Economic Embargoes: Barry’s Gleanings
The U.S. started its embargo of North Korea in 1950. In A Full Life: Reflections At Ninety, President Jimmy Carter says imposition of sanctions or embargoes on “unsavory regimes is most often ineffective and can be counterproductive. . . .
The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is more tragic [than in Cuba]. The U.S. embargo, imposed on North Korea sixty-five years ago [my emphasis], at the beginning of the Korean War, is being strictly implemented, with every effort being made to restrict and damage the economy as much as possible. During my visits to Pyongyang I have had long talks with government officials and surprisingly outspoken women’s groups who emphasized the plight of people who were starving. When I checked with the UN World Food Program, they estimated that at least 600 grams of cereal per day was needed for a “survival ration,” and that the daily food distribution in North Korea had at times been as low as 128 grams. Congressional staffers who visited the country in 1998 reported ‘a range of 300,000 to 800,000 dying each year from starvation.’ The Carter Center arranged for North Korean agriculture leaders to go to Mexico in 2002 to help them increase production of their indigenous crops, and the U.S. contribution of grain rose to 589,000 tons after I went to North Korea in 1994 and relations improved between our two countries with an agreement under President Clinton. However, U.S. food aid was drastically reduced under President George W. Bush and terminated completely by President Obama in 2010.
I visited the State Department at that time and was told that the North Korean government would not permit any any supervision of food deliveries, which was the main problem. In April 2011 I returned to North Korea, accompanied by former president Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, former president Mary Robinson of Ireland, and former prime minister of Norway Gro Brundtland, who was a physician and had been director of the World Health Organization. We stopped first in Beijing for briefings from World Food Program officials, who said there were no restraints on monitoring food deliveries to families. They followed us to Pyongyang and accompanied us to rural areas where food was being distributed. The government sent an official guarantee that all such food deliveries could be monitored by America and other donors. I reported to Washington that one-third of children in North Korea were malnourished and stunted in their growth and that daily food intake was between 700 and 1,400 calories, compared to a normal American’s of 2,000 to 2,5000, but our government took no action.
There is no excuse for oppression by a dictatorial regime, but it is likely that the degree of harsh treatment is dependent on the dissatisfaction of the citizens. Hungry people are more inclined to demand relief from their plight, and more likely to be imprisoned or executed. As in Cuba, the political elite in North Korea do not suffer, and the leader’s all-pervasive propaganda places blame on the United States, not themselves.
The primary objective of dictators is to stay in office, and we help them achieve this goal by punishing their already suffering subjects and letting the oppressors claim to be saviors. When nonmilitary pressure on a government is considered necessary, economic sanctions should be focused on travel, foreign bank accounts, and other special privileges of government officials who make decisions, not on destroying the economy that determines the living conditions of oppressed people” (188-189).
President Carter makes a good argument. If North Korea is still considered an enemy sixty-five years after the U.S. began the embargo there, shouldn’t the U.S. (and other nations) be trying other ways to bring North Korea and its people into the global world? When we in the West feel sorry for the poor people in North Korea, we should know that we are a reason for the extreme poverty and hunger there. Our policies could change; North Korea could change too.
Aloha, Barry (& Renée)