The United States has once again designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism -- a significant decision amid tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The renewed designation, announced by U.S. President Donald Trump, came nine years after the administration of former Republican President George W. Bush removed North Korea from the terrorism blacklist in 2008.
In February this year Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was fatally poisoned in Malaysia. Then in June, an American university student who had been detained in North Korea was returned to the U.S. unconscious and later died. In light of such events, the North's renewed designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is no great wonder. In April, a bill to put North Korea back on the blacklist was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority. Increasing anger in the U.S. toward Pyongyang over its talk of striking the U.S. mainland with missiles similarly formed a backdrop to the move.
Some have questioned whether nuclear and missile development is reason enough to designate a country as a state sponsor of terror. But it remains a fact that Islamic extremists and other such groups are extending their feelers to nuclear weapons, and it is not realistic to consider North Korea's illegal nuclear development and other such programs separately from the issue of terrorism.
Once a country is designated as a state sponsor of terror, weapons-related exports and economic assistance to that country is banned. But the United States has already set in place a number of sanctions against North Korea separately from the United Nations Security Council, and even if Trump says the U.S. will implement the "highest level of sanctions," the move will probably be largely symbolic.
Having said that, Trump was probably presenting a strong stance, indicating that he will not be fooled any more by North Korea, while asking other related countries to step up their pressure on the reclusive state.
Trump says that North Korea should have been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism "years ago." Admittedly, the U.S. failed to follow through after the removal of Pyongyang from the terror blacklist in 2008, though that move was viewed as a last-ditch measure to convince the North to give up its nuclear weapons program. And as a result, Pyongyang got further and further out of control.
Trump viewed a recent visit by a special envoy to Chinese President Xi Jinping to North Korea as a major move, but so far, there are no hints it produced a breakthrough in the situation. Meanwhile, if Pyongyang reacts to the renewed designation with more provocative acts, then the North Korean situation, which has been in a lull, would likely become tense again.
The Trump administration has declared that the policies of past administrations toward North Korea have failed. Yet the Trump administration itself has not yet won any points. How should the North Korean threat be handled? Amid feelings that the situation has reached an impasse, we hope that the renewed designation will be used to secure a foothold.