An out­law killing

North Korea’s al­leged as­sas­si­na­tion us­ing a chem­i­cal weapon calls for new sanc­tions.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUN­DAY OPIN­ION - ED­I­TO­RI­ALS

IF SPREAD on a bat­tle­field or used against a pop­u­la­tion, the nerve agent VX would be ter­ri­fy­ingly deadly. A liter of the sub­stance con­tains enough lethal doses, the­o­ret­i­cally, to kill 1 mil­lion peo­ple. Less than 10 mil­ligrams — a small drop on the skin — can kill a grown man. It has no other pur­pose than be­ing an in­stru­ment of death. This is one rea­son most of the world has banned what is truly a weapon of mass de­struc­tion.

This is also one rea­son it is so mon­strous that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his co­terie of bru­tal­ists may have used VX to mur­der his half­brother Kim Jong Nam, while he was wait­ing to board a plane in an in­ter­na­tional air­port in Malaysia. The killing, cap­tured on sur­veil­lance video, dis­plays the cold­blooded men­tal­ity of Py­ongyang’s young dic­ta­tor, who has cut down rel­a­tives, col­leagues and any­one else who might threaten him, while con­fin­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in bleak prison camps and build­ing nu­clear and mis­sile forces to threaten the world.

North Korea of­ten of­fers a bully’s propo­si­tion: just rec­og­nize the gov­ern­ment and pro­vide it with eco­nomic fa­vors, and, per­haps, just maybe, it will not carry out the lat­est ugly threat it has man­u­fac­tured. In truth, a deal with North Korea that en­sures de­nu­cle­ariza­tion once and for all would be de­sir­able, if it could be achieved. But right now, Kim Jong Un needs to be shown there are penal­ties and no re­wards for such gross vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional norms.

The as­sas­si­na­tion by poi­son is rem­i­nis­cent of how for­mer KGB of­fi­cer and dis­si­dent Alexan­der Litvi­nenko was si­lenced in Lon­don with ra­dioac­tive polo­nium put into his tea. A Bri­tish in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that the Rus­sian se­cu­rity ser­vice and Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin “prob­a­bly ap­proved” it, al­though there was no di­rect proof, just a tell­tale ra­dioac­tive trace left by the Rus­sians who car­ried it out. In the same way, the killing of Kim Jong Nam may not have car­ried Kim Jong Un’s per­sonal sig­na­ture, but seems likely to be the re­sult of his or­ders.

North Korea has had a chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram since the 1980s. It is one of the few na­tions that have not signed the Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion, which bans VX. Aside from the buck­ing of in­ter­na­tional norms, the as­sas­si­na­tion un­der­lines grave ques­tions about how Mr. Kim might be­have in mo­ments of cri­sis with the regime’s nu­clear weapons. He is im­petu­ous, ir­ra­tional, bul­ly­ing and armed.

North Korea ought to be placed back on the U.S. list of na­tions that spon­sor ter­ror­ism, from which it was re­moved al­most a decade ago. China made a pos­i­tive move re­cently in cur­tail­ing coal im­ports from North Korea, but sanc­tions could be in­ten­si­fied still fur­ther against Py­ongyang’s fi­nan­cial sys­tem and the Chi­nese com­pa­nies that do busi­ness there. There must be no am­bi­gu­ity in the mes­sage from the United States and its al­lies: This was out­law be­hav­ior.

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