How to Feed North Korea

Roberta Cohen
Roberta Cohen Former Brookings Expert, Co-Chair Emeritus - Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

May 5, 2008

South Korea’s criticism of North Korea’s human rights record need not prevent its providing food and fertilizer to hungry people in the North [“S. Korean Principles vs. Hunger in North,” news story, April 30]. Hunger should know no politics, as President Ronald Reagan declared to justify food aid to Ethiopians starving under a brutal communist regime in the 1980s.

Since Kim Jong Il, out of anger or pride, will not request the aid, South Korea should donate it to the World Food Program for distribution up north. The agency has a long track record of delivering food in North Korea and of monitoring, albeit imperfectly, where it goes.

If concerns persist about diversion to the communist elite and military, South Korea should donate protein biscuits, barley and millet, as recommended by Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which will be more likely to reach the poor than will rice, which the elite and the army prefer. And it should direct its aid to areas where there is known hunger, such as the northeast.

South Korea need sacrifice neither humanitarian nor human rights principles in dealing with North Korea.