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The terrorist North Korean regime must be changed

A shocking act of terrorism occurred in Malaysia on Feb. 13. Kim Jong Nam, the oldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and once considered a future leader, was killed with poison at Kuala Lumpur airport, which has led to an international investigation into who is behind the killing. The Malaysian police have revealed the names of several suspects, including a senior staff member at the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Foreign reports suggest that Kim Jong Un appears to be behind the killing of his half-brother in his pursuit of consolidating his power at home.

With North Korea engaging in repeated acts of terrorism, there is an increasing call in Washington for reinstating Pyongyang on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In 2016, the House of Representatives introduced a bill calling for the return of North Korea to the list, which was blocked due to former Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience”. The new Trump administration, however, vowed to take a tougher line with North Korea, and the Feb. 13 terror attack on Kim Jong Nam has fanned the flames of the U.S. government’s push to put the North back on the list.

{mosads}It is now more likely that North Korea will become one of the targets President Trump wants to ‘exterminate’. Mr. Trump has stressed that he will use America’s military power as means of compellence which is more proactive than deterrence. If North Korea is reinstated on the state sponsors of terrorism list, the reclusive country would become a target of U.S. military action along with terrorist groups in the Middle East.   

The U.S. designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1988 over its bombing of a South Korean passenger jet. The U.S. started negotiations with the North when the country conducted a nuclear test in 2006, and removed it from the list in 2008 as the result. North Korea, however, has carried out four nuclear tests since then.

Its terrorism not just involves a nuclear threat. It has committed repeated, varied acts of terrorism, including the sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan in 2010, the bombardment of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island the same year, and the cyberattacks on South Korean television stations and banks in 2013. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) introduced another bill last month that would put North Korea back on the list, in which he stated about 20 acts of terrorism perpetrated by the North, which includes hacking attacks, cyberattacks, abductions, assassination attempts, arms trade, and nuclear and missile threats. The bill provides clear grounds for relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, and the country has declared itself as a terrorist state by killing Kim Jong Nam.  

The U.S. re-designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism would bring enormous effects. Once listed, the country would face harsh regulations on its external affairs. Its economic activities, including international trade and financial transactions, would be blocked, while the country would be treated as one of the worst rogue states in the world. This is why the North regime persistently demanded that the country be taken off the list as a prerequisite to the 2008 nuclear negotiations. The then-Bush administration had labelled North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, as an ‘axis of evil’ subject to preemptive strike, which obviously made the North regime feel threatened. If the Trump administration takes a similar approach, it would put effective pressure on the Kim regime. China has made a timely announcement that it will ban coal imports from North Korea, starting to put its share of pressure on the regime. 

It will take quite some time for the current economic pressure on North Korea by UN sanctions to demonstrate its effects. It is thus necessary to enhance pressure at the political level. Specifically, there are two options available: reinstating North Korea on the list of state sponsors of terrorism and sending Kim Jong Un to the International Criminal Court. Although military pressure would be the surest way to address North Korean issues, political pressure is a viable option at present that could bring positive effects. The U.S. and China should join forces to see the Kim regime fall and the North Korean nuclear crisis resolved naturally. 

North Korea is a terrorist state that is more violent and devious than terrorist groups in the Middle East. It has never admitted accusations of terrorism and has instead accused South Korea of fabricating evidence. South Korea has experienced tremendous sufferings caused by the North’s brutal acts of terrorism, such as deaths of civilians. Now is the time for the international community to jointly respond to the terror threat posed by North Korea. In this regard, the U.S. government must put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism to bring about practical changes in the country, such as a change of the Kim regime that has been committing nuclear provocations and various acts of terrorism.

Lee Min-yong is a professor at Sookmyung Women’s University and the chief advisor of the Sookmyung Research Institute of Global Governance at Seoul, Korea.  

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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