The US List of Countries Allegedly Sponsors of Terrorism: Another Imperialistic Scam

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In the US State Department’s toolkit, unilateral coercive measures (UCMs) are used to blackmail, bully and intimidate States that do not readily accept US hegemony. Placing a country in the US list of countries sponsors for terrorism is intended to lend some phony legitimacy to UCMs imposed against targeted States.

Unilateral Coercive Measures are not “sanctions”, since the US has no legal or moral right to sanction or “punish” other states.  Nor do the American UCMs satisfy the legal criteria to be considered “retorsion” or “countermeasures” for purposes of the International Law Commission’s code on State responsibility[1].  UCMs constitute the use of force prohibited in Article 2, paragraph 4, of the UN Charter[2], violate numerous international treaties and basic principles of international law including the sovereign equality of states, the self-determination of peoples, freedom of trade and navigation, and cause economic chaos and humanitarian crises that can amount to crimes against humanity within the meaning of article 7 of the Statute of Rome[3]. UCMs kill.

For decades the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have adopted yearly resolutions condemning the imposition of UCMs as incompatible with the UN Charter,[4] according to which the only legal sanctions are those imposed by the Security Council under Chapter VII.  The US commercial and financial “embargo” against Cuba has been condemned by the General Assembly in 31 resolutions[5], which the United States has violated and continues to violate. Far from lifting the UCMs, the US has aggravated the “bloqueo”.  Notwithstanding the draconian regime that over the past 64 years Cuba has had to endure, the UCMs have failed to deliver the desired effect:  regime change.  Because of the systematic abuse of the veto power by the United States in the Security Council, the US continues to violate international law in total impunity.

The first list of countries allegedly sponsors of terrorism was issued in 1979[6]. The list originally included Iraq, Libya, South Yemen (dissolved in 1990), Sudan and Syria.  Cuba was added to the list in 1982 under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.  As of 2024 the list consists of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria, all countries targeted for regime change.  Countries that have since been removed from the list are Iraq, Libya, South Yemen and Sudan.  The US State Department maintains the list under section 1754 of the National Defense Authorisation Act, the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act.

Many countries have demanded that Cuba be removed from the list of States sponsoring terrorism[7], and indeed, on 15 May 2024, Cuba was delisted from a separate list of countries “not fully cooperating” with the United States in counter-terrorism.  Yet, this is NOT the same as being delisted from the “states sponsors of terrorism” club, which has been and is being used as a pretext for UCMs.  It sounds incoherent because it is.  Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez tweeted “US gov. Announcement is a limited step in the right direction.  This decision in no way modifies the blockade, Cuba’s fraudulent inclusion in the list of countries sponsors of terrorism or most of Trump’s maximum pressure coercive measures that sill affect the Cuban people.”  On 15 June 2024, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 and China issued a declaration[8] urging the immediate delisting of Cuba, and further demanded a halt to UCMs targeting the Cuban population. The statement denounced the inclusion of Cuba on the terrorism list as lacking factual, legal or moral basis[9].

The arbitrariness of the US list is obvious to any observer.  Indeed, none of the US allies and friends are on the list.  The US itself is a principal sponsor and practitioner of terrorism as we know from many whistleblowers, from the work of the CIA and the revelations before the US Congress. The US supported Israeli terrorism since its inception in 1946-48. It can be said without fear of contradiction that Israel was born in terrorism.  One remembers the indiscriminate killings by Zionist paramilitaries, the Nakba, the terrorization of the Palestinian population of the former British mandate, the terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel[10] on 22 July 1946, the assassination by Zionist extremists of UN Security Council Mediator Graf Folke Bernadotte on 17 September 1948, a terrorist act that was the subject of an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice[11] in 1949, etc.

Today we witness an ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people, notwithstanding SC Resolution 242, pertinent General Assembly and Human Rights Council Resolutions, the ICJ Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004[12], and the three separate “provisional measures” orders issued by the ICJ in January, March and May 2024 in connection with the genocide case brought by South Africa against Israel[13] under article 9 of the 1948 Genocide Convention.  Indeed, the US has been the principal sponsor of Israeli terrorism against Palestinians since 1946, providing military, political, economic, financial, technical and propagandistic support, rendering the US complicit in the Israeli genocide, pursuant to Article III e of the 1948 Genocide Convention. Countries that have asked to join South Africa in its ICJ case against Israel include Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Ireland, Libya, Maldives, Mexico, Nicaragua, Palestine, Spain and Turkey[14]. Countries that have condemned Israel as a state sponsoring terrorism include Bolivia, Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Yemen.

US weapons and intelligence assisted Israel in the targeted assassination of four Iranian nuclear scientists, Masoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad and Mostafa Ahmadi.  Another scientist Fereydoon Abbasi was wounded in an attempted murder. At the time, unnamed US officials confirmed that the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) had been financed, trained and armed by Israel.  If US laws were to be applied objectively, that would have rendered Israel (and the United States) a state sponsor of terrorism under the then Foreign Terrorist Organization designation of the MEK.

The examples of Israeli state-sponsored terrorism include the 1954 Lavon Affair, an unsuccessful bomb plot in Egypt that led to the resignation of the Israeli minister of defence.[15] In the 1970s and 80s Israel was a major supplier of arms to dictatorial regimes in South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.  In Indonesia, as reported by Noam Chomsky, Israel served as a proxy of the United States, providing aircraft used by Indonesia to massacre the Timorese[16]. More recently Israel has been accused of sponsoring and supporting several terrorist groups in its proxy wars against Iran, Lebanon and Syria.

The US has been an active sponsor of terrorism in Latin America, Africa and Asia, participated in the overthrow[17] of countless governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia, supported military juntas that terrorized their own populations, organized and financed “color revolutions” in Europe to install US-friendly governments in the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine and Georgia[18].  In October 1965 the US supported the coup d’état against the leader of the Indonesian independence movement, President Sukarno and imposed the genocidal regime of Suharto, who carried out widespread murders and purges that may have numbered a million murdered victims.  In the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, the US supported Miami-based terrorist cells that conducted bombings and other terroristic acts in Cuba.  The US gave safe-haven to the Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles[19], a CIA operative, who was responsible for the blowing up of Cubana Airlines Flight 455, on  6 October 1975, causing 73 civilian deaths[20].   Posada later admitted responsibility in a string of bombings in 1997 targeting fashionable Cuban hotels and nightspots.  Protected by the US, Posada died in Miami, Florida, in 2018, aged 90.

In the 1980s the US financed terrorist groups in Nicaragua (the “contras”), which used terror methods against the government of Daniel Ortega[21].  Also in the 1980’s the US financed terrorist groups in Afghanistan to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  The record of US involvement with radical Islamist groups is endless.

Why was Cuba ever put on the list of state sponsors of terrorism?  The Department of State tries to explain it with Cuba’s support of national liberation movements in Africa and Latin America.  However, national liberation movements are recognized as legitimate in countless UN resolutions, for instance, Res. 2625 which stipulates:  “in pursuit of the exercise of their right to self-determination, peoples are entitled to seek and to receive support in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter.”  National Liberation Movements have received wide recognition from the international community[22] and must not be branded “terrorists”. Indeed Article I(4) of the 1977 First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions extends protection to members of NLMs, including  “armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”[23]

The US has unjustly accused Cuba of giving support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which had a legitimate goal of national liberation against dictatorial, corrupt and thoroughly undemocratic governments subservient to the United States.

On 14 April 2015, President Barack Obama announced that Cuba was being removed from the list.  But on 12 January 2021 the then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleging “repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism” by giving refuge to US fugitives and Colombian rebel leaders, put Cuba back on the list.  Does this sound hypocritical?

In a note addressed to the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, Cuba noted that it had codified the fight against terrorism in its 2019 constitution:  “In the new national Constitution, adopted by referendum on 24 February 2019 following a process of constitutional reform and broad popular consultation, the commitment of Cuba to the fight against terrorism was elevated to constitutional status. Article 16(l) of chapter II, which is dedicated to international relations, states that: the Republic of Cuba … “rejects and condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, in particular State terrorism”. This decision reaffirms the long-standing rejection and condemnation by Cuba of all acts, methods and practices of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including when States are directly or indirectly involved, by whomever, against whomsoever and wherever committed, regardless of motivation. In a fair decision taken in 2015, our country, which has been the victim of hundreds of terrorist acts that have claimed the lives of 3,478 persons and incapacitated another 2,099, was removed from the list of State sponsors of international terrorism, a unilateral mechanism in which it should never have been included. Terrorism continues to be a serious challenge facing the international community. We would therefore like to reiterate that it is the duty of the United Nations to take the leading role in international counter-terrorism efforts.”[24]

It is time for the US to do away with its arbitrary and imperialistic list of “countries sponsors of terrorism” and to lift all UCMs that have been based on this political and defamatory designation. Ultimately, the list is a scam sustained by US propaganda, a scam that the Global Majority in Latin America, Africa and Asia are no longer willing to accept.



[2] Alfred de Zayas, Security Council, Arria Formula meeting, 25 March 2024

UN Charter, UN Credibility and Unlawful Unilateral Coercive Measures


[4]  GA Res 78/202 of 19 December 2023

[5] Most recently Resolution 78/7 of 2 November 2023












[17] Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow, America’s Century of regime change from Hawaii to Iraq, Times Books, New York 2006.  William Blum, Killing Hope, Zed Books, London 2014.









Alfred de Zayas is a law professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and served as a UN Independent Expert on International Order 2012-18. He is the author of twelve books including “Building a Just World Order” (2021) “Countering Mainstream Narratives” 2022, and “The Human Rights Industry” (Clarity Press, 2021).