Reaction to the NK food crisis by Mitchell Reiss

[This continues the discussion on food aid published in the Nelson Report on 5 April 2011. Mitchell Reiss, President of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, was a former US State Department policy planner.]

Starting in the first term of the Bush 43 Administration, USAID director Andrew Natsios articulated the three prongs of a humanitarian relief strategy: (i) real need, (ii) more severe need than other places, and (iii) our ability to monitor the food distribution to ensure that it reaches its target audience. This was a more complete articulation of the first Reagan Doctrine that stated that “a starving child knows no politics.”

With respect to the situation in North Korea, there is little debate on the first prong, some debate on the second prong and a genuine question about the third prong. There is no fourth prong about alliance relations. I am a staunch and longstanding supporter of our alliance with South Korea, but Seoul should not have a veto over our decision whether or not to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea. After all these years, we should have enough confidence that our bilateral relationship with the South will survive if Washington makes a policy decision, based on the three prongs above, to feed the North.

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