Should we feed the malnourished North Koreans? — Take Two

No again,  for the same reasons and a few more.


On March 30th, I wrote an article asking that question. My answer was that we shouldn’t because the then impending but now failed long range missile launch, and probably still impending underground nuclear test (or faked nuclear test), were yet more examples of the Lucy and the football scenario: promise anything but do as you wish.  However, our ever hopeful diplomatic corpse corps is still confusing words with actions and the United Nations’ North Korea sanctions committee plans to consider additional “robust” sanctions the natures of which are presently under discussion.  It seems unlikely that “robust” will turn out to a good descriptor.

Negotiating with North Korea

Negotiations with North Korea have been, and for the foreseeable future will be, futile or worse. Negotiation requires both current information and the knowledge to assess it. We have little if any idea about what is going on in the North Korean inner circle and have quite limited information about what is happening in the rest of the country. What little information we do have cannot be assessed with any reasonable degree of confidence because we lack the cultural understandings needed for that purpose.

Diplomacy in the present circumstances necessarily involves negotiations involving offering something for something, not nothing, in return. North Korea has nothing to offer beyond relinquishment of what she considers her sovereign rights.

This is nice! And it costs nothing.

Our own states have often done that by relinquishing their regulatory powers in exchange for federal grants.  Sometimes they have come to regret it. North Korea is not one of the United States and does not behave as though she were. She is not at all likely to negotiate in good faith or, regardless of whatever she may promise, to give up something she considers her sovereign right regardless of whatever may be offered in exchange.  Yet

A U.S. envoy, traveling in Asia, is expressing hope diplomacy can still persuade North Korea to change its behavior.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell made stops Monday in Tokyo and Seoul for consultations with allies.

“There’s a very strong determination among all the international partners – including China, Russia, Japan, South Korea – all the countries of Asia, to discourage any further provocations from North Korea,” he said.

Testing “peaceful” ballistic missiles and nuclear devices is, in Pyongyang’s view, her sovereign right. It is also the sovereign right of the United States, South Korea and others not to like it and to act accordingly by declining to yield to the country’s begging.

The South Korean president added that the money which North Korea spent on Friday’s launch – which he claims totaled $850 million – could have bought enough corn to feed the impoverished country for six years.

It is also the sovereign right of South Korea, the United States and other countries to take such actions as may be necessary to minimize their own future endangerment.

The Iranian connection

It has long been thought that North Korea and Iran were cooperating in developing their missile and nuclear technologies. It has been reported that

The high-profile rocket launch, which took place to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder, was reportedly attended by 12 officials from the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHID).

The organisation, which is the subject of a number of international sanctions, attended in order to witness the launch at first hand, according to Yonhap news agency [South Korea] reports.

“The Iranians undoubtedly were there to observe the missile launch and receive test data from North Korea,” a diplomatic source as quoted as telling the news agency.

News of North Korea’s guests from Iran is likely to cast the spotlight onto the suspected relationship between the two nations in terms of the exchange of ballistic missile technology.

One such indication of their collaboration is the Shahab-3 ballistic missile developed by Iran’s SHID which is widely believed to be a replica of North Korea’s mid-range Nodong missile.

The reported presence of representatives at North Korea’s rocket launch will also cast an uncomfortable shadow over last week’s talks in Istanbul between Iran and world powers over the future of its nuclear programme.

It has been suggested that the United States caved in on its “tough line” on Iranian nuclear enrichment and, due to a lack of consensus among the six world powers in Istanbul on April 14, 2012, will yield more.  Might such concessions bode well for North Korea?

Most likely, North Korea considers technology and materials exchanges with Iran to be among her sovereign rights. She is hardly likely to promise to give up such rights or to honor any commitment to do so if made.

The Chinese situation

China has long been North Korea’s principal supporter and ally. However, as noted here, China now has substantial domestic and international problems and her influence on North Korea appears to be waning. Concurrently, the domestic problems faced by the current regime, during its period of transition, are getting worse. According to this article,

The minimum winning coalition in China has collapsed. In the wake of the forced resignation of Bo Xilai, and a suppressed coup d’etat in Beijing, a new coalition currently is under negotiation. Of course, democracy is not remotely on the horizon, but the significant expansion in coalition size, and major changes in its composition, auger well for the most repressed of China’s population – the 600 million peasants whose lifestyles have been worsened by the self-seeking autocrats who have enriched themselves through illegal land-grabs and corrupt real estate deals across China’s villages.

Internationally, opposition to China’s assertion of dominance in the South China Sea may be simmering down, but China needs to be wary that it could erupt again at any time.  The President of the Philippines announced today that

he won’t risk a war with China over a disputed South China Sea shoal where the countries have been locked in a tense naval standoff for a week.

Aquino said Manila will assert its sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines but has pulled out a warship and replaced it with a coast guard vessel to “de-escalate the situation.”

He told reporters the Philippines will continue talks with China to resolve the impasse, which began last Tuesday when two Chinese ships prevented a Philippine warship from arresting several Chinese fishermen who were accused of illegal entry and poaching.


Chinese and Philippine diplomats failed to end the dangerous impasse after resuming talks on Monday.

“No breakthrough,” Chinese Embassy political officer Bai Tian told reporters after the talks at Manila’s Department of Foreign Affairs.

Also, war games involving more than six thousand United States and Philippine forces commence today.

At an opening ceremony for the exercises in Manila, Philippines’ armed forces chief Jessie Dellosa did not specifically mention China but said the war games highlighted strong US support for its weaker ally at a crucial moment.

“Given the international situation we are in, I say that this exercise, in coordination with all those we had in the past, (is) timely and mutually beneficial,” Dellosa said in a speech.

The U.S. head of the exercise, Brigadier General Frederick Padilla, insisted that

the exercises were not meant as a warning to China amid its dispute with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal. “This exercise is, from our stand point, not linked to any particular situation . . . .”

China’s domestic and international situations seem to be quite fluid and it is probably unwise to expect China to focus as much attention on North Korea as in the past. China tried recently to dissuade North Korea from the missile test but met with no success. Facing some degree of unity between the United States and other countries concerned about her South China Sea adventures, China may now be less willing to waste her energies, needed elsewhere, on persuading a recalcitrant North Korea to defuse the problems caused by her own intransigence.

About danmillerinpanama

I was graduated from Yale University in 1963 with a B.A. in economics and from the University of Virginia School of law, where I was the notes editor of the Virginia Law Review in 1966. Following four years of active duty with the Army JAG Corps, with two tours in Korea, I entered private practice in Washington, D.C. specializing in communications law. I retired in 1996 to sail with my wife, Jeanie, on our sailboat Namaste to and in the Caribbean. In 2002, we settled in the Republic of Panama and live in a very rural area up in the mountains. I have contributed to Pajamas Media and Pajamas Tatler. In addition to my own blog, Dan Miller in Panama, I an an editor of Warsclerotic and contribute to China Daily Mail when I have something to write about North Korea.
This entry was posted in Appeasement, China, Cultural differences, Food for North Korea, Kim Dynasty, Korea, Korea speculation, Missile launch, North Korea's nukes, Opinion, United States and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Should we feed the malnourished North Koreans? — Take Two

  1. cebur19 says:

    No, we should not spend another dime on North Korea however, we should try to broker a deal between China and South Korea to do away with the present North Korean regime. China doesn’t want an influx of “free” and hungry N. Koreans. I wonder if it would be possible for North Korea to become self sufficient with some adult supervision from South Korea working hand in hand with China. Probably doubtful the Chinese could be trusted but they must be included in a resolution. The answer to the North Korean problem is self sufficiency so they can feed themselves. This can be done once they start spending on farming and reconstruction instead of weapons for sale and blackmail. That will only happen with a regime change. The USA should stay out of it all together.

  2. Pingback: Negotiating without understanding - Tea Party Tribune

  3. Pingback: Negotiating without understanding | danmillerinpanama

  4. Pingback: North Korea threatens retaliation | danmillerinpanama

  5. Pingback: Should we feed the malnourished North Koreans? — Take Two

  6. Bob W Cain says:

    How about … Yes! … They are human beings being manipulated by their rich owners? … just a thought!

    • Bob,

      We could, with only a small fraction of what we are and will be spending to implement ObamaCare, my probably least favored U.S. domestic initiative.

      More seriously, here’s an idea we might consider: make North Korea an offer, good for one week only, to provide food assistance identical to that previously offered subject to all monitoring efforts and other safeguards we deem appropriate. North Korea would have to commit to taking no further provocative actions. The full text of an agreement, should one be reached, would be required to be published on the front page of the North Korean official daily paper and announced on North Korean television.

      There would be a one year waiting period before any aid would be supplied and during that waiting period we would have full access to all North Korean missile and nuclear facilities. In exchange for North Korean compliance, but only after the full year of North Korean good behavior, including no further provocative actions and continued full access to North Korean facilities, aid would begin to be provided in monthly installments, each of one-twelfth the total quantity promised for a full year.  If at any time, before or during the one year period when such deliveries are to be made, North Korea should fail to abide by any of its commitments all such aid would be terminated immediately.

      North Korea would almost certainly reject such an offer, but it would at least be a test of whether she has any humanitarian interest in assisting her malnourished millions.  It might also show North Korea that, unlike in the past, our position will harden rather than soften as time passes. Her rejection of the offer might even suggest to those who favor unconditional assistance that they have misinterpreted North Korean distress calls as motivated by humanitarian concerns.

      • Bob W Cain says:

        Basically to save the people the regime needs to be removed … I don’t think negotiating with them is going to help in anyway! … It’s a catch 22 … We either give them food or we don’t. It’s not like we can’t afford it … I will shut up now! … Ha! Ha!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s