The Kim Jong-nam assassination was meant to terrorize, not just eliminate

As the reports suggest that the Trump administration is about to put Pyongyang back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism — from which it should never have been removed to begin with — I’m seeing some strained arguments in opposition.


[A lecturer at PUST, in case that’s relevant to you.]

Nonsense. If you just want to eliminate a rival, you “fix” his brakes and arrange a car not-accident. Or, in Kim Jong-un’s case, you take advantage of his well-known reputation as a playboy and recruit a femme fatale to lure him to a hotel room and jab him with a needle. You make it look like an overdose, a botched robbery, or a heart attack. You sure as hell don’t do it with VX nerve agent in a crowded airport terminal using multiple people who can be traced back to your embassy.

Pyongyang knows how to do a plausibly deniable assassination. In Kim Jong-nam’s case, it chose a plan so gruesome, so public, so needlessly elaborate, and so implausibly deniable that it reads like a James Bond parody. Why do that? To terrorize us, South Korea, and any past or future defectors: (1) we have WMDs, (2) we aren’t afraid to use them, (3) we don’t care about civilian casualties, and (4) if you criticize us, you will never be safe, no matter where you are and no matter how long it takes us to find you.

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