In 1979, the United State established a list of countries providing either direct or indirect support to terrorist groups. This list was legislated in the Export Administration Act under the Secretary of State's authority. The annual list is published in the Code of Federal Regulations and in Country Reports on Terrorism.
According to the U.S. Department of State's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism:
State sponsors of terrorism provide critical support to non-state terrorist groups. Without state sponsors, terrorist groups would have much more difficulty obtaining the funds, weapons, materials, and secure areas they require to plan and conduct operations. Most worrisome is that some of these countries also have the capability to manufacture WMD and other destabilizing technologies that can get into the hands of terrorists. The United States will continue to insist that these countries end the support they give to terrorist groups.
State sponsors of terrorism have also been termed 'rogue states' or referred to as states aligned on an 'axis of evil,' by President Bush.
Who's on--and off--the List
At the beginning of 2007, the list of State Sponsors included:
- Cuba (as of March 1, 1982)
- Iran (January 19, 1984)
- North Korea (January 20, 1988)
- Sudan (August 12, 1993)
- Syria (December 29, 1979)
Three countries that were formerly on the list, Iraq, Libya and South Yemen, have been removed. Iraq, which has been on and off the list more than once, was removed in 2004 after the U.S. invaded and toppled the regime. In June, 2008, President Bush began the removal of North Korea from the list, in exchange for disclosures of its nuclear activities.
The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, or "South Yemen," was placed on the list in 1979, and removed when it was merged with the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen).
Libya, which was put on the list in 1979, was removed in 2006. Libya took responsibility for the explosion of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988. The explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people. Libya agreed to compensate families of the flight's victims, and to cooperate in the investigation and trial of the event. Libya also agreed to abandon its fledgling WMD program. Perhaps most important, Libya agreed to cooperate with the United States in new anti-terrorism efforts. On May 15, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced normal diplomatic relations would resume.
The presence of other states on the list also depends, to at least some extent, on whether they cooperate with U.S. goals in its global war on terrorism. Cuba, for example, remains on the list despite the judgment of the CIA in 2003 that,"We have no credible evidence … that the Cuban government has engaged, in or directly supported international terrorist operations in the past decade, although our information is insufficient to say beyond a doubt that no collaboration has occurred." Cuba's opposition to the American "war" is undoubtedly a significant factor in its continued presence on the list.
Origins of the List
The U.S. Department of State first created a list of State Sponsors of Terrorism in 1979. Countries are designated and maintained in keeping with three laws:
- Export Administration Act of 1979, Sec. 6j
- Arms Export Control Act, Sec. 40
- Foreign Assistance Act, Sec. 620
The Export Administration Act (EAA) and Arms Export Control Act both express one of the ways the United States conventionally exercises foreign policy, by controlling trade.The Export Administration Act permits the President to restrict or require special licensing of sales of certain items to countries considered to support terrorism. Arms exports and 'dual use' technologies, which have both civil and military applications, are restricted.
In practice, however, there is as of January 2007 no legislation governing the sale of dual use technology to state sponsors of terrorism, because the EAA expired on August 21, 2001 and has not been renewed, despite the Administration's expressed support for an effective export control system. In the absence of the act, the President can invoke emergency powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. This is not ideal; the financial penalties under the IEEPA are so low as to fail to deter licensing violations, and the IEEPA does not provide enforcement agents with police power, limiting their ability to enforce EAA provisions.(Information for the paragraph comes in part from Ian Fergusson, "The Export Administration Act: Evolution, Provisions, and Debate," a May 5, 2005 Congressional Research Service report).
Current issues that concern the American defense community and international legal community include the acquisition of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction technology by states supporting terrorism; whether state sponsors of terrorism can be sued by victims of terrorist attacks; and how the unilateral labeling by one state of another affects their legal standing in the international community.