North Korea: To aid or not to aid

Not a dilemma for countries in the West, since most have imposed economic sanctions on North Korea, which means no trade, but also no humanitarian aid either.

However, this doesn’t quite work for those in the neighbourhood.  For South Korea, China and Japan, North Korea is a reality that must be dealt with, in all its cultural-socio-geo-political complications.

This is an interesting point brought up by a blogger that I’ve not considered before: do you send aid to North Korea, or don’t you?

China and Japan may be weary of a nuclear North Korea.  But more likely than not, those two are more concerned over the potential social upheaval, both politically and economically, as a result of a collapsed North Korea.  The apocalyptic image of millions of starving North Koreans streaming over the Yalu River, or those seeking asylum at the Japanese embassy, must have caused somebody sleepless nights.  Better keep the country afloat and somewhat alive, than having it going into coma indefinitely. So the decision to extend North Korea the much-needed lifeline makes sense.

For South Korea that longs for an end to this expensive and psychologically draining military stand-off, but unsure of when and how the Kim dynasty will fold and just exactly how re-unification will get paid, the decision to the above question can be a constant struggle.

That’s where this blogger’s analysis gets interesting.

No one can plausibly monitor nor distinguish military personnel from civilians, since all it takes is a change of uniforms and a plate off the truck.  Therefore, if South Korea gives aid, then it will no doubt go to the military first.  The aid will go to prolonging the militarization of North Korea.  This is not good for South Korea nor for ordinary North Koreans.

If South Korea turns its back on aid, however, then it is knowingly starving a whole lot of people. Again, because that line between military and civilians is so thin, and because Kim Jung-Il has the power to raise army and militia from ordinary citizenry should he choose to, a soldier today can be a civilian tomorrow, and vice versa.

You can make the argument that blocking aid will cripple its army and accelerate Kim’s eventual fall from power, but on the other hand, if and when this whole madness is over, South Korea needs to deal with a nation of malnourished, developmentally stunted citizens.  Not only will this impose a huge humanitarian cost for North Korea (imagine the finger pointing once the world sees pictures of skeletal children), it also has far-reaching social and economic costs for the government and people of South Korea.

Not an easy decision at all.

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