The provision of foreign aid to North Korea (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is a contentious issue, perhaps due to the negative image of the nation in question brought by its repressive regime and myriad of human rights violations. While the United States of America (US) took on the arduous task of providing foreign aid to North Korea in the mid-1990s, it halted such efforts in 2009, despite the ongoing food shortage there. What motivated the US towards such direction is the regime’s inefficiency in distributing aid, mainly due to its resistance of reforms. Apart from food aid, the US stopped sending aid for North Korea’s energy problems. Tensions rooting from rogue motives centering on the ongoing nuclear campaign in the reclusive nation and its government’s refusal to cooperate in the process of nuclear disarmament rendered the US’ energy aid program not feasible and impractical. The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and its subsequent issues on transfer of leadership has placed greater doubt on international security (Manyin & Nikitin, 2012).
Notwithstanding the aforementioned scenarios, foreign aid provision to North Korea remains a crucial issue to this day, as denoted by James Robbins in this wise: “The need for humanitarian assistance in North Korea is unquestionable” (2012). With the nation being a threat in the East Asian region – South Korea being the one at greater risk, the circumstances involved provides a pressing point to the international community to overturn the situation altogether. The US, with its position as a key international player, can use the option of sending aid to North Korea as a means of triggering bilateral or multilateral discussion on the possibility of triggering regime change and ceasing nuclear operations. In return, the move can stand in favor of easing the plight of its citizens – known to be currently suffering under despotic conditions violative of even the basic notions of human rights (Manyin & Nikitin, 2012). In sum, this position paper, filed before the United Nations as a US initiative to call on to the international community, seeks to justify the importance of providing foreign aid to North Korea in favor of human rights and opening the nation towards reforms.
Aid Can Delay Institution of Reforms
The international community is primarily interested in the protection and promotion of human rights. No bypassing measure to human rights in favor of state repression must be favored, and it is in this sense in which the US is steering its direction towards efforts to provide aid in nations across the globe. As far as initial observation is concerned, the situation in North Korea provides a compelling call for the US to provide aid to people living in the Stalinist state. Robbins provides a simple yet convincing remark on people living in North Korea, in which he describe its regime as one which is “mostly content to let its people suffer” (2012). From that point, inferences on the tyrannical rule of the military government in said nation can be traced down to the simple premise that the rulers therein harbor intentions on making the population experience hunger, limited external communication, no freedom of abode and speech, and all other forms of oppression that are contrary to human rights. Yet, however ideal the position of the US looks in terms of resolving said issue through aid provision, there remains a compelling antithesis to the feasibility of such action.
North Korea, with its system that might even fall short of the standards existing within most developing countries, will most likely experience delay in reforms rather than have it fast-tracked as long as there is foreign aid. The years following 2009 saw a stoppage of US aid provision in the country. Such move is part of efforts to pressure North Korea towards the abandonment of its nuclear missile programs, which has not met any significant progress as of this day. The continuous flow of aid in the nation poses provide the risk of making the existing regime in the country dependent on it rather than make it independent in terms of introducing reforms to the people (Manyin & Nikitin, 2012). In support of said argument, Farah Abuzeid noted that aid from foreign countries “creates the impression that the recipient government is always likely to be bailed out when things go wrong” (2009). Reiterating Robbins, he noted that “[T]he most important obstacle to using humanitarian assistance as a way of achieving progress on the security front is the fact that the North Korean regime is mostly content to let its people suffer” (2012). That alone reflects the nature of the regime’s resistant position towards reforms.
Efforts to convince North Korea to resume six-party talks with the US will most likely end up in a farce on the reclusive nation’s part, especially with the apparent leadership struggle happening within the nation due to Kim Jong-Il’s death. Imposing an indefinite postponement of foreign aid provision, under the perspective of the aforementioned context, seem like a much more favorable position than resumption. Such takes into consideration the regime’s inability to provide reforms, their preference not to do so and eventual dependency to aid as a result, which could correlate to the imminent arrival, at a certain point, of the necessity to maintain a healthy populace to support their military programs (Manyin & Nikitin, 2012).
Equitable Aid Distribution Is Not Insured
The problem of providing aid to North Korea, coupled with the internal power struggle triggered by the death of Kim Jong-Il and possible negative repercussions in global security, can boil down to a simple premise briefly touched on in the previous section – the strong tendency of inequitable distribution of aid in the country. Combined with the regime’s intent to keep the country under control through several acts counted against basic human rights notions, the reputed abuse of aid during Kim Jong-Il’s time has likely extended to this day. The World Food Programme (WFP) has reported numerous instances of aid misuse and distribution lapses. Foreign aid monitors incur difficulties under North Korean officials in terms of tracking down distribution of materials and funds for aid. Such findings prompted the US to stop sending aid to North Korea, despite uncertainties on whether or not aid has actually benefited millions of its impoverished citizens (Manyin & Nikitin, 2012).
Addressing Counter Arguments
Containment and pressure still stand out as viable policy measures towards dealing with North Korea (National Security Advisory Group, 2005), and studies justify the rationality of halting the flow of US foreign aid (along with those from other countries) to lead the current regime in the reclusive nation to proceed in institutionalizing reforms. Indeed, as added by Robbins, “[P]roviding humanitarian assistance to rogue states is always difficult, because there are no guarantees that the aid will get to the people who need it” (2012). In support of that, there is the emergence of the importance of “[S]ound policy and good economic managementmore than foreign aid” (Abuzeid, 2009). Nevertheless, the paramount interest of human rights forms a significant part of the aid provision picture in this context. With the regime keen on making the people under their control suffer with or without the influx of aid (Robbins, 2012) it is thus proper for the US to continue sending aid to North Korea. Such is primarily for the sake of serving the basic needs of people there, deprived by the despotism of a regime that is more interested in keeping the current system in place rather than be an agent of reform for its people deprived of fundamental human rights. In addition to that, such move would not necessarily lead to the stunting of reforms – a key area that will receive ample scope and discussion in the succeeding sections.
Upholding Human Rights
An attack on the human rights situation in North Korea could result in an untimely conflict that will likely affect the international community at a disastrous scale, particularly the East Asian region consisting of South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia (Council of Foreign Relations, 2003). At the same time, the growing diplomatic rift of North Korea towards countries attempting to negotiate with it (including the US) has caused reduced flows of aid in the country, depriving the impoverished North Koreans with their basic needs for living in the process (Council of Foreign Relations, 2003; Manyin & Nikitin, 2012). The US, along with its partners, is in the best position to become a catalyst of change in alleviating the plight of North Korean citizens suffering under the intended oppression the ruling regime is inflicting on them. The regime may most likely remain grounded in their fickle-minded and paranoid state, even in the passing of the deceased Kim Jong-Il’s leadership to the hands of a new ruler. Nevertheless, the US and its partners in the East Asian region – with their resources, diplomatic thrust and position in the international community, remain as the key forces that can help lead North Koreans towards better human rights conditions – using foreign aid as a starting point (Manyin & Nikitin, 2012).
Instituting strategic measures in distributing aid is a feasible recommendation for ensuring that aid reaches the intended recipients properly and in the best manner possible (Manyin & Nikitin, 2012). The US must instigate the proper diplomatic pressures towards North Korea as part of its strategy for the proper penetration of aid inside the nation. Bilateral or multilateral discussions could ease out tensions brought about by the regime and could resultantly favor the interest of easing the plight of the oppressed citizens whose access to basic needs are severely undersized to the expense of their health and safety (Council of Foreign Relations, 2003). The development of efficient monitors to trace aid distribution and the usage of organizational channels (WFP and NGOs) could bring the interest of improving dismal human rights situations to a higher level. In sum, the US, along with partners in this sense, will play the role as a human rights administrator in the absence and refusal of the regime instituted in North Korea (Manyin & Nikitin, 2012).
Regime Change and the Move towards Nuclear Disarmament
Admittedly, compromises are necessary for reforms to take place, and the case of North Korea is one that involves a web of complicated intricacies necessary for use in the creation of diplomatic compromises. In this sense, foreign aid can be a valuable character in creating compromises towards furthering diplomatic interests. In using foreign aid, the US and other parties concerned can foster positive relations towards North Korea, with the intent of slowly influencing the active regime in place even in the absence of a ruler set to replace Kim Jong-Il. In fact, the power struggle issue can provide an opportunity for the US and its allies to influence the incoming or transition government in terms of using foreign aid to harmonize and strengthen relations and cooperation with North Korea. After all, outside influence can slowly permeate within the borders of the regime in the long term, as long as the rudimentary improvements in facilitating foreign aid – structures, strategies, monitors and the like are in place to secure distribution efficiency. Instilling harmony in relations through provision of aid can convince North Korea to hold discussions with the US and other concerned regional and international parties on possible nuclear disarmament and regime change issues, particularly South Korea, to which it shares with North Korea the vision of reunification (Council of Foreign Relations, 2003; Manyin & Nikitin, 2012).
The US should thus poise itself to provide foreign aid to North Korea in the name of serving the oppressed people of the reclusive nation and the eventual consequence of regime change and nuclear disarmament. There are assertions that run counter to the feasibility of foreign aid provision – points that perhaps affected the status quo in which the US has stopped sending aid to North Korea due to deteriorating relations that may lead to global security risks. At the same time, North Korea is receiving intended pressure to adopt reforms through the US’ move to stop sending aid to the nation (National Security Advisory Group, 2005). The reported abuses of the regime can lead North Korea to become highly dependent on foreign aid, leading such provision towards little or no reformative development. Nevertheless, the move to provide foreign aid with the utilization of proper strategies, observance of proper structures and the establishment of effective monitors that can track down aid distribution (this can work best if relations with North Korea are stabilized) could serve the interest of both providing aid to the impoverished North Koreans who need it the most. Consequently, the regime’s position on engaging in diplomatic talks with the US and other parties concerned can harmonize at a level where there could be increased cooperation, which can successfully lead towards the goals to denuclearize North Korea and promote regime change through reforms (Council of Foreign Relations, 2003; Manyin & Nikitin, 2012). Ideas on “sound policy and good economic management”, as asserted by Abuzeid (2009) could soon permeate effectively. Constant communication, with foreign aid as both a prize and avenue for discussions, is a positive influence of US provision of foreign aid alongside the alleviation of the poor human rights situation in the nation.
Human rights remain an important aspect to consider in the realm of international relations, as it is equally important in maintaining peaceful domestic concerns.
The main interest of the US in the issue is to serve the oppressed majority within North Korea, recognizing foreign aid as a foundation towards stronger diplomatic relations. Consequently, such can lead to the effective, not brash engagement of North Korea in international concerns. The maintenance of amicable relations through foreign aid is important for said cause and can urge the entry of reforms in the process, particularly with the subsequent entry of a new regime with the death of strongman Kim Jong-Il (which characterizes the status quo). Foreign aid, with the common notion that it can lead the recipient nation to be dependent (Abuzeid, 2009), can be remedied through the development of the proper structures, strategies and monitors in facilitating aid distribution – add to that the US’ ideal position in the international community (Council of Foreign Relations, 2003; Manyin & Nikitin, 2012).
Abuzeid, F. (2009). Foreign aid and the "Big Push" theory: Lessons from sub-Saharan Africa. Stanford Journal of International Relations, XI (1), 16-23.
Council of Foreign Relations. (2003). Meeting the North Korean Nuclear Challenge. New York City, NY: Council of Foreign Relations Publications Office.
Manyin, M. & Nikitin, M. (2012, April 26) Foreign Assistance to North Korea. (Congressional Report No.
R40095). Washington DC: Library of Congress Congressional Research Service.
National Security Advisory Group. (2003, July). Worst Weapons in Worst Hands:
U.S. Inaction on the Nuclear Terror Threat since 9/11, And a Path of Action. Retrieved from Carnegie Endowment database: http://www.carnegieendowment.org/static/npp/NSAG.pdf
Robbins, J. (2012). When humanitarian aid meets an inhuman regime. American Foreign Policy Council Defense Dossier, 3, 18-21.