New material emerging from secret archives opened in Moscow and
Eastern bloc capitals is shedding light, mostly unfavorable, on the
question of whether handing out aid to North Korea can buy any
A multinational group of scholars trawling through the Czech,
Hungarian, Soviet, and East German archives is now producing the
first clear picture of North Korea's relationship with its key
"It shows how dependent North Korea has always been, and how
extremely skillful it has always been at getting enough aid," says
Kathryn Weathersby, who runs the Korea Initiative as part of the
Woodrow Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project in
"It also shows that over the decades, China and Russia gave a lot
of aid but gained very limited leverage," she says.
The new findings come as a string of visitors from Washington are
returning from meetings with President Kim Jong Il convinced that
there is a deal out there waiting to be done.
The latest group, led by Rep. Curt Weldon (R) of Penn., proposed
in late June giving Pyongyang up to $5 billion a year in aid as part
of a deal to end its suspected nuclear weapons program. Mr. Weldon
also recommended that the US sign a one-year nonaggression pact with
the North, recognize the communist nation, and establish a mission
The archives, which include telegrams and diplomatic reports,
show that the aid-for-concessions formula has historically been an
Soviet experts built over 60 industrial plants in North Korea and
kept it supplied with large quantities of weapons, oil, and grain.
The East Germans and others also built industrial plants, trained
North Koreans, and brought high-ranking North Koreans to Eastern
Europe for medical treatment.
"[North Korea] was totally reliant on outside help. Even in the
1980s they could not produce enough clothing for themselves," said
Bernd Schafer of the German Historical Institute in Washington.
After the Soviet Union's demise ended the supply of aid from
Moscow and its allies, North Korea has been set on trying to make up
for the loss by extracting aid from its erstwhile enemies - the
United States, South Korea, and Japan. According to Balazs
Szalontai, a Hungarian scholar who is studying the Hungarian
diplomatic archives, there are clear parallels to be drawn.
"There is a long-term pattern. They are playing the same game
they played with the USSR and China," he says.
"They set out to get the technology they needed but gave little
back in return. Even the manufactured goods they shipped in payment
were almost worthless, with the Soviets insisting they could not
accept such museum pieces," Mr. Szalontai says.
The Koreans systematically harassed the Soviet and East Europeans
living in North Korea. …