The Great North Korean Famine: Famine, Politics, and Foreign Policy

By Goldstein, Lyle J. | Naval War College Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

The Great North Korean Famine: Famine, Politics, and Foreign Policy


Goldstein, Lyle J., Naval War College Review


Natsios, Andrew S. The Great North Korean Famine: Famine, Politics, and Foreign Policy. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute for Peace, 2001. 295pp. $19.95

Though not linked to the tragedy of 11 September 2001, North Korea rose once again to near the top of the list of likely U.S. adversaries with President George W. Bush's association of Pyongyang with a so-called axis of evil. This fine book by Andrew Natsios should be required reading for those contemplating the various policy dilemmas that confront the U.S. on the Korean Peninsula. Natsios provides an eloquent and informed narrative of evil as it exists today in North Korea-the slow and tortured death of millions of North Korean citizens by starvation as a direct result of the regime's totalitarian nature and its failure to reform disastrous economic policies. But the author also demonstrates that the North Korean quandary defies simple solution.

The book compellingly captures the human side of this international tragedy. Indeed, this aspect of the "rogue state" phenomenon is too often brushed aside in favor of high-politics approaches that degenerate into sterile discussions of containment, sanctions, and arms control possibilities. By contrast, Natsios's descriptions of the prevailing conditions in North Korea and the behavior of its leaders and national security apparatus are graphic enough to turn the reader's stomach. Thus he recounts the testimony of refugees who escaped to China: "In most cases the [group] suicides were committed by younger couples with smaller children; the couples had been denying themselves food for so long they feared they would die before their children did and that their children would be left to fend for themselves." Natsios describes observing, from the Chinese side of the Tyumen River, North Koreans on the opposite bank "dumping wrapped bodies into a large pit," one of a number of suspected mass graves in the region.

Few are as qualified to tell this story as Natsios. Though not a specialist on Korea, he is an expert on disaster relief operations, with wide experience both in the U.S. government and civilian organizations. This breadth of experience allows him to put the Korean situation into a wider social and historical context. He offers many insightful comparisons to earlier famines in Ethiopia, China, and the Soviet Union. As vice president of World Vision from 1993 to 1998, Natsios made numerous trips to North Korea and the bordering areas of China during the mid-1990s. President Bush appointed him director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is certain to play a leading role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, among other missions integral to the war on terror. …

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