Ted Cruz offers up a typically misguided proposal to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism:
Given this, the decision should be easy. In fact, Americans could be forgiven for wondering why North Korea is not already designated as a sponsor of terrorism.
It used to be — and the story behind the decision to remove that designation nearly 10 years ago is the key to understanding America’s failed assumptions about North Korea, how they led to Pyongyang obtaining its nuclear arsenal, and why the United States needs to reverse its approach and relist Pyongyang immediately.
The story Cruz tells is unsurprisingly misleading. Designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism was appropriate at one time, but by the time they were removed it had become a relic of another era and was no longer accurate. The chief reason why North Korea was taken off the list is that it hasn’t been a state sponsor of terrorism for decades. That is the reason why it shouldn’t added back to the list. The North Korean government is undoubtedly horrible, abusive, and cruel, but one thing it hasn’t been doing in recent years is sponsoring terrorist groups or terrorist attacks. Their government may be involved in other sordid and illegal behavior, but it isn’t doing the thing that Cruz wants to penalize them for. Micah Zenko explained this a few years ago:
A small problem with such a designation is that North Korea simply is not a state-sponsor of terrorism. As the latest State Department Country Reports on Terrorism explicitly stated: “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” The North Korean sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March 2010 was deemed a violation of the 1953 armistice agreement, but was also declared by a State Department spokesperson to have been “a provocative action but one taken by the military or the state against the military of another state. That, in our view, does not constitute an act of international terrorism.” Thus, by putting it back on the terrorism list, North Korea would be proportionally responded to by reclassifying its government for undertaking a behavior that the United States acknowledges it does not actually do.
Cruz’s op-ed doesn’t make the case that North Korea deserves to be on the list, because there is no case to be made. He sees adding them back to the list as a useful way to pressure them on other issues, but this is the wrong reason to designate a government with this label. It is dangerous to add states to the list just because we see it as a way to lean on their governments, because that makes the designation meaningless and arbitrary. Cruz talks about wanting a policy “based on facts rather than aspirations,” but his desire to put North Korea back on this list shows his well-known disregard for the facts. As usual, Cruz is not interested in telling the truth about anything, but is just looking for a way to ratchet up tensions with a pariah government because he thinks it makes him appear tough. The State Department should ignore Cruz’s plea safe in the knowledge that they cannot honestly do what he asks.