Protect and Serve

Sixty four imaginary dollars will be awarded to the person who answers this question: who feeds North Korea?

American Interest has the answer.

One reason the United States, long North Korea’s largest known food donor (China’s contributions are not made public), has not yet decided to step in with the more than 300,000 tons of food aid actually requested, is that it must be assured that food aid is not diverted or misused. …

Most of all, it is Pyongyang’s nuclear program and deadly provocations against the South that explain America’s reluctance to help. For years the United States gave hundreds of millions of dollars in food and fuel aid as part of agreements on nuclear issues and to reinforce efforts to reach further agreements. But now there are no agreements, not even talks. North/South relations have become even worse because of the sinking of a South Korean ship and the bombardment of one of its islands. South Korea has cut off its own aid programs and wants the United States to follow suit.


And that assistance is needed now, more than ever. The Wall Street Journal writes that the population in the North is near starvation. Unless America digs deep, then the most people in the Worker’s Paradise are for the boneyard. Things are so bad that Pyongyang has extended the begging bowl to Africa.

Dire reports about North Korea’s food situation are common. And so is the political dilemma over whether to help because previous international donations have been redirected by North Korea’s authoritarian regime, led by dictator Kim Jong Il, away from ordinary citizens to the country’s military and elite.

Signs have grown that the current situation is worse than in recent years. The North’s government recently warned citizens several times that food problems are acute, though it also told them that food shortages are common world-wide.

North Korean diplomats this year also asked for food aid from more countries than before, including African countries poorer than it. The WFP reported that its investigators received “unprecedented access” to the country during visits this month and last.

Those who know Koreans understand that they are among the most intelligent and hardworking people on earth. How is it possible they should be reduced to this state? How could the Cubans, how could the Germans, how could the Chinese under Mao, how could …? But that is now beside the point. There’s a humanitarian crisis brewing in North Korea and it’s America’s duty to save it. The only obstacle in the way is some mean-spirited conservatives.


At a U.S. congressional hearing on North Korea earlier this month, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “Fast approaching is the 100th anniversary next year of the birth of Kim Jong Il’s father, and there is the danger that aid provided would be diverted for this spectacle.”

Food aid to the North was a topic when deputy foreign ministers from the U.S. and South Korea met in Seoul earlier this month. At that time, they said they were waiting for the WFP’s report. …

The U.S. and North Korea in 2008 negotiated a detailed agreement for the U.S. to provide new levels of food assistance. But when the time came to implement the pact, North Korea ended it. Some U.S. diplomats and North Korea watchers believe Pyongyang didn’t want to allow the U.S. to carry out verification measures called for in the deal, which included allowing Korean-speaking Americans to travel around the North.

Nearly 10 years ago, Amnesty International claimed that North Korea was using food as a weapon. “Quoting refugees who had fled at the height of famines in the late 1990s, Amnesty accused North Korea’s government of distributing food resources unfairly to reward supporters and punish critics.”

Under Kim Jong-il’s “military-first” policy, which is designed to counter the threat from the US, the army always gets first pick of food supplies.

The report says that during the worst of the famine, people were publicly executed for stealing food.


You can almost hear the dialogue.

“Die you capitalist running dog, die!”

“But my children are starving …”

“How dare you take this imperialist supplied food delivered to us as part of their duty to protect and imply that we didn’t provide it? It is now glorious socialist food provided by the Dear Leader. Take that you hound, take that …”

Bang. Bang. Bang.

Just because it sounds corny doesn’t mean it can’t be true. Maybe we were taught that all those cornball scenarios were cheesy because they were actually true. And since we couldn’t be taught not to believe it, we were conditioned to laugh at it. Head off the thought at the pass, so to speak.

But the accusation against Pyongyang is a novel one. Normally the indictment of using “food as a weapon” is applied to the US, especially to George Bush. “The Bush Administration took criticism for using ‘food as a weapon’ during talks over the North’s nuclear weapons program.” This came at a time when North Korea had embarked upon a campaign called “Let’s Eat Two Meals a Day” and reports of cannibalism were filtering out of the Hermit Kingdom.

The UN has recently warned that a repeat of that tragedy may unfolding and as many six million people may be starving in the Worker’s Paradise.


They concluded that hundreds of thousands of tons of food aid are needed to prevent starvation and malnutrition among North Koreans.

These latest findings are likely to put pressure on the United States to resume humanitarian aid to North Korea, suspended since 2009, as President Barack Obama has been suggesting that Washington will keep humanitarian and political issues separate.

The UN! Gosh, I guess that means everybody’s got to obey. But there’s this disquiet that won’t go away. When does the duty to protect effectively become a subsidy for dictators who would have long ago fallen except for the artificial support of those who they constantly attack. You know, like Gaza and Israel. Here’s a thought experiment. Hunger was widespread in Germany during the last days of 1944 and 1945. Would it have been good public policy to send food aid to Hitler? If not, then why?

For all those who guessed the correct answer to the imaginary sixty four dollar question, here’s a bonus question: did the American taxpayer ever get a note of thanks from North Korea?

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