The Times, They Are ‘a Changin’

A New  report, Hungry for Peace: International Security, Humanitarian Assistance, and Social Change in North Korea, compiled by Hazel Smith, a former adviser to U.N. humanitarian agencies who lived in North Korea for two years, claims that the right kinds of aid could have the effect of opening up the country…becuse the place has already opened up quite a bit.

This view contrases with this one, which says that outside efforts to leverage foreign aid to gain concessions will fail because China and South Korea provide all sorts of assistance that requires no quid pro quo.

From the Press Release:

“There are too many analyses of North Korea that assume that this is a society that never changes and that it’s monolithic.  The influx of hundreds of aid workers in the late 1990s, followed by South Korean businessmen, has made old images of the North outdated. Massive social change resulted from the famine that killed a million people made a bankrupt socialist government unable to stop the marketization of the economy.”

The bottom-up erosion of rigid social controls allowed junior officials and some of the population of 23 million people to become exposed to United Nations and other aid workers, diplomatic missions and South Koreans, Smith told Reuters.

While the hard-line communist government of leader Kim Jong-il has resisted any kind of political liberalization, she said, “party officials at the middle level no longer pay so much attention to what the state tells them.”

“There’s a big fragmentation in the country these days,” Smith said, describing a fight between officials who want to restore a command economy and those who think the North must follow China in adopting a market economy.

The more senior leaders believe they can use South Korean and Chinese aid, and maintain North Korea’s political system in a federation with the South. Smith says this is impossible.

But below them are younger, pragmatic technocrats who are “very aware that the regime as it stands is not sustainable and admire what South Korea has done,” she said.

The competition between economic modernizers and old guard security officials gives potential leverage for the United States and other countries at the six-party talks aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.

“There are avenues for negotiation because there are economic outcomes which the North Koreans want,” said Smith.

Dangling economic incentives would help modernizers win, Smith said. South Korea’s modest investments to support nascent civil society and bring North Korea into the outside world was “the best of all the feasible options”.

South Koreans who deal with North Korea “know this is not a very militarily strong country — it’s a weak country, it’s very vulnerable and its people are fed up with the past decade and a half of poverty,” said Smith.


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