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



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 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.)1 The Obama Administration has said that it and other countries would be willing to provide -significant" energy and economic assistance to North Korea if Pyongyang takes steps to irreversibly dismantle its nuclear program.2

Energy Aid Since 2000

U.S. aid fell significantly in the mid-2000s, bottoming out at zero in FY2006. The 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.3 This energy assistance, which primarily took the form of heavy fuel oil, was channeled through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), an organization established in 1994 as part of a U.S.-North Korean agreement that provided energy aid in exchange for North Korean denuclearization. After a decade of being one of the largest providers of food aid to North Korea, the United States gave no food aid in FY2006 or 2007, in large part due to new restrictions that the North Korean government imposed on humanitarian agencies.

The Bush Administration resumed energy assistance to North Korea in 2007. In July of that year, after progress in the Six-Party Talks over North Korea's nuclear programs, the United States and other countries began providing heavy fuel oil (HFO) in return for Pyongyang freezing and disabling its plutonium-based nuclear facilities in Yongbyon.4

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 effectively halted discussion of U.S. energy assistance to North Korea in the near term.

Food and Other Humanitarian Aid Since 2000

As for food aid, in May 2008, the Bush Administration announced it would provide North Korea with 500,000 metric tons (MT) of food, 80% to be sent through the World Food Programme (WFP) and 20% to be channeled through a consortium of U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Later in December 2008, U.S. shipments to the WFP were suspended due to differences between the U.S. and North Korean governments over implementing the agreement. In March 2009, North Korea shut down the NGO portion of the U.S. program, despite warnings from humanitarian groups about ongoing food shortages. Under the program, the United States shipped a total of just under 170,000 MT of food aid, at an estimated cost of $100 million.

From time to time, the United States also has provided small amounts of medical assistance to North Korea. In 2008, for instance, the Bush Administration allocated $4 million in assistance to U.S. NGOs to help several North Korean rural and provincial hospitals by improving their electrical supplies and by providing medical equipment and training. More recently, following localized floods in North Korea in the summer of 2010, the Obama Administration spent about $600,000 on the provision of relief items, such as medicine, to North Korea. …

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