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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Foreign Assistance to North Korea

Mark E. Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Mary Beth Nikitin
Specialist in Nonproliferation

Should the United States resume food, energy, and/or denuclearization assistance to North Korea? This is the major issue facing Congress in considering the provision of aid to Pyongyang. Between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided North Korea with over $1.3 billion in assistance: just over 50% for food aid and about 40% for energy assistance. Since early 2009, the United States has provided virtually no aid to North Korea. On February 29, 2012, after bilateral talks with the United States, North Korea announced a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities (including uranium enrichment) at its Yongbyon nuclear facilities. It also said it would allow international nuclear inspectors to return to North Korea. The United States announced it would provide North Korea with 240,000 metric tons (MT) of food aid. However, the so-called “Leap Day deal” unraveled after North Korea on April 13, 2012, launched, in defiance of United Nations resolutions, a rocket to place an “earth observation satellite” into orbit. U.S. officials say that during bilateral negotiations they warned their counterparts that any rocket launch using ballistic missile technology would jeopardize the agreement. 

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. In 2011, in response to continued food shortages, Pyongyang reportedly asked the United States, South Korea, and other countries to provide large-scale food aid. The United Nations has issued an appeal for assistance. In 2008 and 2009, the United States shipped about a third of a planned 500,000 MT food aid pledge before disagreements with the North Korean government led to the program’s cessation.

Providing food to North Korea would pose a number of dilemmas for the United States. Pyongyang has resisted reforms that would allow the equitable distribution of food and help pay for food imports. Additionally, the North Korean government restricts the ability of donors to operate in the country. Multiple sources have asserted that some of the food assistance going to North Korea 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, 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 due to particularly severe food shortages.

In deciding how to respond to North Korea’s current request, the Obama Administration and Congress face a number of decisions, including whether to resume food aid; if so, whether to condition food aid on progress in security and/or human rights matters; whether to link assistance to Pyongyang easing its restrictions on monitoring; and whether to pressure China to monitor its own food aid. In June 2012, the Senate voted to prohibit food aid to North Korea, though the measure would allow the President to give aid if he issues a “national interest” waiver. 

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

Date of Report: June 25, 2012
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: R40095
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