Will Famine Destabilize The Korean Peninsula?

Nicole Winfield reports in the Associated Press that the Kim regime has begun a mass relocation effort, driving millions of citydwellers to the countryside in what looks to be a desperate effort to fend off a catastrophic famine. Food-distribution NGOs report that despite the lack of significant weather or agricultural incidents, what little production Pyongyang gets out of its farms may drop so precipitously that millions may face starvation:

North Korea is sending millions of people from its cities to work on farms each weekend — another indication that the risk of famine is particularly high this year, a U.N. official said yesterday.
The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) is the only aid organization that has a presence outside the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and its officials have reported the movements of the North’s people from cities to farms, said Anthea Webb, spokeswoman for the Rome-based agency. …
The WFP recently launched a new appeal for food donations, saying the supplies that let it feed 6.5 million North Koreans were dwindling and forcing it to cut off aid to children and the elderly. That followed a WFP request to governments for 500,000 tons of food for North Korea this year.
Of the $202 million that the agency appealed for this year, it has received about $72 million — and practically all of it has been consumed, Miss Webb said.
“Unless something happens very soon, by the end of August, the only people we’ll be feeding are 12,000 children in hospitals,” she said.
She said a combination of factors was making 2005 particularly at risk for famine. Although the harvest was not any worse than expected this year, it is combined with declining WFP food aid, government reforms that have driven up prices and cuts in government rations, she said.

According to that description, it appears that the famine has been artificially induced, to an even greater extent than Stalinist agricultural systems naturally produce them. At a point in time where rumors have flown for months about the stability of the Kim regime, such an artifical result has to beg the question: is Kim deliberately touching off a famine?
What would Kim gain by doing so? First, he could use the impending catastrophe to squeeze more aid out of Western countries. Already, donor nations suspect that, like dictators before, Kim reroutes the aid to his military and political leadership while leaving the peasants to starve. Aid donations have tailed off significantly over the past year because of the lack of verification on their use, and that may be causing Kim some problems with his military.
Even more sinister, reports coming from Pyongyang noted that Kim faced unprecedented criticism in the streets of the capital, although it remained mostly anonymous. A series of incidents, including a massive explosion at a train station, has analysts wondering if Kim may be facing significantly organized opposition for the first time in his life. Emptying the cities may not have anything to do with a bad harvest or food shortages, but may be a defensive measure designed to keep his enemies from banding together to topple his regime.
If the famine is legitimate, it still means serious trouble for security in the Korean Peninsula region, as well as an obvious humanitarian disaster. Whether or not the North Koreans starve in the cities or in the countryside, famines cause irrational behavior on the part of the starving and the dictatorships that preside over it. In order to distract his people from their misery, Kim could decide to launch an attack on South Korea or on American or Japanese assets in the region, if events get desperate enough in North Korea.
What to do? Donating food and resources that only go to bolstering the regime are counterproductive in the extreme, but the Western world can’t sit back and let millions starve, either. Kim may be bluffing, but if so, he knows what stakes get the most results from the West. The best solution will be to insist on on-the-ground verification that increased aid will go to the millions that Kim has used as pawns, instead of blank checks that his army and Politburo will greedily cash.

2 thoughts on “Will Famine Destabilize The Korean Peninsula?”

  1. America, Tsk Tsk

    Along with the UN, Amnesty International is just another organization that spends most of its time attacking the policies of the US while ignoring those of other countries. From Mitch Albom’s Sunday column: In fact, when you pull up Amnesty…

  2. All famine is political

    There is no reason for famine anywhere in the world today. More than enough food is produced, primarly by the developed countries, to feed the entire nation.
    One thing the UN does fairly well is distribute this food, unless the local governments (or…

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