Threat Analysis: North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism

The ISIS Threat Colloquium (Part 2)

by Sundar J.M. Brown, ed.

I offer some perfunctory analysis after spending the day reading/watching/listening to a plethora of intelligence (Open Source and otherwise) on the topic of North Korea (DPRK) and its spectacularly coiffured leader Kim Jong-un (KJu). This is the first time I’ve written publicly about DPRK/KJu and I am fascinated by what has been unearthed. And, the day is not yet over!


Let’s talk lists, especially U.S. created/maintained lists of Terrorist Organizations, Individuals and Nations. Technically, there are two lists of interest: (1) Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations ([D]FTOs), and; (2) State Sponsors of Terrorism. Both lists are created, maintained, and regulated by USDOS (U.S. Dept. of State).
2008: DPRK was, until 2008, officially designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism but was removed under GWB Administration as conciliation to promote nuclear freeze/non-proliferation agreement.


Fast forward to…


2017: No lasting nuclear freeze/deescalation on/within DPRK has been successfully implemented for the past 9 years, and, talk of relisting DPRK on State Sponsors of Terrorism list is now on the table. Frankly, the nomenclature here is problematic as there is little resonance with North Korean rhetoric and subsequent actions meeting the loosely agreed upon definitions of “terrorism”. The U.S./South Korea/North Korea tensions are more appropriately viewed in the context of a much grander scale, namely that of International Conflict and War and, especially, Nuclear Threat/Non-Proliferation Initiatives.




Historically, the mere addition of an individual’s/organization’s/nation’s name to the Terror Lists has done nothing more than to officially classify that individual/organization/nation with “terrorist status”. Certainly, it raises the public-media profile of those on the list, and also suggests a “pecking order” for offensive/defensive actions taken by the U.S. against the same.


Officially, USDOS states that the following effects are accomplished by placing an individual/organization/nation on an official Terror List. Whether these items are actually accomplished or not is a matter of great debate, so, it is perhaps far more accurate to say that this is what USDOS hopes to accomplish or believes is accomplished with respect to how both itself and foreign (nations/State Departments/diplomats/intelligence) view the designation:

  1. Supports U.S. efforts to curb terrorism financing and to encourage other nations to do the same.
  2. Stigmatizes and isolates designated terrorist organizations internationally.
  3. Deters donations or contributions to and economic transactions with named organizations.
  4. Heightens public awareness and knowledge of terrorist organizations.
  5. Signals to other governments U.S. concern about named organizations.
  6. Allows for sanctions across the following categories: U.S. Foreign Assistance; defense exports/sales; exports of dual-use items; financial restrictions; “other” and “miscellaneous” restrictions (usually determined per case, as a matter of diplomatic negotiation in consultation with POTUS, Ambassador(s), Attache’s, and relevant members of Congress, the Intelligence Community, Department of Defense, and Advisors.)

The lists also provides a legal basis for prosecuting U.S.-based individuals who provide “material support” (a very loosely defined and highly interpretable term) to any listed individual/organization/nation, denies admission to the U.S. of any such-listed individual/organization/nation, and mandates that any U.S.-based financial institution found to be in possession or control of funds connected to a listed individual/organization/nation, freeze those funds and report their findings to OFAC (The Office of Foreign Asset Control, a division of the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury).

With respect to the DPRK of today, the primary bipartisan focus is on: (1) Pressuring the Trump Administration to take a more aggressive stance toward DPRK, and; (2) Pressuring China, particularly Chinese banks, to cut financial support of and trade relationships with DPRK, an encouragement which has, to date, proved unsuccessful (due largely, in my analysis, to the importance of coal trade between the two nations).


Across the greater history of imposing financial and diplomatic sanctions against DPRK, both may have slowed, but neither have ever eliminated DPRK’s hostile attitude towards the U.S./South Korea nor its technological developments in the areas of offensive strike capability and defensive air/ground force capability. Certainly, in the 9 years since DPRK was removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, its nuclear-strike capabilities, and supporting technology and technological skill-sets, have only grown.


USPACOM Commander, Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr. did proclaim the value in taking KJu “at his word” when KJu claims to be developing a missile capable of striking the domestic U.S. This statement of fact, by Adm. Harris, I find to be the most promising of all paradigms presently before us. Every successful negotiation and/or deescalation/offensive action must begin with each side acknowledging the intentions of the other as serious and legitimate unto themselves. If the U.S. does not believe that DPRK’s intentions are serious, or that those intentions are legitimate and necessary, there is little hope that the tensions can ever be managed, not to speak of resolved.


I argue that this is precisely why President Trump has chosen to utter phrases like, “it would be an honor” to meet with KJu. It is savvy diplomatic language and does not suggest that the POTUS, or his office, “have a preference or tolerance or respect for authoritarian regimes”, as one White House Press Corps journalist foolishly and sensationalistically stated at a recent WH Press Briefing.


Rather, it is a way of privately recognizing DPRK’s/KJu’s instability and alarmist, emotionally-dysfunctional and reactionary tendencies, while still publicly acknowledging that the threat posed by DPRK and KJu is real, and should be taken seriously. It is, in a phrase, an excellent crafting and use of diplomacy-in-action.


This matches the very recognizable political and diplomatic stature which DPRK has successfully maintained on the world stage. As evidence of the same, consider that DPRK maintains recognized diplomatic missions, and/or embassies on the domestic soil of the following nations, the majority of whom are U.S. allies, trade partners, or favorable to U.S.-relations (and, note, that the U.S. is not on this list; the only official representation of DPRK on domestic U.S. soil is at the United Nations in Manhattan, NY– POTUS’s former stomping grounds!):

Throughout Africa

Algeria, Algiers (Embassy)

Egypt, Cairo (Embassy)

Equatorial Guinea, Malabo (Embassy)

Ethiopia, Addis Ababa (Embassy)

Ghana, Accra (Office branch from Abuja)

Guinea, Conakry (Embassy)

Libya, Tripoli (Embassy, but has not recognized the National Transitional Council government)

Nigeria, Abuja (Embassy)

South Africa, Pretoria (Embassy)

Tanzania, Dar es Salaam (Embassy)

Uganda, Kampala (Embassy)


Throughout The Americas

Brazil, Brasília (Embassy)

Cuba, Havana (Embassy)

Mexico, Mexico City (Embassy)

Peru, Lima (Embassy)

United States, New York City (The Permanent Representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of

Korea to the United Nations)

Venezuela, Caracas (Embassy)


 Throughout Asia (Eastern, Central, Southern, Western)

Bangladesh, Dhaka (Embassy)

Cambodia, Phnom Penh (Embassy)

People’s Republic of China, Beijing (Embassy)

People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong (Consulate-General)

People’s Republic of China, Shenyang (Consulate-General)

India, New Delhi (Embassy)

Indonesia, Jakarta (Embassy)

Iran, Tehran (Embassy)

Kuwait, Kuwait City (Embassy)

Laos, Vientiane (Embassy)

Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur (Embassy) [NOTE: DPRK Ambassador expelled, following the 2017

Assassination, on Malaysian soil, of KJu’s brother, Kim Jong-nam.)

Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar (Embassy)

Myanmar, Yangon (Embassy)

Nepal, Kathmandu (Embassy)

Pakistan, Islamabad (Embassy)

Pakistan, Karachi (Consulate-General)

Singapore, Singapore (Embassy)

Syria, Damascus (Embassy)

Thailand, Bangkok (Embassy)

Vietnam, Hanoi (Embassy)

Yemen, Sana’a (Embassy)

Throughout Europe

Austria, Vienna (Embassy)

Belarus, Minsk (Embassy)

Bulgaria, Sofia (Embassy)

Czech Republic, Prague (Embassy)

Germany, Berlin (Embassy)

Italy, Rome (Embassy)

Poland, Warsaw (Embassy)

Romania, Bucharest (Embassy)

Russia, Moscow (Embassy)

Russia, Nakhodka (Consulate-General)

Russia, Khabarovsk (Consular Office)

Spain, Madrid (Embassy)

Sweden, Stockholm (Embassy)

Switzerland, Bern (Embassy)

United Kingdom, London (Embassy)


About Sundar JM Brown

A University of Pennsylvania-trained South Asianist, Seminary-educated Theologian, and Intelligence Community Professional, Sundar J.M. Brown specializes in analysis of Theoterrorism, Counterterrorism and HUMINT Operations. His regional focuses include terror groups/acts in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Middle East and Africa. His primary expertise is Theoterrorism, the intersection of Terrorism and Theology. His present research focuses on apocalyptic themes in terrorist ideologies and on the theological components informing the radicalization and deradicalization of Violent Religious Extremists and Militants. He is the Founder and Director of the IntelliGen Conference on Religion & Violence. *Sundar's Twiter: @SundarJMBrown *Sundar's YouTube Channel: *Sundar's Blog:
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