As much as Trump likes to rail against the failed policies of his predecessor, he seems to be mimicking them, using North Korea’s food shortages as leverage to force the country to denuclearize, a move that DPRK believes would bring about only a swifter death.
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA — A leaked diplomatic memo reveals that the North Korean government is lobbying its allies for assistance in dealing with an “urgent” food shortage crisis needed to stave off hunger this month. But with U.S. and international sanctions in play, delivery of humanitarian aid is risky business.
A diplomatic memo obtained by NK News appears to be an instruction from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Ministry of Foreign Affairs to An Kwang II, DPRK’s ambassador to Indonesia, as well as to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to make appeals to allies for food assistance.
The document says the DPRK would, without international assistance, face an “absolute shortage,” despite the country’s having imported 200,000 tons of food and produced “400,000 tons of early-ripening crops.”
According to NK News, the memo appears to be a follow-up to another memo, obtained by NBC News in February, from DPRK Ambassador to the United Nations Kim Song, which served as a plea for aid from international organizations.
Both memos reportedly cite findings from a study conducted jointly in late 2018 to early 2019 by the UN World Food Program (WFP) and the DPRK.
Earlier this month, The Guardian reported:
Due to flooding and a heatwave last year, North Korea is facing a shortfall of 1.4m tonnes in food production this year, including wheat, rice, potatoes and soybeans.”
David Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina and supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, is the director of the WFP. He told The Guardian:
This is a serious issue and children are going to be severely impacted if we do not do something by the time the lean season truly kicks in by June.
Russia has responded and is sending in 50,000 metric tonnes [of wheat], China is doing something too. Western donors are still hoping that the [breaking] of the impasse will take place so that everyone can come in together.
The concerns have been about not helping the regime. We make the case: don’t let innocent children suffer because of politics.”
Beasley has warned that children will be severely impacted if more aid isn’t delivered by June.
In March, Russia’s Pyongyang embassy announced the delivery of 2092 tons of wheat with assistance from the WFP.
Impact of climate change and crippling sanctions
It appears that climate change has contributed to the country’s food shortages. The memo cites “high temperatures, drought, and flooding” as contributors. Because of these factors, in 2018 North Korea produced 503,000 fewer tons of food than it did in 2017, according to the WFP. That’s a 10 percent decrease in production.
In February, the second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President U.S. Donald Trump ended abruptly as the U.S. rejected Kim’s request for sanctions relief. Sanctions were cited in the memo as another cause of the looming crisis.
More so than climate change, sanctions have contributed to the starvation of North Korea’s economy and its people. The memo says that the restrictions diminished their ability to harvest grain by “restrain[ing] the supply of agricultural supplies” such as “farming equipment and materials, and chemical fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide.” International sanctions, spearheaded by the U.S., also “limit the collection of refined crude oil.”
Petroleum products are a necessary acquisition for anyone looking to feed a nation. Tractors run on them, as do small planes that spread pesticides and herbicides. Even spreading seeds efficiently requires oil. Food processors use it, and then there is the issue of distribution.
In September 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that allowed the U.S. to freeze assets of any company, business, organization or individual trading with the DPRK.
At the time, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that going forward they can choose to do business with the United States or North Korea, but not both.”
The White House echoed that line, saying “Foreign financial institutions must choose between doing business with the United States or facilitating trade with North Korea or its designated supporters.”
In July 2018 at a summit at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, all 29 countries signed a declaration calling on members to maintain pressure on North Korea.
All stick, no carrot
When it comes to North Korea, Trump’s presidency has offered a small sign of hope, despite his early bellicosity, including threats of bringing “fire and fury” against the nation. President Barack Obama, unlike his successor, absolutely refused to negotiate with the DPRK. Instead, Obama sought to bring the government of North Korea to its knees with a doctrine of “strategic patience,” which relied on international pressure campaigns to exacerbate the collapse of the society. The idea was that, in the face of a popular uprising or mass starvation, North Korea might agree to denuclearize or change regimes.
But North Korea won’t do that, even now, with Trump posturing towards détente. All the more so because National Security Advisor John Bolton has defined the Trump administration’s doctrine as the “Libya Model.” In 2003, Libya, under longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, agreed to denuclearize. In 2011, the government was overthrown — and Gaddafi brutally murdered — following an invasion by NATO.
As much as Trump likes to rail against the failed policies of his predecessor, he seems to be mimicking them, using North Korea’s food shortages as leverage not to bring about the collapse of the country in the manner of Obama’s “strategic patience,” but to force the country to denuclearize, a move that DPRK believes would bring about only a swifter death.
Feature photo | People walk past a kiosk that sells snacks in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 9, 2019. Dita Alangkara | AP
Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.