President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has recently announced that South Korea will donate $8 million to two UN humanitarian programs in North Korea, as reported in the New York Times. Specifically, South Korea plans to donate $4.5 million to the World Food Program (WFP) and $3.5 million to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). These programs primarily provide specialized nutritious food and medical supplies to nearly a million pregnant women and children suffering from malnutrition in North Korea.
President Moon believes that ‘“In principle, giving support for infants and small children and pregnant women should be handled separately from politics.” However, in response to this announcement, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga stated that “providing aid for North Korea could undermine international efforts to pressure Pyongyang.” These two leaders have differing views about providing humanitarian aid to the rogue state after North Korea conducted its 15th missile test in 2017.
North Korea’s latest missile test over Japan on September 15th was condemned by the UN Security Council who expressed concerns that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is “… deliberately undermining regional peace and stability and have caused grave security concerns around the world.” Kim Jong-un has become a disruptive actor in the international community and its nuclear violations have led to rising tensions in the Korean peninsula. North Korea’s inability to feed itself presents a moral dilemma as there are millions of people with food insecurity in the country whose leader increasingly threatens international peace and security. This has led to sanctions in attempts to pressure its leader into cooperating. However, rather than discourage Kim Jong-un, sanctions have only hindered North Korea’s struggling economy.
From 1994 to 1998, North Korea suffered a famine that killed between 800,000 to 2.4 million people, under the leadership of Kim Jong-il. In a recent report published on July 20th, 2017, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that North Korea is currently experiencing its worst drought in 16 years, leading to food shortages in the country. Production of staple crops such as wheat, barley, and potatoes has declined by more than 30 percent compared to 2016 levels, thus increasing food insecurity which is predicted to rise due to dry weather conditions affecting crop yields. According to the FAO, 18 million people, or 70 percent of the population, are dependent on the Public Distribution System (PDS) in which the government allocates rations of cereals, cooking oils, and pulses to the public, as their main source of food.
Humanitarian aid in the form of food assistance has historically been instrumental to North Korea’s ability to feed itself. From 1995 to 2012, China, the US, South Korea, and Japan have been the largest providers of food aid to North Korea, supplying more than 75 percent of food aid, according to the Congressional Review Service. US food assistance to North Korea has been an essential part of its foreign policy agenda with North Korea. According to a report released by the Congressional Research Service, “Between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided North Korea with over $1.3 billion in assistance: slightly more than 50% for food aid and about 40% for energy assistance.” Additionally, China has had a longstanding relationship with North Korea, totalling at $6.55 billion in trade in 2016, accounting for more than 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade, according to the New York Times. North Korea has absorbed China’s food supply for several decades and it remains North Korea’s biggest source of food aid. However, North Korea has become dangerously unpredictable and has put stress on the alliance; now becoming a burden to China.
Furthermore, North Korea’s provocative actions have increased tensions with South Korea. Diffusing tensions between the two states will be difficult as the international community, including South Korea, mobilizes against North Korea’s actions through economic and diplomatic sanctions. Nonetheless, financial sanctions have proved unsuccessful in deterring Kim Jong-un from launching ballistic missiles. Instead, sanctions have only crippled North Korea’s economy, making it more dependent on foreign aid. Choe Sang-Hun of the New York Times stated that “international donors have become increasingly reluctant to provide humanitarian aid in recent years” particularly because North Korea continues to challenge the international system. North Korea’s defiance and staunch willingness to launch missiles in the Asia Pacific threatens international security and may potentially have major repercussions for its food supply.
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