North Korea’s status as an international pariah is richly deserved. The country is a proliferator of nuclear technology having helped build a Syrian nuclear site that was destroyed by Israel and is believed to be assisting Burma in its own clandestine nuclear program. North Korea successfully detonated two nuclear devices on October 9, 2006, and May 25, 2009 and the U.S. believes North Korea has enough plutonium for at least half a dozen nuclear weapons. The regime has been striving to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering these weapons by testing its long-range Taepodong-2 missiles twice in recent years. In its pursuit of these nuclear and missile capabilities, North Korea has violated numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions. Most recently, North Korea stands accused of sinking a South Korean ship.
Efforts to negotiate and engage with the North Korean government over these issues by the current and past U.S. administrations have encountered repeated disappointment. To its credit, the Obama administration has resisted calls to engage in a new round of bilateral negotiations with North Korea until Pyongyang provides tangible evidence of the resumption of efforts to completely and verifiably abandon its nuclear weapons programs. In response to North Korea’s attack on the South Korean naval ship as well as its continuing violation of U.N. resolutions and international law, the U.S. recently announced new economic and financial sanctions on Pyongyang.
But North Korea can count on at least one ally. As reported by FoxNews, “the United Nations is laying plans to spend more than $290 million on a welter of programs in the communist state.” The chief U.N. organizations involved in this effort are: United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UNICEF, the World Food Program (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). This effort continues a tendency in the United Nations to lend support to the world’s most repressive regimes.
A recalcitrant and unrepentant North Korean regime should not be rewarded in this way. There is little doubt about the suffering of the North Korean people. However, it is the repressive policies of the North Korean government that have most directly contributed to the country’s humanitarian crisis by constraining internal and external trade and inhibiting private production.
Under the right circumstances humanitarian assistance could help alleviate the suffering in North Korea, but thus far the regime has refused to meet those standards fully. The North Korean government has agreed to only minimal changes sufficient to give U.N. agencies an excuse to resume operations. The tight control the North Korean government retains on its citizens and over the in-country activities of non-governmental organizations and international organizations providing humanitarian and development assistance make U.N. financial lifelines far more likely to benefit the regime than the North Korean people.
The U.S. and South Korea contribute to sit on the executive boards of the UNDP and UNICEF. Japan and the U.S. contribute to and sit on the Executive Boards of the WFP and WHO. If these countries truly want to apply pressure to North Korea, they should demand that these organizations curtail or suspend their North Korea programs until rigorous, transparent monitoring standards and delivery verification are implemented for U.N. assistance and Pyongyang complies with Security Council resolutions and ends its nuclear program.