region, like Japan and Australia, have also been encouraged by the move to put North Korea on the list again. Until North Korea eliminates its nuclear arsenal, it will continue to receive tough sanctions from Congress, and will continue to remain on the state sponsors of terrorism list, where it belongs.