What Happens if US Designates Russia ‘a State Sponsor of Terrorism’?
Monday, May 16, 2022
Drago Bosnic, independent geopolitical and military analyst
The designation “state sponsor of terrorism” is used by the US Department of State to unilaterally sanction countries which the US government claims to have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism”. The State Department is required to maintain the controversial list under special acts passed by the Congress, imposing various restrictions aimed at the economies and international trade relations of the targeted countries.
As of late 2021, State Department lists Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria as “state sponsors of terrorism”, however, there were other countries formerly on the list, such as Iraq, Libya, South Yemen and Sudan. Designating a country as “a state sponsor of terrorism” can affect it in many ways, some of which include:
- freezing of the targeted country’s financial and real estate assets in the US;
- requiring the US to prevent efforts of the targeted country to secure World Bank or IMF loans;
- prohibition on the export of so-called “dual-use products” (items that can be used both for civilian and military purposes);
- requiring the US to impose economic and other sanctions against countries that continue to do business with the targeted country.
Since Russia started its special military operation in Ukraine, the more hawkish members of the US and NATO establishment have been insisting on the inclusion of Russia on this list. Some, such as the Baltic states, infamous for their virtually endemic Russophobia, already designated Russia as the “state sponsor of terrorism”. Luckily, actions taken by such microstates are largely inconsequential. However, what would happen if some of the larger and more significant NATO and EU members were to take the same course of action?
Considering the controversial designation is aimed not just against the targeted country, but also any third party doing business with it, this would effectively force member states to sanction each other, since many EU and NATO members simply cannot function without trading and dealing with Russia. This includes countries like Hungary, Austria and even Germany, the EU’s largest economy and arguably the most powerful member state. Without Russia’s oil, gas, food, rare earth metals and nonmetals, heavy machinery and many other commodities, these countries would collapse, economically and otherwise.
The designation also directly affects relations within NATO. In case the Congress was to add Russia to the list, possible sanctions wouldn’t just affect the aforementioned EU member states, but also some of the largest and most powerful NATO members, such as Turkey. Ankara has already been sanctioned for the purchase of Russia’s top-of-the-line S-400 surface-to-air missile system. However, the sanctions in the context of trading and dealing with a country designated “a state sponsor of terrorism” would be much more severe. Thousands of private Turkish companies are present in Russia, many of them in the construction business, which directly affects the troubled Turkish economy, currently dealing with enormous inflation and unemployment.
In terms of global relations and trade, such a move would affect the world in ways which are difficult to predict in the long term. However, in short term, it would certainly affect countries such as China and India, dozens of countries in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, as all these countries would be affected by the third-party sanctions. In doing so, the US would effectively sanction around 80% of the world. This would lead to an uncontrollable escalation of economic collapse in many of these countries, especially in the Middle East and Africa. It would force the US to either implement sanctions on a case-by-case basis, or change the law completely, effectively blunting the effects of sanctions. This would also exponentially accelerate the process of dedollarization, as countries would seek other ways to do business with Russia without US interference.
However, the far-reaching consequences for the global economy would pale in comparison to the resulting security issues. Officially deeming a country with over 6,000 nuclear weapons “a terrorist state” pushes the planet to a brink of a world-ending conflict, as such a designation eases legal restrictions on the use of the US military against the targeted country. Such moves have resulted in rising tensions with North Korea and Iran in previous years. Within the framework of the designation, the US targeted and killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in 2020, to which Iran retaliated by targeting US bases in Iraq.
Even at the height of the Cold War, the US did not sanction the USSR with this designation, which is what makes this move even less logical, since the strategic military situation is still virtually unchanged, with both Russia and the US still relying on the mutually assured destruction (MAD) doctrine. Also, Russia is not without options for a reciprocal response, as it could easily designate the US itself as a state sponsor of terrorism. This designation would hardly just be a (geo)political one, as the US has been providing ample support to a wide range of terrorist actors from at least the 1980s to this very day. Former US State Secretary and failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton openly admitted that Al Qaeda was in essence the mujahideen the US funded and armed to fight the USSR in the 1980s.
The same happened in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s, where the US openly worked with Neo-Nazi and terrorist groups to help dismantle former Yugoslavia. During the Arab Spring color revolution which swept through the Middle East and North Africa, the US directly supported dozens of terrorist groups, resulting in the destruction of Syria, Libya and Iraq. US and NATO attempts to rebrand these groups as the so-called “moderate democratic opposition” failed miserably as the terrorists exposed themselves by allying with the Islamic State and even posting videos of gruesome crimes against civilians and POWs. In short, the US should take a long, hard look in the mirror before it even begins contemplating the idea to designate anyone “a state sponsor of terrorism”.
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