Friday, January 23, 2004

The Great North Korean Famine, by Andrew Natsios (Part IV)

We've covered the first six chapters of this book in three parts. I'd link you to my posts myself, but the Marmot's done it for me over at Winds of Change! Ah-HAAAAA!

Let's jump right into Chapter 7, "The Politics of the Famine," then. A good bit of Natsios himself is revealed in this chapter, since so much of his fight to deliver aid to North Korea was conducted in political arenas.

Natsios's main theme is set off on the first page of this chapter. On p. 141, we read:

From the start, [Ambassador Robert] Gallucci argued for the provision of humanitarian aid to North Korea with no political strings attached, but he was alone among senior State Department officials outside the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Gallucci and [State Dept. official Ken] Quinones did notice that the provision of the [cholera] vaccine had a salutary effect during the negotiations, building goodwill among their normally suspicious North Korean interlocutors.

Natsios ticks off a short list of factors affecting US food aid to NK from 1994 to 1997:

1. (p. 143) History: US policy was to regard NK as a dangerous enemy (still true).
2. (pp. 143-44) Fear in the Pentagon and NSC that food aid would be diverted to the NK military.
3. (p. 144) A debate over the very definition of the term "famine."

Something I didn't know (a drop in my boundless ocean of ignorance): USAID reports directly to the Secretary of State, bypassing the rest of the State Department entirely (p. 147). USAID often found itself at odds with State, and operated under severe State Dept. constraints.

But another problem for NK food aid is what Natsios perceives to be a "critical absence of presidential leadership" (we're talking about Clinton here) during these crucial years-- some of which may be attributed to distraction by the election (i.e., Clinton's campaign for a second term), though this doesn't explain the Clinton Administration's continued reluctance to be proactive after Clinton's reelection.

Natsios includes in this chapter a survey of the role of NGOs on the political process. One of the items I found noteworthy was that NGOs often served a diplomatic function as intermediaries between hostile capitals, relaying messages when opposing camps (US and NK) weren't officially on speaking terms.

[NB: Natsios calls himself "conservative" on p. 149-- something to keep in mind while you read his book.]

By the time substantial US food aid finally started to roll into NK in 1998, the famine was over (p. 151). Natsios calls the linkage of food aid to politcal goals "ethically indefensible," and concludes from events that it's probably more constructive to change government policy than to generate private fundraising. In other words, the most significant food aid is what results when powerful governments, not little NGOs, are moved to act.

On p. 154, Natsios observes that as American media coverage of the famine increased, Washington actually became more resistant to providing food aid to NK. Perhaps by way of shaming the political foot-draggers, Natsios notes the Reagan Doctrine, to wit: "A hungry child knows no politics."

In America, the Korean American community turned out to be a positive force in the provision of aid, but not before some serious lobbying was done to get the community beyond its internal conflict. This conflict was the result of (justifable) Korean American hatred of communism, and a simultaneous compassion for the suffering citizens of North Korea.

Natsios concludes this chapter by assessing US response. In a nutshell:

1. Too little, too late: US response occurred after the great famine was over.
2. Right action, wrong reasons: food aid was the right thing to provide, but it should not have been used as a "carrot" to force NK to change.

Even in this chapter, which is so critical of US inaction, Natsios still stresses that NK played a crucial role in its own suffering. The chapter's final paragraph:

Humanitarian agencies urged that diplomatic interests be kept distinct from donor and recipient government humanitarian programs; however, notwithstanding the Reagan Doctrine, such a separation is not the normal state of affairs. Instinctively, diplomats, military officers, and political leaders use the instruments of power at their disposal to defend and protect the perceived national interests of the state they serve. Unfortunately, each time Western humanitarian agencies were at the brink of convincing their governments to make this fine distinction between interests and ideals, the North Korean government would engage in yet another outrageous act, thus ensuring that donor governments would reconnect food aid with geostrategic interests. The clash of these geostrategic interests with the humanitarian imperative to stop the famine caused the worst paralysis I have witnessed in any major relief effort since the close of the Cold War. Although food aid was ultimately pledged in the summer of 1997 and did arrive, it was two years too late, was sent to the wrong regions of the country, and had no rigorous controls on its internal distribution to prevent the elites from stealing it.

Next up: Chapter 8, "The International Aid Effort."


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