So what’s ‘state-sponsored terrorism’?

A cooling tower is demolished at a North Korean nuclear plant Friday. North Korea toppled the cooling tower at its plutonium-producing reactor in a symbolic move to show its commitment to a disarmament deal that comes a day after it submitted an inventory
REUTERS/Kyodo
A cooling tower is demolished at a North Korean nuclear plant Friday. North Korea toppled the cooling tower at its plutonium-producing reactor in a symbolic move to show its commitment to a disarmament deal that comes a day after it submitted an inventory of its nuclear program.

As part of North Korea’s reward last week for blowing up the cooling tower of its nuclear plant and complying with various other U.S. demands about allowing inspections, President Bush announced that North Korea would be removed from the official U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Under U.S. law, states on the official terror-sponsor list are automatically subjected to a list of economic sanctions. The United States won’t sell them any weapons, for example, and opposes any World Bank loans to countries on the list.

Offering carrots and threatening (non-military) sticks to get North Korea to back off its nuclear ambitions is absolutely OK with me. Fine with me if it works with Iran, too, although it would be nice if Washington occasionally acknowledged that under international law, it has no authority to decree who can (Israel, India, Pakistan) join the nuclear club and who cannot. But carrots and (non-military) sticks: fine. That’s diplomacy.

I just think it may be worth noting in passing that building a nuclear bomb is not a terrorist act (or else we and several of our closest allies are terror-sponsors). Nor is being a Communist dictatorship (whatever being Communist means at this point in history), being disrespectful toward and downright uncooperative with the United States or even having a mighty eccentric Dear Leader.

Likewise, or contrariwise, blowing up a cooling tower, agreeing to inspections or doing something else the United States wants you to do is not a, what shall we call it, an act of non-terrorism sponsorship.

Even the most recent (2007) State Department paper on why North Korea was still on the list said that the DPRK (that’s Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and how’s that for a bunch of words that don’t describe that particular nation) hadn’t been linked to an act of terrorism in 20 years and yet has remained on the list since first added in 1988.

More evidence
The point of this (parenthetical-laden) ramble (assuming it has one) is that this whole exercise of listing the state sponsors of terrorism is problematic given the obvious temptation (and more than temptation) to use it instead as a list of the countries at which the current administration is currently most peeved.

If you need any further evidence of this tendency, please note that Iraq was a charter member of the first list compiled by the Carter administration in 1979, then, with Saddam Hussein still very much in charge, was removed from the list in 1982 because the Reagan administration wanted to befriend and sell weapons to Saddam because he had started a war against Iran, then added back in 1991 by the first Bush administration (because Saddam had wiped his neighbor, Kuwait, off the map, a very nasty and unneighborly thing to do but not precisely a sponsorship of terrorism), then removed from the list in 2003 by the second Bush administration (because, well that one is pretty obvious).

Please just bear that in mind the next time someone cites the State Department’s official list as if that’s the final fact-based arbiter of which countries aid terrorism (however that word is being defined at the time).

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/03/2008 - 12:20 pm.

    Thank you for clearing that up. (Kidding.)

    Gordon Brown just announced that England is naming Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist group and that its country will now be “punished” economically for, I guess, “sponsoring” Hezbollah.

    One thing that bothered Mr. Brown a whole bunch was that Hezbollah fought against Israel in 2006. He has perhaps forgotten that, using the capture of two Israeli soldiers as its excuse, Israel sent war planes and other heavy-duty (U.S.-supplied) weaponry to destroy the city of Beirut and many civilians along with it. When Israel ran out of bombs, George Bush sent a new supply. Condoleezza Rice watched the bombs fall and remarked how grand it was that we were watching “the birth pangs of the new Middle East.” (Brown also says he has “new” intelligence about which he can say nothing, so it probably came from Dick Cheney.)

    So, apparently, a country OR must not defend itself against an attack by any heavily armed Friend of the United States lest it be called “a state sponsor of terror” and punished accordingly. Another way to be so named is by being on the original neocon list of “evil” countries and marked for regime change, like Iran.

  2. Submitted by John E Iacono on 07/03/2008 - 12:44 pm.

    Acknowledging that the official list may contain names there for other than AlQaida efforts is not a problem.

    Suggesting that it is simple a hit list of those currently out of favor with the administration, however, seems to me to go a little far.

    Regarding North Korea, I doubt the South Koreans would agree that their neighbor has done or threatened nothing that would jeopardize them in the “past 20 years,” or that supplying nuclear plants to Syria and other technology to other rogue groups should not be a concern to us for our own security and that of our allies.

    And regarding Iran, I very much doubt that the Israelis — rumored to be contemplating a first strike out of fear that a nuclear Iran with missiles would target them in a first strike — would suggest that this ally of their terrorist neighbors is not a supporter of terrorism. It seems to me that the suggestion that Iran is “only building a nuclear power plant” (when of all the countries in the world it has enough oil to do well without it for a hundred years) is at best naive.

    Given North Korea’s constant posture over the past half century, my concern is that in removing them from the list is also going too far.

  3. Submitted by John E Iacono on 07/04/2008 - 12:53 pm.

    Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

    Suggestion: Read the Declaration of Independence aloud today…It’s still a thought provoking document even without fireworks.

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 07/06/2008 - 08:04 am.

    The U.S. is a perfect example of a country that practices state-sponsored terrorism. There are many examples, but Iraq is the most egregious. Count the ways: 1) Preznit who deliberately lies country into war; 2) Illegal *preventive* war – Iraq posed no threat to us or anyone else. 3) War crimes – deliberate killing of civilians, use of radioactive weapons, torture and killing of prisoners. One million dead Iraqis; Three million Iraqi refugees. What modern nation has committed more war crimes?

  5. Submitted by John E Iacono on 07/09/2008 - 09:15 am.

    Rob,

    Absolutely agree with everything you say, except for items 1), 2), and 3).

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