Open Sources: Wendy Sherman — yes, Wendy Sherman — nominated for No. 3 job in State Dep’t

Are you kidding me? Wendy Sherman? The same Wendy Sherman who pushed the policy that made North Korea a nuclear power? The same discredited policy that not even the Obama Administration can bring itself to defend today? You know how Oscar non-winners tend to say that it’s an honor just to be nominated? For all of my qualified support for the Obama Administration’s North Korea policy, it’s discrediting to serious thinkers to even consider Wendy Sherman for a post this important, even if she’s only being picked to be a Clinton loyalist.

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If you believe the Donga Ilbo, the State Department is leaning toward North Korea’s food crisis not being one of aggregate supply, but of distribution:

The U.S. has tentatively concluded that North Korea is not suffering from a food crisis though certain areas in the Stalinist country do have food shortages. This conclusion is based on the visit by a U.S. assessment team for food assistance to the North led by Robert King, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights, said a South Korea diplomatic source Sunday. “Though the U.S. has yet to release an official report on the visit, it made a preliminary judgment based on the results of the assessment team’s trip that the North has no comprehensive food crisis,” the source said.

The other, more important reason for the conclusion goes unstated: no matter which party is in power in the United States, and no matter which party is in power in South Korea, South Korea always gets a veto on key U.S. policy decisions. Here, we are likely seeing the effect of strong South Korean opposition to the provision of food aid. I wish our government would have the spine to provide food anyway if North Korea met internationally accepted standards for transparency in distribution, but luckily for us all, that entire agonizing debate remains completely hypothetical.

Look for the State Department to deny this at its daily press brief.

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I read a few days ago that Ambassador Kathy Stephens had joined in South Korea’s foreboding that some kind of North Korean provocation is in the works, and said that the result would be more isolation and more sanctions (but nothing more). Today, I see that the Commanding General, USFK, is also expressing concern and hinting at responses:

“While the Kim (Jong-Il) regime has proven a willingness to escalate in order to obtain what it wants, I am convinced that the ROK (South Korea)-US alliance is prepared,” General Walter Sharp told a forum.

“Our counter-provocation planning and combined exercises are stronger than ever…. In the past year, we have worked hard to develop a hostile counter-provocation plan that more adequately addresses the full spectrum of conflict.”

This sort of contingency planning couldn’t have happened when Roh was in power. You can say that it wouldn’t have been necessary, either, but this ignores all of the North Korean commando raids and maritime provocations during the DJ and Roh years. North Korea appears to have identified a strategic goal of restricting air and naval commerce through the West Sea to do economic harm to the South. Some on the South Korean left have expressed an openness to re-drawing the Northern Limit Line or sharing control over the Yellow Sea border area, which is about as smart as putting the robber’s knife to your own throat.

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A Modest Proposal: I’ve often cited reports of cannibalism by starving people in North Korea, most commonly of homeless street children. Now, Yonhap is reporting that a North Korean police document, secretly copied and smuggled out of the North, corroborates the reports (see also). Obviously, I’m in no position to authenticate the report.

An alleged North Korean police document reported a case of cannibalism, a South Korean missionary group said Monday, a development, if confirmed, that could support what has long been rumored in the North. [....]

The North’s police released a 791-page report in 2009 to give guidance on how to deal with criminals, and its preface said the report was based on previous events and possible circumstances. The report, later obtained by South Korea’s Caleb Mission, provided a rare look into the alleged cannibalism and other crimes, but it did not say whether cannibalism has become a widespread practice.

In one account, a male guard who could not bear his hunger killed his colleague using an ax, ate some of the human flesh and sold the remainder in the market by disguising it as mutton, the report said, without giving any further details such as when the alleged crime occurred.

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Wow, that’s a lot of missiles — probably worth enough money to not feed a whole country.

11 comments

  1. omin says:

    Josh, can you offer some insight insight into the Royce amendment? The bill in question is for FY 2012 appropriations, and this ever-hypothetical food aid package should have been covered under a previous fiscal year, right? So what gives?

  2. omin says:

    Also, since the WFP seems happy with its new negotiated monitoring agreement, if diversion is really the issue, I hope that State and USAID can explain exactly why they aren’t satisfied.

    If distribution, and inflation in the jangmadang are the issues, then I’m sure the NGOs can suggest a program that meets those needs. They are after all, experts in such matters.

    I fail to understand how the USG can rationalize NOT taking any opportunity to participate in tangible ways in North Korea. Make no mistake, we will be involved when the sh*t hits the fan. To defer our “engagement” now, in hopes that it will be easier and more advantageous later seem foolish and short-sighted.

    Not giving aid seems to be motivated by the idea that it will force the government to buy food. We know that won’t happen. A second motivation follows that the dismal situation will finally incite revolution and protest modeled after North Africa. Though, unlikely, let’s give this scenario the benefit of the doubt. Now, we have a newly inspired activist population, rising up against it’s government. It will certainly be endorsed and supported by Washington. Except Washington, when it had the chance, decided not to offer humanitarian support. This hardly seems like a healthy start to the relationship….

  3. usinkorea says:

    There must be some unusual chatter inside North Korea comging to the attention of intel people.

    I wonder if there is any usual action in the East Sea/Sea of Japan invovling Japanese or US or South Korean navies?

    That is my long-shot bet on next escalation of provocations.

  4. Joshua says:

    @Omin: You said:

    Also, since the WFP seems happy with its new negotiated monitoring agreement, if diversion is really the issue, I hope that State and USAID can explain exactly why they aren’t satisfied.

    I think you need to put the WFP’s “happiness” in context. For years, the WFP has battled with North Korea to allow it more access, and it seldom says anything in public that could jeopardize that access, even if occasionally someone will say that the North Koreans “don’t like our monitoring.” No doubt, there’s considerable internal debate within the WFP and the NGO’s, too. Some, like Samaritan’s Purse, think they can do more good by staying; Medicins San Frontieres, hardly a pack of heartless neocons, was so disgusted with the regime’s diversion and manipulation that it left.

    This is an agonizing question, and you can probably see from my own posts that I’m also very conflicted about this. Do you save a few, thus supporting a noxious regime and prolonging the misery of the many? Or do you punish Kim Jong Il’s victims and refuse to help them, based on the fallacious (I think) assumption that starving people will suddenly overthrow their government? But without monitoring that meets accepted standards, it’s difficult to know if we’re even feeding that few.

    Not giving aid seems to be motivated by the idea that it will force the government to buy food. We know that won’t happen.

    Do we? Noland and Haggard have cited evidence — and even made this graph — showing that North Korea uses food aid as balance-of-payments support (see also pages 11-13 here). When North Korea receives foreign food aid, it shifts its commercial purchases from food to other things.

    This suggests to me that the regime prioritizes having a minimum level of food supply that still falls well below the WFP’s needs assessment. Noland and Haggard suspect that the WFP’s needs estimates may be too high. I can’t speak to that, but it’s clear that some North Koreans are starving, even as the regime squanders millions on uranium enrichment, the Ryugyong Hotel, luxury cars, yachts, etc.

    How to harmonize all of this? Seems to me that in North Korea, either the state makes you a priority or it writes you off, based on your “hostile” songbun, your economic worth to the state, or some perceived offense.

    I fail to understand how the USG can rationalize NOT taking any opportunity to participate in tangible ways in North Korea. Make no mistake, we will be involved when the sh*t hits the fan. To defer our “engagement” now, in hopes that it will be easier and more advantageous later seem foolish and short-sighted.

    In 2006, Yoonok Chang conducted a remarkable survey of NK refugees in China showing that just 3% of refugees — presumably most of them from the “hostile” songbun — ever received any of our food aid (see Page 29). This suggests that the regime is determined to deny food, including food aid, to those it deems expendable; it even raises the horrific possibility that this is a deliberate strategy of extermination. That’s why I’m dubious about what we can accomplish with food aid.

    The other interesting point here is that despite the fact that WFP’s aid program has been running at a dramatically reduced capacity since 2006, there was no famine in the years since. Why? Probably several reasons, but the most important would seem to be the rise of markets, on which 80% of North Koreans now depend. That’s a pretty amazing statistic, which suggests that markets are doing a better job of getting food to most of the hungry and evading the government’s diversion and manipulation than food aid. There are obvious caveats to this, of course. I’m sure that markets do little good for orphans, hospital patients, and others in state institutions. But for the vast majority of North Koreans, we’d probably do more to help them by strongly supporting the migration of refugees to South Korea, and also by supporting the money-smuggling industry that allows the hungry to purchase food in the markets and thereby draw more food into those places in North Korea where the hungry can access it. At the same time, international aid should have a more limited focus — feeding vulnerable people in state institutions, whose nutritional recovery is easier to monitor and harder to manipulate.

    A second motivation follows that the dismal situation will finally incite revolution and protest modeled after North Africa. Though, unlikely, let’s give this scenario the benefit of the doubt. Now, we have a newly inspired activist population, rising up against it’s government. It will certainly be endorsed and supported by Washington. Except Washington, when it had the chance, decided not to offer humanitarian support. This hardly seems like a healthy start to the relationship….

    And given the refugee survey numbers I’ve linked above, food aid really doesn’t seem to be reaching the people we want to reach out to, either. Look, for the very reason you cite, I’d be all for a “normal” international food aid program, in which international workers and monitors were roaming around North Korea with unimpeded access feeding the hungry and healing the sick. What we ought to have in North Korea is just what we have in Sudan or Somalia — and why shouldn’t we? If we had that, the engagement argument would have some validity.

    But what North Korea will permit looks to be something else entirely: the regime will do much more monitoring of the WFP than vice versa. The WFP will have to give the regime advance notice — time enough to put its manipulations into place — before doing site visits. The state’s corrupt and politically discriminatory distribution system will be used to pass out the food. And I’m still waiting for the WFP to answer a long series of interview questions I posed to them on other topics, including what counties will be off-limits, whether the WFP can do long-term nutritional surveys on recipients, and whether their feeding program will include political prisoners and their children.

  5. Ditto81 says:

    Joshua, “The World Program:-WFP” is a lost cause if it is subsidezed by wealthy Nations,,,,

    At least the “Iron Curtain” fell while such Ingrates like the North Korean Supreme Families bath in Luxury. It is about time that Beijing put Pyonyang int it’s place. The PRC is well aware that it’s Consumer, the U.S. will intervene soon if Beijing does not force Pyongyang to disarm.

    If China is smart than the PRC will force the DPRK to disarm. No matter how much of a 10th of the U.S. China curently owns, the U.S. can drop a proven Lead Poisoning lawsuit against China across the Global Earth and all Debts would be Null and Void.

  6. kushibo says:

    South Korea will add another North Korean processing facility (to supplement Hanawon) by 2012.

    This is very good news. Lee Myungbak is building on this positive legacy of Kim Daejung and Roh Moohyun (about the only good thing Roh did was expanding Hanawon).

  7. Glans says:

    Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner impose sanctions on Iran Air and Tidewater Middle East Co., a major port operator in Iran.

    So I don’t think Wendy Sherman is going to cause any problems. Sometime between now and November 2012, Joshua Stanton will decide to support Barak Obama for re-election.

  8. [...] to these reports years ago was skepticism, but if you hear enough people say the same thing (see here and here), you start to think they can’t all be [...]

  9. [...] to these reports years ago was skepticism, but if you hear enough people say the same thing (see here and here), you start to think they can’t all be [...]

  10. NewFocusInternational says:

    I know this is an older post, but wanted to bring your attention to the rising view among exiles that aid should go through underground channels.

    http://newfocusintl.com/ensuring-that-north-korean-aid-goes-to-the-people/

  11. Joshua says:

    I’ve said the same thing in this rather lengthy argument:

    http://freekorea.us/2010/05/24/overthrowing-kim-a-capitalist-manifesto/

    We could do more long-term good by building up a robust network of money and food smugglers to increase the availability of food, medicine, and information to ordinary North Koreans.

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