Chris Nelson Takes Issue With Andrew Natsios’ OpEd in the Washington Post

[Under the heading “The North Korea Nuke/Food Conundrum” Chris Nelson critiques an OpEd entitled “Stop feeding North Korea’s nuclear ambition” by Andrew Natsios that appeared in the 8 March edition of The Washington Post. Andrew Natsios is currently a professor at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. He was administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) from May 2001 through December 2005. He is the author of the 2001 book entitled “The Great North Korean Famine”. The following critique is taken from the 9 March 2012 edition of The Nelson Report, with kind permission by the author. –CanKor.]

US-AID food aid at a Kindergarten in Popdong, DPRK (photo by Erich Weingartner)

Another terrible, conflicting example for the international community is food aid to N. Korea, currently being negotiated as part of a larger US effort to regain some negotiating leverage with Pyongyang’s nuclear weapon, missile and proliferation threats far beyond the confines of the DPRK.

W. Bush’s AID Administrator, Andrew Natsios, has an OpEd in the Washington Post this morning which illuminates the risks of fatuousness “goo-goo” demands for “humanitarian assistance” from regimes which are the embodiment of inhumane governance…although he takes a while to wander through a thicket of his own mistaken assertions.

We’re going to indulge in a fairly extensive deconstruction of his discussion, as it manages to illuminate, even when wrong, key dilemmas inherent to deciding “what is the right thing to do?” when dealing with difficult regimes, especially regimes which can fight back.

It’s perhaps not fair to note he seems unaware that Steve Bosworth hasn’t been the chief NK negotiator for some time, but if you’re going to make this kind of fundamental factual mistake, the rest of your argument needs to be pretty damn good. Alas, your Editor is forced to fall-back on this exculpatory hope far too often. But we digress…

First of all, Natsios turns on its head the logic of the DPRK’s demands for food while it continues a strategic nuclear weapons and missile program. He accuses the Obama Administration of “legitimizing” such a tradeoff, and does not seem to have learned from his own tenure at AID that it’s Pyongyang that demands the linkage.

In the current case, the DPRK has made explicitly clear that it views US food assistance as proof of “sincerity”, and thus as a precondition for any decision by Pyongyang to return to the 6 Party Talks. But Natsios writes:

“When North Koreans were starving we did nothing, but when we want them to sit for nuclear talks we offer to feed them. What’s the message? Without their nuclear weapons, they won’t get aid…”.

This statement is factually wrong, given the many tons of food aid provided over the years, including under his supervision, whether or not 6PT or any strategic negotiations were underway. He also argues that the DPRK “can do anything it wants” with food given, because all the US cares about is nukes…thereby ignoring the very strict end-use and on-site verification inspection standards long part of US/AID policy, and a key part of the “confidence building/sincerity” precondition of the current Obama effort.

(Indeed, Natsios’ recommendations includes a stentorian demand for the very end-use monitoring…standard US policy…that his former advisor on the DPRK, Jon Brause, and Amb. King are currently negotiating, on orders from the President.)

He then slips in a major, and important foreign policy argument, but makes no effort to link it to food or humanitarian efforts, despite its relevancy to the Iran crisis/conundrum:

“If North Korea’s rulers give up their nuclear weapons, Washington may overthrow them”. (That “lesson” was preceded by “If you want to eat, build more nuclear weapons.”)

“Proof” of the “overthrow” lesson is the Obama Administration’s successful, cooperative effort in Libya, Natsios writes, omitting the incredibly important role of NATO, and the French and British pilots, but landing with both feet rather clumsily on the side of the Kim Family Regime, which can cheerfully quote this remark back to the US, and to its own people.

Natsios concludes with another bit of historic amnesia, one which is, however, regularly trotted out by some Republican critics of Obama and the Clinton Administration: “The latest nuclear negotiations are likely to yield what they have for 18 years: nothing.”

Apparently Natsios missed the briefings on the 1994 Agreed Framework, the shut-down at Yongbyon, etc.

Finally, Natsios concludes with what has to be the most muddled, self-contradictory remark we’ve seen so far on the problem of dealing with the DPRK:

“North Korea is dying. Its economic system is a wreck, and it cannot feed its people…Washington should do nothing to prolong the agony of the long-suffering North Korean people by supporting the existing system. But perhaps we can begin to push them toward reform.”

Huh? Oh…wait, now we get it…the former head of AID is against food aid for humanitarian purposes to the DPRK!! Not quite sure where he thinks his “push” is coming from, tho’, unless he means the long-in place-sanctions, et al.

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