With the passing of HR 2112 last week, prohibiting U.S. food assistance to North Korea, the U.S. House of Representatives has cruelly voted to use food as a weapon. The only thing that can result from such an action is increased suffering for millions of North Koreans — including many children who are already malnourished. North Korea, which was slowly recovering from natural disasters and the famine of the mid-90s, was hit by a devastating winter and heavy rains. According to Bernd Göken, of the German relief organization, Cap Anamur, who visited this spring, “The people are starving. They have nothing left to eat.”
Representative Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who drafted the measure prohibiting food aid, imagines that starving North Korean children will somehow bring down the government and its weapons programs. But this kind of food politics does not work. During the worst part of the mid-90s famine in North Korea, when hundreds of thousands were dying, the U.S. delayed providing food aid seemingly in hopes that the government would collapse. The Kim Jong Il government is still there, with no signs of collapse.
There is a desperate need for direct diplomacy and negotiations with the North Korean government over their nuclear weapon systems and the state of war that continues to exist. But withholding food aid from the people of North Korea is not the answer. As former President Jimmy Carter said after his recent visit to Pyongyang, “to deliberately withhold food aid to the North Korean people because of political or military issues not related is really indeed a human rights violation.”
This cynical bill, which lethally politicizes humanitarian aid, now goes to the Senate, and it is up to leaders there to do the right thing–namely, to furnish food aid to those who desperately need it.
*JT Takagi is a KPI Board member and also works with the National Campaign to End the Korean War.