North Korea visit by UN World Food Program next week is a big deal and will tell us a lot ahead of summit

The timing of next week’s visit to North Korea by the leader of the United Nations World Food Program is good news for the United States and the world. WFP executive director and former South Carolina Governor David Beasley is headed to Pyongyang early next week to get a first-hand look at the food and hunger issues and needs of North Koreans, and while the timing of the long-planned visit is coincidental, it will give us some important information at a critical time.

The food and hunger issues in North Korea have always been bad, but in recent years they have gotten worse. As I noted on Fox News last year, North Korea has experienced a horrendous drought and its crop production was down one a third from what it was the previous year, which was very bad in itself. The U.N. World Food Program has a long history of emergency food distributions to North Koreans with the primary focus on women and children. In fact, in some North Korean schools, the children receive eighty percent of their food from the WFP.

The purpose of next week’s trip is to evaluate current operations to ensure their effectiveness from a programmatic and financial standpoint.

Beasley will spend time in Pyongyang and elsewhere, and then brief leaders in China, Japan and South Korea, all of which have strong interest in WFP’s work in the region.

The fact that the mission is being headed by a no-nonsense administrator whom the president recommended means that his administration will get the unvarnished version of what’s really going on.

Following next week’s visit, we should have better information on the distribution of food and other nutritional resources – including whether they are truly getting to those who need it the most – and what the future could look like if North Korea undertakes more reforms.  

Every WFP executive director has visited North Korea, where the agency has had a presence for decades, so Beasley’s visit in and of itself isn’t all that unusual. But he’s also not your typical U.N. bureaucrat – he even told one reporter that he’s “not a U.N. kind of guy.” Instead, this former governor, recommended for the post by President Donald Trump, is a businessman and executive who has focused on modernizing the WFP with new technology platforms and by reaching out to and integrating the private sector.

What has impressed me most, though, is how Beasley and his team have positioned the World Food Program’s work as a bulwark against terrorism and extremism. In fact, just last week, Beasley told The Guardian that “Europe needed to wake up” to the fact that ISIS militants fleeing Syria are working with other radical Islamist groups in Africa to destabilize the continent and push more migration into Europe.

Since he took over the WFP, Beasley has said WFP’s work could and should counter the efforts of terrorist groups who have used a lack of food as both a tool for recruitment and for fighting local and national government structures.

At North Korea’s recent Worker’s Party Plenum, Kim Jong Un focused on economic issues rather than nuclear ones. While the WFP trip to North Korea has been in the works for several months, the fact that senior leaders in both North Korea and at the White House have agreed for the visit to go forward now, tells us much. It will be an opportunity for us to get a better sense of “ground truth” on what is really going on with regards to food and hunger and what can be done to improve it.

The fact that the mission is being headed by a no-nonsense administrator whom the president recommended means that his administration will get the unvarnished version of what’s really going on and have the best information available before the joint U.S.-North Korea summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un occurs.

All of us should hope that next week’s trip can add to information required to obtain an honest, on the ground assessment of the situation in North Korea.

Let’s face it, as President Trump tries to pull off the “deal of all deals” by denuclearizing North Korea, it is vital that he knows all the cards, and next week’s visit can help with the “ground truth” that he needs.

Van D. Hipp, Jr. is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army.  He is the author of the newly released book, "The New Terrorism:  How to Fight It and Defeat It."  All of the author's proceeds go to the National Guard Educational Foundation to fund scholarships for children of fallen Guardsmen.  www.thenewterrorism.com. Follow him on  Twitter @VanHipp