The North Korea Food Aid Debate
Date: May 11, 2011
Scott A. Snyder, Council on Foreign Relations Blog
There has been a protracted debate over whether the United States should give food assistance in response to North Korea’s appeals for assistance from earlier this year, with an exchange between Stephan Haggard and Lee Jong Cheol as the most recent example. Both U.S. Institute of Peace and the Heritage Foundation have also sponsored programs on the subject within the last week. The overall debate is an extension of one that began over fifteen years ago with the initial entry of international organizations in response to North Korea’s famine of the mid-1990s, and it essentially revolves around two characteristics of humanitarian response to North Korea that are distinctive from other complex humanitarian emergencies: 1) most humanitarian interventions occur in the context of a breakdown of political authority, but international aid workers must work with North Korean political authorities to meet humanitarian needs, and 2) North Korea’s need is a function of system failure, but it is also a potential source of revenue that might assist in sustaining that system. Two recent food assessment missions by international and private humanitarian agencies (a rapid food security assessment by U.S. NGOs in February and another by the UN World Food Program in March) have documented the existence of growing humanitarian need in North Korea. How should the United States and the international community respond?
Stephan Haggard is Director of the Korea-Pacific Program and Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies at the IR/PS. He can provide commentary on current developments in the Asia-Pacific, including particularly Korea, and on the politics of economic reform and globalization.