Designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism won’t do any good, and will almost certainly make things with Pyongyang more difficult:
Analysts said they doubted that new sanctions would make any real difference on the already heavily penalized country. If anything, they said, the designation will make diplomacy more difficult without increasing Washington’s leverage, warning that North Korea will probably take the naming and shaming as another reason to stick to its hard-line policy of developing and testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“It’s hard to see any real impact on North Korea, which has lived through all manners of sanctions for seven decades,” said Paik Hak-soon, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute, a South Korean research organization. “What it does instead is to send a clear message to North Korea that Trump is not interested in talks, another sign and reconfirmation that the Americans remain a hostile force.”
The U.S. often imposes sanctions to show that it is “acting” in response to an international problem, and it makes no difference to Washington if the sanctions will have any positive effect on the targeted regime’s behavior. Sanctions usually fail to compel the changes in behavior that their advocates claim they will bring about, but that doesn’t stop these same people from insisting on imposing more and more despite their repeated failures to achieve results. Additional punitive measures have typically made authoritarian regimes more intransigent and combative, and in this case that has the potential to be very dangerous for the entire region. North Korea is already the most heavily-sanctioned state on the planet, and as we can all see those sanctions have utterly failed. Piling on more will achieve nothing of value.
The administration’s justification for putting North Korea back on the list is remarkably weak. That’s because North Korea doesn’t do the things that would qualify it as a state sponsor of terrorism, and hasn’t been doing them for a long time. The administration has no evidence that the North Korean government has sponsored acts of terrorism or lent support to terrorist groups in recent years. They don’t have proof that the regime has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” and so they redefine other awful things that the regime has done as terrorism and pretend that this meets the requirement. This is just the sort of unthinking “tough” posturing that will get the U.S. precisely nothing at the same time that it needlessly stokes tensions.