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  • Submitted: Jul 09 2013 12:10 PM
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Download Foreign Assistance to North Korea (June 2013)

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DPRK North Korea United States




Between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided North Korea with over $1.3 billion in assistance: slightly more than 50% for food aid and about 40% for energy assistance. Since early 2009, the United States has provided virtually no aid to North Korea, though episodically there have been discussions about resuming large-scale food aid. Additionally, the Obama Administration officials have said that they would be willing to consider other types of aid if North Korea takes steps indicating that it will dismantle its nuclear program. However, barring an unexpected breakthrough, there appears little likelihood the Obama Administration will provide large-scale assistance of any type to North Korea in the near future. In February 2013, North Korea announced it had conducted its third test of a nuclear device, a move that came weeks after its apparently successful launch of a long-range missile. Members of Congress have a number of tools they could use to influence the development and implementation of aid programs with North Korea.

Food Aid. North Korea has suffered from chronic, massive food shortages since the mid-1990s. Food aid—largely from China, South Korea, and the United States—has been essential in filling the gap. As of mid-2013, according to many observers, it appears that while North Korea’s continued food shortages are not severe enough to create a crisis situation, they are causing chronic malnutrition and stunting in vulnerable populations in certain regions. Many analysts think the Obama Administration will be reluctant to provide large-scale aid after the breakdown of a February 2012 deal, in which the United States announced it would provide North Korea with large-scale food aid in return for concessions by Pyongyang on its nuclear and missile programs. The deal unraveled in April 2012 after North Korea launched a long-range rocket in defiance of United Nations sanctions. Since then, the United States and North Korea have not reached any agreements, including on food aid. In June 2012, the Senate voted to prohibit food aid to North Korea.

Providing food to North Korea poses a number of dilemmas. Pyongyang has resisted reforms that would allow the equitable distribution of food and help pay for food imports. The North Korean government restricts the ability of donors to operate in the country. Additionally, multiple sources have asserted that some of the food assistance is routinely diverted for resale in private markets or other uses. However, it is likely that food aid has helped feed millions of North Koreans, at times possibly staving off a repeat of the famine conditions that existed in North Korea in the mid-late 1990s, when 5%-10% of the population died. South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s government has indicated that they would be willing to offer North Korea food aid as part of her plan to foster a “new era” in inter-Korean relations.

Energy Assistance. Between 1995 and 2009, the United States provided around $600 million in energy assistance to North Korea. The aid was given over two time periods—1995-2003 and 2007-2009—in exchange for North Korea freezing its plutonium-based nuclear facilities. In 2008 and 2009, North Korea also took steps to disable these facilities. However, no additional energy assistance has been provided since 2009, when Pyongyang withdrew from the Six-Party Talks—involving North Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia—over North Korea’s nuclear program. The move followed condemnation and sanctions by the U.N. Security Council for North Korea’s April 2009 launch of a suspected long-range missile and May 2009 test of a nuclear device.

In 2007 and 2008, the United States also provided technical assistance to help in North Korea’s nuclear disablement process. In 2008, Congress took steps to legally enable the President to give expanded assistance for this purpose. However, following North Korea’s actions in the spring of 2009, Congress rejected the Obama Administration’s requests for funds to supplement existing resources in the event of a breakthrough. Congress did approve monies for the State Department’s general emergency nonproliferation fund that the Administration could use in North Korea.




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