When you think about terrorism, North Korea probably isn't the first country that comes to mind, but Kim Jong-Un's hermit kingdom has a history of terrorism spanning decades.
Groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida tend to dominate the terrorism headlines, but North Korea's abductions, assassinations, bombings and other nefarious activities once earned it a spot on the State Department's state sponsors of terrorism list. It was removed by the George W. Bush administration in 2008 in a failed attempt to revive talks on its nuclear weapons program, but President Donald Trump put it back on the list Monday as part of his plan to put maximum pressure on the Kim regime.
"It really is a long overdue development. The U.S. took them off the state sponsors of terrorism list in 2008 in order to improve the atmosphere for the six party talks, the denuclearization negotiations," said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, in an interview. "Shortly thereafter the talks collapsed because North Korea refused to abide by the verification commitment that the U.S. thought they had committed to. So in the meantime they've committed a number of acts which under U.S. law including 18 U.S. Code Section 23 31 fulfills the legal definition for international terrorism and therefore justifies being put back on the list."
North Korea's terrorism rap sheet is quite long. Most recently, the Kim regime is suspected of being behind the assassination of Kim Jong-Un's brother, Kim Jong-Nam, in February. Two women splashed his face with deadly VX nerve gas in Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur International Airport, causing him to choke on his own spit and vomit. He died on his way to the hospital.
Approximately seven years prior, a North Korean midget submarine is believed to have sank the ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean corvette, killing 46 sailors.
Prior to these recent attacks, North Korea had engaged in various attacks on foreign officials, soldiers and buildings. It became particularly notorious for its kidnappings and abductions in the 1960s and 1970s, most of which involved South Korean and Japanese nationals. North Korean soldiers hacked two U.S. troops to death in 1976 near the demilitarized zone, nearly sparking all-out war. But what earned North Korea its state sponsor listing was the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987 over the Andaman Sea. Two agents had planted a bomb in the plane's overhead compartments, killing 115 people. The agents were tracked down in Bahrain and took cyanide capsules to avoid capture. One woman, Kim Hyon-Hui, survived and was sentenced to death in South Korea, though she was later pardoned.
Needless to say, North Korea has earned its designation, rejoining Syria, Sudan and Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. That said, the designation also serves a symbolic and strategic purpose for the Trump administration.
"We have a wide range of laws and executive orders although we've been under utilizing those, we've not fully been enforcing U.S. law," said Klinger. "But this will add to really the moral suasion against North Korea's even legitimate business partners who don't want their reputation linked to not only a country that's committing terrorist acts or supporting them but also according to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry is perpetrating crimes against humanity against its own citizens."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also noted his support for Trump's decision.
The U.S. has attempted several strategies in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program, ranging from tough sanctions to diplomatic talks. None of the strategies seemed to have worked thus far, as the Kim regime continues to advance its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.