Books: “Witness To Transformation” by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland


WITNESS TO TRANSFORMATION: Refugee Insights into North Korea, by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland. Washington DC: Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2011. 182 pp. US$23.95 paperback. ISBN 978-0-88132-438-9. This book review was written by CanKor Human Factor Editor Jack Kim.


In a former life as a management consultant, there was one lesson my superiors drilled into me: good decisions were all about data, data, and data. The more data you collected that was of superior quality, the more likely you were going to make a recommendation that would benefit the client.

Of course, that seems like common sense to most of us. But sometimes this simple lesson is lost upon those who make the “above-my-paygrade” decisions in life. Notwithstanding the limits of evidence-based decision-making, there are plenty of instances we can point out in the geopolitical sphere where catastrophic decisions were made with little regard to the data available. For example, Iraq comes to mind. The Rwandan massacre is another example of the world ignoring the evidence available.

But in many cases it is not only the qualitative analysis of data that is the issue – it is a lack of data in itself that prevents us from making decisions we should have otherwise made. When it comes to human rights, the world’s experience with the Cambodian genocide comes to mind. One of the reasons, especially early on, that the world stood idly by as at least two million Cambodians were murdered by Pol Pot and his cronies, was the Khmer Rouge’s ability to manage the information that came out of the country. In short, the atrocities themselves were hidden behind the curtain of control, sparking doubts of credulity in the outside world.

Of course, if there’s any a regime that has been as successful as the Khmer Rouge in controlling information flows, it is Pyongyang. Read the rest of this entry »

The Logic and Illogic of Food Aid by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland

[If you have not already read this article either at the Peterson Institute’s North Korea: Witness to Transformation blog or at 38North of the US-Korea Institute SAIS, we highly recommend this clear-speaking clarification and debunking of common arguments against food aid to the DPRK. We present here only the four statements (or myths) that are dealt with in the article and encourage you to read Haggard and Noland’s commentary here. –CanKor.]

As the food aid discussions heat up, we have been engaged in a number of conversations with friends–and critics–about the logic of granting food aid. Some of the arguments floating around need much closer scrutiny. Read the rest of this entry »

Comment on Chosun Ilbo article by anonymous USG source

[This is from a currently serving USG person who must, perforce, remain anonymous, responding to the Haggard/Noland post of April 7.]

Food aid should be carefully monitored by Korean-speaking US citizens. That said, let me share a few notes on Marcus’s good discussion:

1) WFP penetration of the northeast and northern provinces was less than many other places. Many of the non-covered counties were in North Hamgyong, where the vast majority of defectors come from;

2) Certainly no surprise that those who have fled the country might believe (with cause) that the military takes more than its share of goodies generally and report that, with or without evidence of diversion of food aid; Read the rest of this entry »

New monograph by Noland and Haggard on the role of economic statecraft

The East-West Center released Engaging North Korea: The Role of Economic Statecraft, a monograph written by Marcus Noland and Steph Haggard.  A description notes:

North Korea’s political economy and its external relations render it remarkably insensitive to either sanctions or inducements. Instead, its behavior appears driven to a significant extent by domestic political considerations and regime survival. It is conceivable that as the regime consolidates power internally, it may be more willing to undertake risks and engage in negotiations more seriously and substantively. It is possible that external constraints have simply not imposed enough pain, and that the country’s worsening food shortages might push the regime to reengage or to exploit a humanitarian gesture. But the converse appears equally, if not more, plausible: that the post–Kim Jong-il leadership may be too politically insecure or divided to make meaningful concessions, and consolidation will only reinforce the pre-existing trends toward a more hard-line and truculent policy. If so, the ultimate resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue may await fundamental change in the political regime.

Haggard and Noland also maintain a blog North Korea: Witness to Transformation which examines a wide range of issues involving North Korea.

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