By Christine Wang
When debating whether or not to provide food aid to North Korea, a nation whose citizens suffer largely from famine, people intuitively argue that we should. The citizens should not be deprived of something as basic as food when they are working overtime just to keep their families alive. UCLA graduate Shimon Moshehai expresses that much of the hostility between North Korea and the rest of the world stems from chronic food shortages that plague the nation; thus, food aid to North Korea should be both desired and beneficial, right?
In the 1990s, North Korea suffered a severe famine that caused almost 1 million people to die because of starvation. Unable to recover on its own, North Korea implored for food aid from other countries, such as the US, China and South Korea, in order to recuperate. The Congressional Research Service states that “between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided North Korea with over $1.3 billion in assistance” with “more than 50% for food aid”, exemplifying the fact that North Korea depended significantly on the US for aid. Through history, food aid to North Korea has fluctuated, ranging from 1.5 metric tons to 2 metric tons. The fluctuation exists because they are multiple cases of mistrust and suspicion that cause the US to withdraw aid.
Currently, North Korea refuses to cooperate with monitoring programs that the US attempts to institute. As a benefactor of North Korea, the US should reserve the right to be able to see where the food is being allocated in order to ensure optimal aid. In 2011, President Obama signed a bill that mandated that “food assistance may only be provided if “adequate monitoring and controls” exist. The problems arise as “the U.S. [halts] food shipments to North Korea in 2009 after Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea) expelled U.S. officials overseeing aid distribution”; if the food aid is not being allocated to correct areas, then those in most dire need of it would not receive it. A survey conducted by the Global Post in May 2013 showed that 8 out of 10 North Koreans are still undernourished, causing the US to question the efficiency of our food aid. The Human Rights Watch hints that much “economic mismanagement” favors the “military and government officials” of the country; however without monitoring policies, this remains purely extrapolation. Regardless, the facts still stand that “20 percent of North Korean children under 5 are malnourished” and that the North Koreans struggle daily to provide for their families. Thus, the lack of monitoring explicitly links to the lack of improvement seen within the country.
The US prioritizes the security of the global community that North Korea potentially threatens if food aid is apportioned to areas with harmful outcomes. Historically, a negative correlation exists between North Korea’s nuclear program and the amount of food aid the US obligingly provides for the country. Since 1994, when previous President Bill Clinton signed an “Agreed Framework” with Korea in order to suspend nuclear programs in trade for aid, the US has inevitably remained linked by some way, shape or form to North Korea. Therefore, it is imperative that the US address both its humanitarian and security goals of North Korea while staying wary of North Korea’s nuclear growth. Constant alterations to set policies between the US and North Korea’s nuclear pact cause much distrust between the two nations. An article published in April of 2013 highlighted the fact that “North Korea signed a denuclearization-for-aid deal in 2005 but later backed out of that pact”, now claiming that “its nuclear arms are a treasured sword that it will never give up”. The dangers of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and threats of nuclear strikes relay the fact that a long-lasting diplomatic resolution, other than food aid, is necessary to relieve the tension.
Overall, North Korea’s lack of transparency is an incontrovertible fact as to why the US is hesitant to whole-heartedly give food aid. As long as North Korea only views more “efficient farming practices and greater loyalty to the revolution” as the sole solution to improving the system, these food shortages remain prominent and very urgent.