Friday, October 17, 2003

NK starvation: what the think tanks say (Volume 2)

And so we continue with our exploration of NK issues.

To recap: the two major issues I originally wanted to explore were and are:

1. The NK military is currently starving.

2. "It's all bluster."

The first issue is a subset of the second, so I've been dealing with the starvation issue in a few posts because, well, a soldier who can't eat is a soldier who probably can't fight that well. I decided to parse the issues further, which gave rise to two sets of questions:

SET 1, re: starvation

1. What are the latest figures/expert guesses on NK starvation, in terms of rate and brute numbers? What's the general history of the starvation problem, and what projections, if any, are there about future starvation?

2. Who's currently giving food aid to NK? What percentage of NK's food supply is being domestically produced?

3. Can an overall picture of NK food production, delivery, and consumption be painted? How accurate will this picture be?

4. What measures, if any, are in place to verify where food goes (this question is crucial; if we can't answer it satisfactorily, we can't answer the "are the troops starving?" question satisfactorily, either)? Are military defectors from NK in a position to speak about diverted food?

5. If we get past question #4 and have at least some idea where food is going, how much is being routed to the military? How are the lower-echelon people in NK's government doing?

SET 2, re: "It's all bluster."

1. What would constitute a "clean" or "pyrrhic" victory? [ensuing discussion omitted]

2. What do the experts, military and otherwise, have to say about how a war on the peninsula would go? If you, as a blogger/talking head, think you have an angle the experts don't have (you lone voice in the wilderness, you), what's your angle?

3. What kind of military equipment does NK have in terms of weaponry, transports, etc.? What's the best-guess rundown on the military's strength, overall? How are experts evaluating "strength"?

4. What is the current state of NK troop training? (Many contend it's poor.) How will this be relevant in war?

5. Where are the NK troops positioned?

6. Would China get militarily involved? I found it interesting that some Chinabloggers think China would indeed get involved. I'd love for them to weigh in on this.

7. When all is said and done, what do experts feel would be the effect of a peninsular war on the South Korean population (i.e., numbers killed & in what space of time), infrastructure, economy, political future, etc.? This question is directly relevant to the larger issue of whether SK citizens are justified in fearing a war, and it's also relevant to our judgement that a victory will be clean or pyrrhic. What frustrates me about the SK position is the insistence on the "one people" rhetoric, which on its face is contradicted by fear of NK attack. So perhaps an interesting side issue is: what's going on in the "average" SK citizen's psyche that allows them to reconcile these two apparently contradictory convictions?

We've got a while to go before we're ready to deal with the SET 2 questions.

I began last time with a snippet from a presentation text I found at the American Enterprise Institute's website. The presentation was Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony given by James R. Lilley on March 12 of this year. What I didn't have time to note last time was that Lilley's testimony hints that, yes, the hunger problem is indeed creeping upward in NK society:

Ungrateful as North Korea has been for past aid, this time it is complicated by a starving population, even including cadres.

It's capillary action, like when you dip the corner of a napkin into a glass of water and hold it there: the water spreads slowly upward. Starvation in NK may be doing something like this, too, though I'm pretty sure it'll never reach the topmost levels of government.

Let's move on to Harvard's Asia Pacific Policy Program and see what they have to say, if anything, about NK and starvation and troops.

Sigh... a bunch of links. One of those links, luckily, is to the CIA World Factbook, 2003 version. Here's some interesting info:

North Korea, one of the world's most centrally planned and isolated economies, faces desperate economic conditions. Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment and spare parts shortages. Industrial and power output have declined in parallel. Despite a good harvest in 2001, the nation faces its ninth year of food shortages because of a lack of arable land; collective farming; weather-related problems, including major drought in 2000; and chronic shortages of fertilizer and fuel. Massive international food aid deliveries have allowed the regime to escape mass starvation since 1995-96, but the population remains vulnerable to prolonged malnutrition and deteriorating living conditions.

A timeline on starvation, then (bear with me; I'm slow on the uptake, and I know most folks are aware of this already, but some aren't, so we're learning together), would begin at about the time of Kim Il Sung's death in 1994 and the "peaceful" transfer of power that followed the Great Leader's entry into the Celestial Sphincter (and probable descent into the Abode of Polyps, where all evildoers go... good North Koreans get pumped by reverse cosmological peristalsis along the Small Intestine of Travail, through the Duodenum of Glory, and into the Stomach of Immaculate Destiny, where they will be digested over a thousand years. No, wait-- that's the Sarlaac from "Return of the Jedi.").

Large-scale military spending eats up resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Recently, the regime has placed emphasis on earning hard currency, developing information technology, addressing power shortages, and attracting foreign aid, but in no way at the expense of relinquishing central control over key national assets or undergoing widespread market-oriented reforms. In 2002, heightened political tensions with key donor countries and general donor fatigue have held down the flow of desperately needed food aid and threaten fuel aid as well.

The first sentence may be a reference to Kim Jong Il's "army first" policy. Further down, the Factbook entry says NK is currently spending about $5.2 billion on its military yearly, which comes to about 34% of its GDP.

Compare the above to the US's $276 billion expenditure, which accounts for only 3.2% of the US GDP.

Like the fish said in Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life": "Kinda' makes ya' think, doesn't it?"

When you follow the Harvard links, you also reach KoreaWeb, which in turn offers a link to Tim Beal's site on North Korea, which has a link titled "Food Supply and Aid." We click it now.

A UN brief from earlier in the year says the following:

United Nations: Child malnutrition falls considerably but gains threatened by lack of support
PYONGYANG / GENEVA, 20 February 2003 - Malnutrition rates among children in the (DPRK) have improved considerably over the past four years, according to a new survey, but the UN agencies that announced the findings today said the gains could be lost if international support for humanitarian assistance to the country continues to slacken.
The proportion of children underweight (weight-for-age) has fallen from 61 percent in 1998 to 21 percent in 2002
Wasting, or acute malnutrition (weight-for-height), has fallen from 16 percent to 9 percent
Stunting, or chronic malnutrition (height-for-age), has dropped from 62 percent to 42 percent.
The Government of DPRK attributed the improvement in part to the substantial humanitarian assistance provided by the international community in recent years. The exceptionally high levels of malnutrition recorded in 1998 also reflected the famine conditions that prevailed in the DPRK in the mid 1990s.

I'm not sure why I noted that, except that it was about the children. Makes you want to weep. Yet I'm beginning to think that the least bloody way out of this predicament is the cutting off of all aid, and perhaps the enlisting of other countries and organizations in this freeze-out. I doubt it's feasible, though; there are other aid groups than just the UN. Christians in South Korea, for example, donate millions of dollars in supplies to the North as part of their moral duty. My feelings on this are mixed: how can you seriously ask such groups to stand aside while people starve? Yet I can't help thinking that their efforts need to be stymied where possible, even as the stats about how starvation affects the children depress me.


An October 10, 2003 article by Charles "Jack" Pritchard published in the Financial Times says the following:

In a cash-strapped country that devotes, by some estimates, 34 per cent of its gross domestic product to its military, there is little left for economic development. Yet Mr Kim cannot change course overnight. He needs to be able to convince his power base-- the military-- that the US is no longer a threat that warrants a nuclear programme or such a large expenditure on conventional forces. Make no mistake, Mr Kim is not motivated by a desire to improve his people's standard of living. He simply wants his regime to survive. But whatever the motivation, the US should be encouraging any change that moves North Korea away from military belligerence and towards enhancing citizens' economic well-being.

So we again see the 34% figure. Evidence of an "army first" policy indeed. Can we assume this has implications on where and how food is distributed in NK? I think it's safe to say yes.

I'm out of time for the evening, but let me skip over to Google and do a search on "Kim Jong Il's army first" and "military first" policy.

Here's a NK propaganda website in English that details many of the Dear Leader's recent achievements. It lists the army-first policy very early on. So Kevin learns that, yes, this is indeed a policy.

A Korean website offers this English-language summary of the Songun Jongchi (Military First Politics):

The subject of this article is analysing Sonkun Jongchi {Military-first Politics} in North Korea, in order to find out the features of the party-military relations under Kim Jong Il regime. The Military-first Politics, introduced during the crisis in 1990s, means that the Korean People's Army (KPA), instead of workers and farmers, comes to be a main force of the revolution, and, accordingly, responsible for the development of the country, as well as for the national security. In other words, the KPA holds a higher position than workers and farmers under the Military-first Politics.

And the mysteriously worded final paragraph of that summary:

It would be too much to conclude that the Military-first Politics has brought on a fundamental change in the North Korean political system and the party-military relations, because the new politics encompasses both "change" and "continuity." However, it should not be overlooked that the Military-first Politics, indeed, is now bringing on a significant change in the North Korean political system and the party-military relations, and, moreover, seems to become a powerful driving force for a substantial change sooner or later.

"Driving force for substantial change"? Fascinating, Captain.

I'd like to end by publishing an email I received that offers some links and insights.

If you're not familiar with these sites, see:
nothing on food here but some superb articles and some damn good sat photos and maps of where (we think) things are.

worth reading

this paper has excellent coverage of NORK

this guy really has his finger on the pulse of what's going on over there.
[Hominid note: This link contains a misspelling, but the link WORKS with the misspelling in place. DO NOT CORRECT.]

FAS is always an interesting read.

some notes i took a few months ago...

North Korea

- have announced they intend to test a nuclear weapon. This strongly implies they have more than one. They also said they have the means to deliver them which we interpret as meaning that they have reduced them in size enough to place on ballistic missiles which can hit Japan. They have also stated they may choose to sell nuclear bombs to whomever they wish. We know they have been providing massive nuclear aid to Iran and Pakistan.
- We know where their main nuclear processing plant is but we don't know where the others are. We have evidence that there is at least one other one not located close to the one we know about. The point being - we can't take out their nuclear facilities in one fell swoop.
- NK wants: food aid, monetary aid (billions), two nuclear power plants that we build (so that they can't be used for nuke bombs), and a non-aggression pact that we won't attack them all while they continue to build new nukes.
- NK is a regime that deserves to be changed - and changed by force if need be. They have sold nuclear and ballistic missile technology, they have sold vast quantities of drugs and are massive counterfeiters of US dollars.
- Japan has told the US that if we give the NKs a non aggression pact, Japan will go nuclear. If Japan goes nuclear, so will SK and Taiwan. This will make China verrrrry nervous.
- Increasing the number of countries that have nukes is really REALLY bad.
- We have 37,000 US troops in SK most near the border hence vulnerable to NK artillery.
- Seoul - 10 million people - within artillery range. [Hominid's remark: getting closer to 12 million these days]
- Seoul uses piped natural gas for heating and cooling. A few thousand artillery shells would set the entire city ablaze.
- SK has 18 nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants and artillery shells do not play together well. Massive radiation leaks. Prevailing winds are east so the radiation would fall over Japan.
- We estimate that about 30% of NKs artillery has chemical warheads.
- NK has said it would "never" use nukes on its dear brothers to the south. It doesn't have to as it can 'kill' Seoul with artillery. NK would use a nuke or two against Japan. Japan would then blame the US for the second nuclear attack on its territory.
- In 1994 a US military commander in SK estimated that a war with the North would result in one million deaths (including tens of thousands of Americans) and cost at least $100 billion.

these ought to keep you and your readers busy for a few minutes!


If anyone else wants to write in with comments or info, feel free. That's it for the evening. I think I'm going to explore Guyjean's/Gaijin's links more thoroughly in the next post before continuing down my list of think tanks. An initial perusal of the links seemed more than promising. Many thanks.

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