Deterring State Sponsored Terrorism

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Deterring State Sponsored Terrorism

The State Spon­sor of Ter­ror List needs more teeth. In its cur­rent form, the list only lever­ages three ele­ments of national power (diplo­matic, infor­ma­tional, and eco­nomic). It is time to dis­cuss chang­ing this real­ity by adding the fourth and final ele­ment of national power.

On Novem­ber 2nd the State Depart­ment failed to meet a con­gres­sional dead­line. Their task is to deter­mine whether the United States should relist North Korea on the State Spon­sor of Ter­ror List. Pres­i­dent Trump will announce a deci­sion at the end of his cur­rent Pacific diplo­matic visits.

It may come as a sur­prise to most Amer­i­cans that North Korea is not cur­rently on this list. They were removed by the Bush admin­is­tra­tion in 2008 in a for­lorn hope that the North Korean dic­ta­tor­ship then under Kim Jong-​il would honor new denu­cleariza­tion options in exchange for their removal from the list. As any­one with com­mon sense and a rudi­men­tary under­stand­ing of that region’s his­tory should know, that did not work. Also unchanged is the Kim dynasty’s spon­sor­ship of inter­na­tional ter­ror­ist move­ments who actively tar­get the west, espe­cially the United States and its interests.

This dis­cus­sion, how­ever, pro­vides an oppor­tu­nity to recon­sider the use­ful­ness of the State Spon­sor of Ter­ror List in its cur­rent form. There are three coun­tries iden­ti­fied on the cur­rent list: Iran, Sudan and Syria. They have all been on this list for many years, and they have not changed their behav­ior in any tan­gi­ble fash­ion. In fact, one could argue that all of them, and most cer­tainly Iran, have accel­er­ated their sup­port for ter­ror­ist organizations.

Why? List­ing a nation as a state spon­sor of ter­ror results in auto­matic diplo­matic and eco­nomic sanc­tions, and such actions have next to no impact on lead­ers of nations who sim­ply don’t care. Cer­tainly, adding North Korea to this list will do almost noth­ing to them we are not already doing. Can we impose fur­ther diplo­matic or eco­nomic sanc­tions than those already imposed due to their with­drawal from the United Nations Nuclear Non-​Proliferation Treaty and their pur­suit of bal­lis­tic mis­sile deliv­ery sys­tems for their nuclear war­heads? The obvi­ous answer is, “No.”

The United States must alter its cur­rent pol­icy to include the mil­i­tary ele­ment of national power. We must include the stated right to imme­di­ately, and with­out warn­ing, retal­i­ate against any state spon­sor of ter­ror in any fash­ion the US deems appro­pri­ate, up to and includ­ing the use of our own nuclear arse­nal. Such an attack will be trig­gered as a response to a ter­ror­ist attack against our nation, its peo­ple, or our allies so long as the ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion is shown to receive any sup­port (arms, money, train­ing, safe har­bor, etc.) from a state spon­sor on the list. This will pro­vide a level of deter­rence that cur­rently does not exist.

Some may argue such a change would be extreme. I, how­ever, would argue it is in our sur­vival inter­est to do this quickly. Tech­nol­ogy has pro­gressed to where even third world dic­ta­tors like Kim Jon-​un are able to acquire weapons that can kill tens of mil­lions, destroy hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars of infra­struc­ture, con­t­a­m­i­nate our food sources, attack our eco­nomic infra­struc­ture, shut down national elec­tric grids, etc. Our ene­mies are all pur­su­ing some or all of these tech­nolo­gies. It is very pos­si­ble, and arguably prob­a­ble, that at some point one of these nations will con­sider pro­vid­ing such a weapon to a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion they believe they can con­trol. We need to insure they think long and hard before doing so.

This is a nar­rowly defined pol­icy change. It would only apply to those nations who we place on the list. The State Spon­sor of Ter­ror List will then have a level of impor­tance it cur­rently does not, both for nations added and for those who are removed.

We need to stop giv­ing the state spon­sors of ter­ror a pass while they con­duct war by proxy against the US and its allies. Change our pol­icy, and place North Korea on this list.

The State Sponsor of Terror List needs more teeth. In its current form, the list only leverages three elements of national power (diplomatic, informational, and economic). It is time to discuss changing this reality by adding the fourth and final element of national power.

On November 2nd  the State Department failed to meet a congressional deadline. Their task is to determine whether the United States should relist North Korea on the State Sponsor of Terror List. President Trump will announce a decision at the end of his current Pacific diplomatic visits.

It may come as a surprise to most Americans that North Korea is not currently on this list. They were removed by the Bush administration in 2008 in a forlorn hope that the North Korean dictatorship then under Kim Jong-il would honor new denuclearization options in exchange for their removal from the list. As anyone with common sense and a rudimentary understanding of that region’s history should know, that did not work. Also unchanged is the Kim dynasty’s sponsorship of international terrorist movements who actively target the west, especially the United States and its interests.

This discussion, however, provides an opportunity to reconsider the usefulness of the State Sponsor of Terror List in its current form. There are three countries identified on the current list: Iran, Sudan and Syria. They have all been on this list for many years, and they have not changed their behavior in any tangible fashion. In fact, one could argue that all of them, and most certainly Iran, have accelerated their support for terrorist organizations.

Why? Listing a nation as a state sponsor of terror results in automatic diplomatic and economic sanctions, and such actions have next to no impact on leaders of nations who simply don’t care. Certainly, adding North Korea to this list will do almost nothing to them we are not already doing. Can we impose further diplomatic or economic sanctions than those already imposed due to their withdrawal from the United Nations Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and their pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems for their nuclear warheads? The obvious answer is, “No.”

The United States must alter its current policy to include the military element of national power. We must include the stated right to immediately, and without warning, retaliate against any state sponsor of terror in any fashion the US deems appropriate, up to and including the use of our own nuclear arsenal. Such an attack will be triggered as a response to a terrorist attack against our nation, its people, or our allies so long as the terrorist organization is shown to receive any support (arms, money, training, safe harbor, etc.) from a state sponsor on the list. This will provide a level of deterrence that currently does not exist.

Some may argue such a change would be extreme. I, however, would argue it is in our survival interest to do this quickly. Technology has progressed to where even third world dictators like Kim Jon-un are able to acquire weapons that can kill tens of millions, destroy hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure, contaminate our food sources, attack our economic infrastructure, shut down national electric grids, etc. Our enemies are all pursuing some or all of these technologies. It is very possible, and arguably probable, that at some point one of these nations will consider providing such a weapon to a terrorist organization they believe they can control. We need to insure they think long and hard before doing so.

This is a narrowly defined policy change. It would only apply to those nations who we place on the list. The State Sponsor of Terror List will then have a level of importance it currently does not, both for nations added and for those who are removed.

We need to stop giving the state sponsors of terror a pass while they conduct war by proxy against the US and its allies. Change our policy, and place North Korea on this list.