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We can’t say where the aid will end up

We can’t say where the aid will end up


By Kim Yong-soon
Kim Yong-soon
Kim Yong-soon

There have been many voices heard from both in and outside of the South Korean government advocating the resumption of aid to North Korea. The debate between the doves and the hawks has raged on ever since the peninsula was divided in 1945. This is an overly politicized issue in our domestic society of which I have no inclination of adding to. I will, however, try to touch on the some of the more practical aspects of our provision of aid to our brethren in North Korea.

The possibility of resuming aid to North Korea begs the question of “to whom are we sending our aid to?” Is the aid going to the North Korean regime or is it going to the North Koreans who are in dire need of such aid? Neither the South Korean government, nor anyone else, can verify, let alone designate, where the aid is going to. It is conventional wisdom that the aid is in fact going to the areas and people that the North Korean regime will designate, leaving the donors powerless to attach any means to enforce measures that ensure that the aid goes to the people that are in need. This means that the aid is going to the areas, if at all, where relief provided by the aid will translate into political support and loyalty for the ailing North Korean regime ― most likely the military.

Thus, the aid originating from the South has not served its twin goals of relieving the dire situation of the North Korean people and obtaining the ability to influence North Korea in any positive way, and has remained symbolic at best. The only goal that the aid has served is the self-satisfaction gained by those that have advocated continuous aid to the North with vague hopes of reaching out to the ordinary North Koreans.

Much more is to be gained, both for the South Korean government as well as the North Korean people, by uniting our efforts with the international community in our endeavor to both influence the North Korean regime and help the North Korean people. By maintaining our adherence to international norms of giving aid, we may be able to more quickly secure a better world for the people of North Korea. The international community has long been providing aid under conditions which link the aid to developmental goals, both in economic and democratic terms, and humanitarian objectives. It is done so precisely because experiences have shown that without such a link, aid has been pouring into the regimes, be they legitimate or not, that are in place at the moment and not to those that are in need. China is an exception to this norm in its recent aid packages to mostly African and other resource rich countries. China has been known to provide lump sums of cash in return for access to raw materials without any strings attached. This sort of aid, akin to our aid to the North, may be effective in serving the interests of the involved regimes, yet do nothing to alleviate the pains of the livelihoods of the majority of the people in the receiving countries.

Along with the ineffectiveness of previous aid to the North, and with the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong incidents still fresh in the minds of South Koreans, it is best to adhere to the current state of international solidarity to refrain from providing goods to North Korea. The UN resolutions, 1718 and 1874, as well as most of the members of the stalled Six Party Talks are in agreement that no further aid should be going North Korea’s way without any sign of change from the North Korean regime on issues such as human rights, WMD and recent provocations towards the South. The sufferings of their people are precisely the results of their closed system enforced by the regime and, more importantly, of their severe defense expenditure.

What has been particularly effective in aiding underdevelopment and maltreatment of human rights is the effort of the global civil society that has arisen in this age of globalization. As civil societies take on the burden and the decision of providing aid, governments such as the current Lee administration maintain the option of pressuring for change with other means. Carrots only work when the other hand is holding a stick.

Kim Yong-soon is a research fellow at the Institute of East and West Studies, Yonsei University. He was previously a research professor at the Institute for Korean Unification Studies at the same university. ― Ed.
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