Now, when petition to "Designate Russia as State Sponsor of Terrorism" has reached the required number of 100,000 signatures, I am trying to figure out for myself, what exactly does this term mean, and by what criteria a country can be designated as such.

According to U.S. Department of State, countries in this list are designated and maintained in keeping with three laws:

  • Export Administration Act (EAA) of 1979, Sec. 6j
  • Arms Export Control Act (AECA), Sec. 40
  • Foreign Assistance Act (FAA), Sec. 620

As far as I understand, all three laws define the ways how U.S. maintains its trade policy, including licensing, taxes, limitations, items and materials prohibited to export, banned persons and organizations, and so on.

However, these laws do not say how a country can be added to this list or removed from it.

So, my question is, what exact criteria are used to designate a country as "State Sponsor of Terrorism"?
I'm not a lawyer, so a brief explanation in "layman's terms" would be the best.

3 Answers 3


The List of State Sponsors of Terrorism is maintained by the US State department. The State department can add or remove states as it deems appropriate. This act requires no approval, oversight, or vetting. Though I suspect that if a Secretary of State allowed a country to be added or removed against the wishes of the president, they would soon there after be stepping aside for personal reasons. If a state was added that hit the political funny bone of Congress I am sure there would be a storm there as well.

In theory it would prevent the US Government from providing any monetary aid, military trade, or signing any agreements with the organization until they have been removed from the list.

But in reality our government's leaders do what they want anyway regardless of any official designation even when required to do otherwise, or prohibited from doing so. This is not a new phenomena and breaking such restrictions have in the past had some results that many would consider very positive.

  • In 1972 Nixon broke a mandated isolation of China and opened up trade with them that helped lead to the growth of what would become the worlds largest economy.
  • In 1986 Reagan struck a deal with Soviet Leader Gorbachev that broke a long standing barrier to trade between the nations and was credited for ending the cold war.
  • Bill Clinton through use of executive power was able to avert a crisis with the Mexican peso taking action that was against the standing laws and trade agreements of the time.
  • George Bush was able to frame a foreign leader that lead to an invasion that killed thousands of Iraqi, as well as a few hundred terrorists, to topple a dictator and usher in an islamic theocracy.
  • Due to the military coup in Egypt in 2012 the US Should be prohibited from providing the $5billion in aid... that has not stopped either.

Only 2 of the offending presidents ever faced impeachment. Only one was impeached with Nixon resigning hours before the vote was set to be taken that likely would have lead to his impeachment trial. Neither of those impeachments had (or would have had) to do with the illegal acts they took as president but rather with actions they took in an attempt to prevent them selves from looking bad.

So what it really means is well nothing, but it looks like they are taking a strong stance if you do not realize the truth.

  • 1
    None of the states in your examples were in the state sponsor of terrorism list, though. Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 9:54
  • 1
    @EvilWashingMachine - you miss the point of the answer. Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 10:31
  • Technically only your first paragraph talks about the actual question OP asked.
    – quarague
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 10:17

State Department's website State Sponsors of Terrorism describes the criterion as following:

Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 1754(c) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961). Taken together, the four main categories of sanctions resulting from designation under these authorities include restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

Designation under the above-referenced authorities also implicates other sanctions laws that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with state sponsors. Currently there are four countries designated under these authorities: Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Iran, and Syria.

The word "determined" here creates a special power to certify countries as state sponsors of terrorism if they are, in fact, state sponsors of terrorism. The secretary is not required to designate them as such. It is a tool for shaping the foreign policy of the United States. The US Constitution makes the power to shape the foreign policy one of the prerogatives of the President of the United States.

Effectively this makes it a legislation-authorized Presidential power to make such a designation in order to shape the foreign policy. Although it can be undertaken by a Secretary of State without a President's direct order. While the word "determine" may make it sound like it's just a finding of fact, it is not. It is a political action because it carries with it immediate and automatic legally-required enforcement consequences.

While it maybe true that Russia is a state sponsoring the terrorist activities in DPR, designating Russian Federation as such would severely hamper trade and financial transactions with all entities domiciled in the RF. It would also hamper State Department's ability to cooperate with RF in other regions of the world, including ability to share information on threats of international terrorism in other regions.

Since the State Department must consider all consequences of all foreign policy actions, this designation would only happen if the relations with Russia deteriorate to the point of being considered irreparable.


This is a fine line. No legal proceedings are necessary in the designation of a country as a sponsor of terror. General criteria would include: the funding of classified terrorist organizations, outspoken support of these groups, etc.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .