Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Northern and Western Asia

Foreign Assistance to North Korea

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Northern and Western Asia

Foreign Assistance to North Korea

Article excerpt


A Brief History of U.S. Aid to North Korea

For four decades after the end of the Korean War in 1953, U.S. strategy toward the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, commonly referred to as North Korea) was relatively simple: deter an attack on South Korea. This included a freeze on virtually all forms of economic contact between the United States and North Korea in an attempt to weaken and delegitimize the North Korean government. In the 1990s, two developments led the United States to rethink its relationship with the DPRK: North Korea's progress in its nuclear weapons and missile programs and the onset of massive, chronic food shortages there. In response, the United States in 1995 began providing the DPRK with foreign assistance, which to date has totaled over $1.2 billion. This aid has consisted of energy assistance, food aid, and a small amount of medical supplies. (See Table 1.) The United States has provided virtually no assistance since early 2009, though episodically there have been discussions about resuming large-scale food aid. Additionally, the Obama Administration, like the George W. Bush Administration, has said that it would be willing to provide "significant" energy and economic assistance to North Korea if Pyongyang takes steps to irreversibly dismantle its nuclear program.1 However, due to the deterioration in U.S.-North Korea relations, at the time of this writing there is little likelihood the Obama Administration will provide assistance to North Korea in the near future.

Energy and Denuclearization Assistance

In 1994, the United States and North Korea negotiated an Agreed Framework, under which Pyongyang agreed to shut down its nuclear program in exchange for two light water nuclear reactors (LWRs) and heavy fuel oil (HFO). Between 1995 and 2003, the United States provided over $400 million in HFO, which was channeled through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), the organization established to implement the Agreed Framework. The George W. Bush Administration halted energy assistance in the fall of 2002, following North Korea's reported admission that it had secretly been developing a uranium-based nuclear program.2

The Bush Administration resumed energy assistance to North Korea in 2007. In July of that year, progress was made in multilateral negotiations, called the Six-Party Talks, over North Korea's nuclear programs. As a result, the United States and other countries once again began providing HFO in return for Pyongyang freezing and disabling its plutonium-based nuclear facilities in Yongbyon.3 By December 2008, the United States had shipped its promised 200,000 tons of HFO. From July 2007 to April 2009, the United States provided technical assistance to North Korea to help in the nuclear disablement process. North Korea's May 2009 nuclear test-its second- effectively halted discussion of U.S. energy assistance to North Korea. North Korea again tested a nuclear device in February 2013.

Food and Other Humanitarian Aid

Since the 1980s, North Korea has experienced massive food shortages of varying degrees of severity. For a decade after DPRK authorities' 1995 appeal for outside help, the United States was one of the largest providers of food assistance. The request was unprecedented; by choice, North Korea was and still remains one of the world's most reclusive countries. U.S. and United Nations aid officials have continuously wrestled with DPRK authorities over how much freedom foreign workers should be allowed to distribute and monitor food assistance. The regime's restrictions have ebbed and flowed, usually in accordance with the government's desperation for outside food. Twice since 1995 Pyongyang has significantly tightened restrictions. In both periods- FY2006-FY2007 and from the beginning of FY2010 until the time this report was being written-the United States responded by providing virtually no food aid. In February 2012, the Obama Administration agreed to resume large-scale food assistance in return for North Korean promises to take certain steps on its nuclear and long-range missile programs. …

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