Famine Has Not Softened North Korea's Rogue Regime
December 4, 2002
by Dennis T. Avery
The United States has waited too long to deal with the rogue dictatorship in North Korea. North Korea now admits it violated its 1994 treaty with the United States not to develop nuclear weapons—and says it already has enough enriched uranium to build at least two of the nuclear warheads that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein is still seeking to create.
That makes the Korean Peninsula once again a major problem for world peace.
North Korea also has missiles that can readily carry warheads to hit the 10 million people in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, just a few miles from the North Korean border. Based on recent missile tests, the North Koreans may even be able to hit Japan. Meanwhile, Pyongyang is earning foreign exchange by selling missiles and other military technology to other anti-American governments, including Iran and Iraq.
But North Korea is in its eighth year of continuing famine. The West, especially the United States and South Korea, has been delivering a million tons of food aid per year to the Kim Jong Il regime. This has eased food prices for the poor and prevented an even larger death toll. America is also providing a critically needed 500,000 tons of fuel oil per year under the violated 1994 treaty.
Would an American cut-off of oil and food aid force North Korea to peacefully join the world community of nations?
It’s a long shot.
North Korea was intensely paranoid and isolated even before Communism, and fifty years of Communist separation from South Korea have made it more so. The country could essentially resolve its hunger problem simply by scrapping the communal farms that have never worked anywhere, and retargeting its military spending on agricultural fertilizers and pesticides for private farms. Its industrial capabilities could readily make it peacefully prosperous. But in a North Korea at peace, the current Communist dictatorship would be deposed.
Can the hunger of its people bring down the latest government to threaten the free world with nuclear holocaust?
If America had lost 39 million people to starvation since 1994, there would have been a second revolution. That’s the equivalent of North Korea’s three million probable starvation deaths from a total population of twenty-two million.
What if the American government had cut off food for the people of New England? North Korea has essentially abandoned the people in its northeast, so it could channel the available food to the capital city, the military and critical industries (including factories supplying the military).
If American farms failed to grow enough food because they were managed by city-born politicians who knew nothing about farming, and wasted one-fourth of the meager harvests through poor storage and transportation, the city guys would be fired. Not in North Korea. What the farmers can do is hide their harvests from the government.
After 1994, when Soviet and Chinese economic aid stopped, the North Korean government was no longer able to provide the farms with fertilizer, diesel oil, and pesticides. The farmers, in response, began harvesting the crops early, and hiding the food. (More than a few farmers’ huts have collapsed from the weight of the grain hidden in their eaves.) The farmers also started cultivating hidden fields in the mountains.
The people starving are those who unable to grow their own food and non-farmers not important to the government—such as miners, the elderly, and workers in low-priority factories.
No Communist government has ever been brought down by famine, even though both the Soviet Union (in the 1930s) and Communist China (in 1959-61) suffered massive famines. Cuba suffered severe hunger after its Soviet economic aid cut-off, and Castro is still in power.
Apologists for the Kim Jong Il regime say the West dare not stop the food aid for fear that will drive the North Koreans to attack its neighbors. Would stopping the food aid now bring a missile launch? Will the continued decline of the North Korean economy make Kim Jong Il desperate enough to launch his missiles despite the food and oil assistance?
If only we could turn the clock back to 1994, when President Clinton placated Kim with a treaty instead of demanding North Korean disarmament.
We still have time to disarm Saddam Hussein before he has nuclear missiles aimed at Jerusalem. Have we learned anything from North Korea?
This article appeared in the Knight-Ridder Tribune on October 29, 2002, and is reprinted with permission.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.