The assassination by the Norks of Kim Jong Un’s brother in a Malaysian airport with the help of gullible stooges and some VX nerve agent has reignited the debate as to whether the State Department should redesignate the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism. The DPRK was first put in the list after it bombed a Korean Air Flight in 1987, killing 115 people. The country was removed in 2008 in return for shutting down its plutonium plant and permitting inspections.
In order to designate a country as a state sponsor of terrorism, a determination must be made that the country “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” See, e.g., section 6(j) of the (zombie) Export Administration Act. None of the statutes that invoke that phrase define “acts of international terrorism,” although section 40(d) of the Arms Export Control Act states that the term includes activities that “aid or abet the efforts of an individual or group to use … chemical, biological, or radiological weapons.” I suppose that might cover the murder of an individual with a chemical weapon in an airport, although terrorism seems more readily to mean an act that indiscriminately targets multiple civilians in order to instill fear in a population or community.
Advocates of redesignation have argued that the cyber attack on Sony (in connection with its distribution of the hilarious and decidedly anti-Nork film The Interview) and other assassinations abroad demonstrate repeated acts of terrorism. But again, it’s hard to argue that these acts, while reprehensible, are designed to instill fear in a community.
In any event, the redesignation would be most symbolic. Once designated, U.S. law prohibits arms sales, which are already prohibited. Licenses would be required for certain specified goods, but section 746.4 of the EAR already requires licenses for all items subject to the EAR other than food and medicine. Being designated as a state sponsor of terrorism means that under the Trade Sanctions and Export Reform Act of 2000 a one-year license is required for exports to that country of agricultural commodities, medicine or medical devices, but North Korea is explicitly exempted from this by section 7205(a)(2)
Given that the redesignation of the loathsome Norks would be mostly symbolic, it seems to be a bad idea to torture the definition of “international terrorism” to include computer hacking and individual murders to get there.