Critiquing Medecins Sans Frontieres’ withdrawal from North Korea, Aidan Foster-Carter writes, “Speak out – but not get out.” But conspicuously he gives no examples of groups that have done this. The reason is because like Dr. Norbert Vollertsen those who have spoken out against the N. Korean regime’s abuses have always been kicked out of the country. So to recommend that NGOs “tell it like it is” while at the same time “hang on in there” is simply nonsense.
In defense of the United States subsidizing tyranny, Carter states, “But without aid, even more ordinary North Koreans would have died than have. Ms. Terry admits that death rates have fallen. Harvests have hardly improved, so it’s foreign aid that’s made the difference.” In other words, so long as foreign aid helps slow the flow of bleeding for a time, that justifies supporting a regime that is bent on keeping the wound open. If the death rates had skyrocketed (as I believe they will in the coming year), I’m sure Carter and the WFP would be saying just the opposite and spinning that even more foreign aid was needed to make some difference. Thus the vicious cycle like Munchausen syndrome continues on and on. Foreign aid decreases death rates momentarily for a few years, while allowing a regime to perpetuate a cycle of man-made famines and gulags for decades to come.
Incidentally, Carter suggests donating medicine which is presumably more difficult to divert than food aid. But after watching footage of hospitals outside of Pyongyang using beer bottles as IVs in contrast to the latest medical supplies being used in the capital for the elite, one gets the sense that even medical supplies are not immune to diversion by the military regime.
One of the strongest arguments for continued “engagement” with N. Korea is that openness inevitably undermines the regime. Carter states, “Since 1995, North Koreans have learned (the hard way) two crucial truths: that their own vainglorious rulers can’t or won’t feed them, whereas the foreigners demonized in Pyongyang’s puerile propaganda can and will.” Oh really? Says who? According to most refugee reports, the North Koreans have not learned these two truths. Kim Jong Il is no benign fool. It is in the Stalinist regime’s best interests to suppress its own hypocrisy that undermines its authority. Therefore, North Korean defectors are shocked to find that the South is actually better off than the North. N. Korean propaganda has been that effective.
Carter justifies propping up an evil regime with its concentration camps and man-made famines if it is done in order to avoid war or a massive influx of refugees. He incredibly states, “This seems to me not evil realpolitik, but responsible statesmanship.” Call it realpolitik with utilitarian justifications, but do not call it statesmanship. Churchill resisting the Nazis even at the risk of war (contra France) was statesmanship. But to call the world’s Neville Chamberlain-like appeasement policies “responsible statesmanship” is contemptible.
Carter calls MSF’s withdrawal from North Korea “moral grandstanding” and “the easy way out.” To the contrary appeasement is easy. Crying out, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace, turning a blind eye to injustice, and rationalizing repression of the relative few in favor of stability for the neighboring many is easy and the route that people have been prone to take.
But thank goodness MSF has taken the road less travelled. Significantly, without MSF’s withdrawal in public protest, diversion of aid would not even be at issue today. Contrary to Carter’s suggestion, this is not a red herring problem. What Carter dismisses as an occupational hazard of aid in fact is a decisive factor in prolonging the misery of 21 million North Koreans. He would do well to consider Bruce Bartlett’s recent op-ed piece on the damage that well-intentioned but misappropriated foreign aid does to nations.