To feed or not to feed?


Wonsan Kindergarten (photo courtesy of EPD)

The following is the introduction to the newly released CanKor Report #334: Humanitarian Aid to North Korea by CanKor editor-in-chief, Erich Weingartner. Subscribe to receive the CanKor Report directly to your inbox.

To Feed or not to feed?

That seems increasingly to be the question facing humanitarian agencies and governments as they debate the question of whether and how to respond to what appears to be a new famine-in-the-making in North Korea. The writing is on the wall… or at least in report after report from the FAO-WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment of November 2010 to the most recent Food Security Assessment by five US-based NGOs at the end of February 211. The fact that 40 DPRK embassies the world over have been appealing for food aid from whatever sources they could find seems a good indication that even North Korea’s elite is feeling the pinch.

Freedom via Famine
So far the response has been tepid at best. What is more disturbing: an increasing number of formerly sober voices openly asking whether or not starvation should be used as a weapon to bring down the DPRK regime. One of these is the Dean of the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Christopher R. Hill, formerly US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, has been distancing himself from his own legacy as chief US negotiator in the Six-Party Talks from 2005-2009, claiming in a recent speech that the 6PT are a waste of time.

“Would food aid help to ensure the survival of a state whose treatment of its own citizens is among the most abysmal in the world?” he asks in a 22 February column for Project Syndicate entitled “Food for Thought in North Korea”. He ends his commentary with the following words: “In the coming weeks, South Korea’s government will confront one of the toughest choices that any government can face: whether the short-term cost in human lives is worth the potential long-term benefits (also in terms of human lives) that a famine-induced collapse of North Korea could bring.”

Have we really arrived at a point where we are willing to starve a nation to spite its leaders? Are we ready to abandon the idea that humanitarian aid should be independent of political considerations? Will future generations of North Koreans in a unified Korea applaud South Korea’s decision to withhold food and fertilizer in order to speed up Korea’s integration? Have we “progressed” from accepting the concept of humanitarian military intervention to accepting the concept of a humanitarian famine?

Food for thought indeed!

6 Responses to “To feed or not to feed?”

  1. Der Typ vom Bahnhof, Nordkorea und was man daraus über Nahrungsmittelhilfen lernen kann « Nordkorea-Info Says:

    […] achievement, the brainchild of an up-and-coming DFAIT staffer, was given by none […] […]To feed or not to feed? 12. März 2011The following is the introduction to the newly released CanKor Report […]

  2. Food aid from US may be forthcoming « CanKor Says:

    […] To feed or not to feed? (cankor.ca) […]

  3. Six million vulnerable to starvation: UN « CanKor Says:

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  4. South Korea’s Humanitarian Dilemma by Professor Victor Hsu « CanKor Says:

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