Keith Luse on US Humanitarian Assistance to North Korea

December 6, 2021

In new article published on 38 North, NCNK Executive Director Keith Luse responds to a recent Newsweek op-ed written by Gordon Chang:

My long-time acquaintance, Asia analyst Gordon Chang, recently offered his perspective on the provision of humanitarian assistance to North Korea in Newsweek magazine. After reviewing the editorial, I am compelled to respond. The broad-brush condemnation of food aid to North Korea casts a shadow over the ongoing work of US and Canadian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) providing humanitarian assistance (including some food aid) to the neediest of North Korea’s citizens. American organizations actively strive to comply with the US government licensing and operational requirements for working in North Korea as set forth by the Departments of Treasury, Commerce and State.

Indeed, the diversion of food aid and other humanitarian assistance has been of paramount concern for international donors working in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) through the years. My first trip to the country in 2002 was in response to the question of diversion and additional food aid issues by then US Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Dick Lugar and other US officials. Among other points of concern, North Korean officials had not been allowing the World Food Programme (WFP) to perform spot-checks on the distribution of food aid. At that time, about 90 percent of US food aid to the DPRK was handled through the WFP, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Notably, the US government has provided virtually no food aid to North Korea since 2009.

Over the past 19 years of working on North Korea-related issues, first in the Senate and later in the nonprofit sector, I’ve witnessed considerable progress by food and humanitarian assistance donors to the North in establishing more effective monitoring mechanisms.

Admittedly, for those who view children and the neediest of North Korean citizens as acceptable victims of war, no level of monitoring of food, medical and other humanitarian assistance to North Korea may satisfy. However, for those who support the provision of assistance to the neediest segments of the North Korean population, they can be assured that US NGOs, as well as the majority of other international donors to the DPRK, place high value and go to significant lengths to be sure aid makes its way to intended recipients.

Read the full article on 38 North.