‘The North Korea Refugee Relief and Reconstruction Act’

Several weeks ago, K-blogs were all aflutter with Robert Kaplan’s article on the prospects for destabilizing chaos when the North Korean regime collapses.  I argued in response that the United States should begin planning to fund reconstruction and organize an emergency humanitarian response, and that this ought to be one of the main contingencies  around which a U.S.-Korea alliance should be designed.  Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has now introduced a bill to address those issues.  Here’s the summary; all emphasis mine:

“¢  Authorizes the appropriation of up to $10 billion for a “North Korea Refugee Relief and Reconstruction Fund”.

“¢  Resources made available to the Fund are to be used for three basic purposes:

1. To provide relief to refugees who have escaped from North Korea, to relocate relocate such refugees to South Korea or other countries prepared to accept them, and to assist in the resettlement of such refugees in any country willing to accept their resettlement.

2. To provide reconstruction assistance for the benefit of persons living in North Korea in the event of reunification of North Korea with South Korea.

3. To provide reconstruction assistance for the benefit of persons living in North Korea in the event of the emergence in North Korea of a new national government committed to respect for human rights, nonproliferation, and peaceful relations with the United States and other countries of the region.

“¢  Authorizes the President to draw down up to $1 billion of articles and services from any agency of the United States Government to provide immediate resources to the Fund.

“¢  Urges other governments to make commitments commensurate to those made under this Act to help the people of North Korea gain freedom from political oppression.

The big pink elephant in this room is the question of Frist’s own status, and the fact that his majority will soon dwindle to a 49-seat  minority.  This issue shouldn’t be partisan, but it probably will be.  The Republican base wants fiscal restraint and the Democratic base wants withdrawal from world affairs.  This bill proposes to spend plenty of money to support a concept from which much of the Left is reflexively averting its eyes in these times:  freedom.  This is a  good first step that could lead to some more concrete planning for how to use our resources.  But how far will it go in this political climate?  A better question may be where this bill was hiding when it had a chance of passing.

Here’s a pdf of the bill.


  1. Its an important goal, however, the GOP has proven itself very good at sending money to its supporters. Iraq is a good example of how not to spend money, as a huge amount of money that was earmarked for rebuilding Iraq has gone into some kind of black hole.

    My big fear is that Frist has picked aid for North Korean refugees as a means of getting this money and that it might not go to refugees, but instead to well connected NGOs ‘administrative costs’.

    I think the cause is an important one, but that any big spending bills might be better off postponed until after the lame duck session ends. A bad spending bill now would be worse than nothing in that it could sour Americans on this very important issue. Ten billion dollars is a huge amount of money, more than anybody involved in this issue really ever dreamed of, I’m sure. Lets put it this way, it could make a huge difference in changing the situation in North Korea, but I don’t think we will do that by continuing the policies that we have been pursuing in the past.

    If the various groups that have been working with North Korean refugees, not simply using them as a political tool, were involved in the process, and all of the North Korean refugees who speak English (which as I understand it is not a very large number) were strongly incentivised to participate (in other words, given real, well paying jobs with benefits as civil servants in a bipartisan-sponsored, non-political oversight committee) then I think that this effort might have a good chance of success..

    But looking at the track record of GOP spending on many other urgent items of high national significance, the record has not been good. Look at Katrina relief, the way money was allocated in the aftermath of 9-11, etc.

    That said, the mere fact that this important issue has been brought up by Frist shows that it does have bipartisan support and I think the new year will bring renewed attention to it and perhaps a spending bill that might have the chance of actually accomplishing good things with that money.. And by ‘good things’ I mean saving the lives of North Korean refugees in dangerous limbo in China and elsewhere, and increasing the flow of positive and non-threatening but nonetheless clearly outside information into North Korea about the benefits of rejoining the human race. Not capitulating to some kind of US victory scenario.. rejoining the HUMAN race.. as in the race we all belong to.

    Perhaps that could happen by appealing to their need for scientific and technical assistance in peaceful non-militaristic areas. The other day I was thinking “Wouldn’t North Korea make a great testbed for alternative energy technologies.”

    Clearly, giving them assistance of any kind on nuclear energy was and remains a bad idea.. But where else on Earth is there such a large and inexpensive pool of people who could work with US personell on developing ways to generate power using wind, wave energy, solar energy, etc.

    Preventing nuclear proliferation clearly requires carrots as well as sticks. Bearing in mind that this idea probably sounds like anathema on one or another level to many of us, let me just say that any positive contact with outsiders, especially contact on a working level in ways like this, has positive benefits for long term change.. and it also makes the chances of conflict much less.

    I don’t ant to extend the life of the KJI regime, but neither do I think we should push them to desperation by playing bad guy in the way KJI wants us to.

    I think some ‘good cop/bad cop’ is appropriate, and its also important for us to figure out a way to get across to them on a large scale, that, for example, if we intercept ships, its because in the past, we found ships carrying missiles, dammit.. and in our book, countries that imprison so many of their citizens and test bioweapons on them and sell medium range missiles to the highest bidder need to be shown that there are consequences to that that won’t go away until they change.

    How are we going to do that without some contact with their people, however small?

    I still think the best way we could spend money is dropping radios, food and toilet paper into North Korea. Nothing would upset KJI’s apple cart faster than our not playing into his predictions of our behavior.


  2. Some will see this as a provocative act working in line with regime change.

    Anyway, I’ve long said if South Korea were smart, it would be pushing the US and Japan and others like the EU to continually be working on a reconstruction plan for NK after collapse. SK should be trying to get all the players talking about what they will do to ensure both sections of Korea are stable and NK is being rebuilt rapidly. For SK, this will also include statements that would make it extremely difficult for China to attempt any funny business in NK once it collapses too.

    It doesn’t make any sense for SK to do the opposite of this by trying to prolong the life of NK while chopping away at its relations with the nations it will need for major reconstruction funds. It is almost a given that when NK changes, it will be from collapse, and SK does not have the resources to either build NK up to prevent collapse or rebuild it after it collapses.


  3. I don’t think that South Korea wants reunification. But they can’t/won’t admit it. Also, China certainly doesn’t want a reunified Korea on its borders, making the Chinese Koreans want to join in the fun. Also, the situation in NK makes too many people in China uncomfortable because they still have not really examined their own not soo distant past. They don’t want the hills of North Korea to tell their stories, when Kim falls. They would much rather keep Kim there for as long as they can. Ad maybe move into the power vacumn when he dies.
    Bush also needs countries like North Korea for reasons of his own. Meanwhile, nothing changes and powerless and profoundly exploited people continue to die, pawns in an international game by cynical and evil powers who should know better.


  4. USinKorea, I have to agree with you. If Roh was smart (which he is not) he would recognize that once DPRK inevitably falls, he will be in a position to beg and grovel everyone in the world for reconstruction. For him to piss off everyone… oh well.

    Chris, I don’t always see eye to eye with you, but if there is one thing we can agree on is the absolute need to break down the information blockade in DPRK. At this point, when DPRK tested a nuke, we need to respond with something equally powerful. I believe in the long run, this will save many more lives. The way we are heading now, there is absolutely no change in DPRK, meaning more people there will die by government sponsored pogroms. The more we wait, the more bombs DPRK will manufacture and God only knows when they will have a hydrogen bomb. Considering that they didn’t start a war when up to 2 million people were starving to death, I can’t see why they would because of less than half a million radios that we pump in there. In anycase, even if we don’t do anything they are finding themselves in there. We need to do this BEFORE they start starving this spring. An informed NK soldier is less likely to shoot us. And an informed DPRK citizenry is the only means to reformation.

    Radios, CD, VHS… it is the only way left for us. It seems clear, only way this thing will end is if KJI start to have secret discussions with us about amnesty.