Even as the world struggles to find workable ways to constrain North Korea’s expanding nuclear weapons program and unpredictable belligerence, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is planning how to channel new streams of aid and development money to the dangerous regime.
Ban, the former foreign minister of South Korea, wants to engage more deeply in confidence-building measures to reassure a skeptical world of the positive impact of engaging North Korea peacefully.
Those efforts are going to be harder, in the wake of North Korea’s most recent unprovoked artillery attack on a South Korean island that left at least two dead and 13 wounded.
Moreover, it appears from a highly confidential U.N. planning document obtained by Fox News, the job of making sure any such aid gets to North Korea’s starving citizens is more difficult than the U.N. customarily admits.
While the world body claims that it operates on a “No Access-No Aid” principle when it comes to North Korea—meaning aid is not handed over unless the U.N. can directly verify it goes to the suffering people who are supposed to receive it—the document reveals that North Korea frequently does the opposite, “using the ‘No Aid-No Access’ principle.”
According to the document, “This principle means that without commitments of additional donor support, obtaining significant improvements in access, monitoring and assessments [of aid effectiveness] will remain a challenge.”
All of those revelations, and more, are laid out in a seven-page memorandum to be discussed at a session of Ban’s top-level Policy Committee on December 6 devoted to the tense situation in the Korean peninsula. Written before the latest attack, the document recommends the U.N. under the leadership of Ban himself should, among other things:
-- “make a focused effort to re-engage” with North Korea and other countries most closely affected by the crisis even as the security situation worsens as a result of North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and aggressive conventional military actions;
--make a “sustained effort to decouple humanitarian assistance” to the North Korean regime from “political and security considerations,” meaning entice aid donors who have shied away from the regime as a result of its war-like behavior and appalling human rights record to reopen their wallets;
-- launch a new public relations campaign with aid-giving countries to rekindle their enthusiasm for giving money to North Korea, including “donor briefings,” “targeted visits” to aid-giving capitals, and sponsorship of an aid-giving “donors tour” of North Korea next year.
--reach out to unspecified “non-traditional” aid donors “that are less invested in the political-security situation;”
--try to get the regime’s main sponsor, China, which already gives unknown levels of financial assistance to the military-dominated dictatorship, to add more multilateral aid;
--tap new forms of assistance such as grants and loans for humanitarian and development purposes that, the document contends, are allowed under ongoing U.N. economic sanctions against the regime;
--look for new ways to help North Korea’s bureaucracy meet its U.N.-inspired anti-poverty goals, especially means that bolster the government’s ability to deliver services to its battered people;
--as a last item on the suggestions list, “encourage” the regime to cooperate with the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a newly appointed Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea—who the government has already forbidden to enter the country.
In an organization that customarily swaddles its pronouncements in deadening prose, there is a strong sense of urgency in the policy document. The “overall situation in the Korean Peninsula has significantly deteriorated,” since Ban’s top policy-making lieutenants last discussed the issue, it declares. The document cites as evidence North Korea’s second nuclear test in May 2009, and the sinking last March of a South Korean warship by a North Korean torpedo.
The document may have been written too soon to include another dramatic example of heightening tensions—the official declaration last week by South Korea’s government that the so-called “sunshine policy” pursued by previous Seoul governments, which funneled massive amounts of development money to North Korea in exchange for promised restraint on nuclear weapons, was considered an all-out failure. That declaration could be read as an explicit rebuff of Ban Ki-moon himself, since in his previous incarnation as South Korea’s foreign minister, Ban was one of the sunshine policy’s principal proponents.
The position paper also fails to mention a report issued last May by a U.N. panel of experts—but only published six months later—that declared U.N. sanctions against North Korea had been weak and erratically applied, and had failed to prevent the regime for engaging in nuclear transfers with Iran and Syria.
And there is no mention at all of the latest nuclear crisis to grip the region, after North Korea’s deliberate revelation late last week that a full-scale uranium enrichment plant was up and running near its Yongbyon nuclear facility. The North Korean announcement, according to some regional experts, could be the start of a new attempt to extort additional aid money from the West—but it is also a significant addition to the regime’s weapons-building capacity. Moreover, alongside this week’s artillery assault, it underlines the high stakes involved in dealing with the regime’s often-reckless unpredictability.
In the deepening swamp of mistrust regarding North Korea’s actions, the policy document nonetheless holds out hope that the regime’s main sponsor, China, will eventually exert a moderating influence on the regime, especially as it goes through a transformation from the current Kim Jong Il dictatorship to a new one under Kim’s son, Kim Jong Un. But that transition is “expected to last for several years,” the document says, and its implications “are yet to be seen.”
First and foremost, the document proposes to cut the U.N. back into the Great Power diplomacy surrounding the explosive issues, by urging “high-level interaction” between the U.N. and the North Korean government (known throughout by the initials DPRK, for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), as well as other nations “concerned on the political, security, humanitarian, development and human rights issues in question.”
But the major emphasis is on the U.N.’s own humanitarian efforts in North Korea, which certainly faces a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions. According to the position paper, as many as 8.5 million of roughly 22 million North Koreans are “vulnerable” to hardship, with 5 million women, children and elderly desperately so. Meantime, financial support for U.N. agencies in the country has “virtually dried up.”
U.N. staffers estimate they need $190 million for aid in 2010 along, the paper says, but only $30 million is available so far. As Western donors have backed away from the regime, the biggest source for that aid is now the U.N. itself, through a revolving U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund, known as CERF. “However, the CERF has limited resources and would not be able to support a significant scaling-up of the humanitarian response in the DPRK,” the document says, which would be “commensurate with the needs.”
Not mentioned in the document is North Korea’s well-known “military first” policy, which is enshrined in the regime’s constitution. That doctrine explicitly says that the country’s military and war-making machine, which presumably includes the bomb-making effort, gets first call on the national resources, and civilians much less, much later. Indeed, the Policy Committee document underlines that the regime still denies “the overall humanitarian situation in its country.”
There are some signs of progress, however: the regime, says the paper, “is willing to acknowledge some humanitarian needs, particularly in cases where these could be linked to natural disasters and sanctions.”
The Policy Committee document is also frank about the fact that for the past 15 years, the U.N. has “consistently communicated its concerns on monitoring and access to the field” where aid is administered, acknowledging that “more regular and better quality monitoring is needed in order to measure more precisely the impact of assistance provided.” Elsewhere, the document notes that “opportunities to conduct comprehensive assessments” of aid programs “are limited, even while arguing that its in-country staffers report “it is possible to implement effective assistance programs that assess many of the most critical needs.”
It is in this context that the U.N. document acknowledges that North Korea “frequently” invokes the ‘No Aid-No Access’ rule—a version of pay-to-play that varies considerably from many more public U.N. defenses of its North Korean programs.
These have been compromised over the past several years by internal audits and external investigations that indicated millions in hard currency had been channeled to the regime in violation of the U.N.’s own strictures, among other infractions. The anonymous author of the Policy Committee paper argues that the most spectacular of those accusations, which closed the offices of the United Nations Development Program in North Korea for two years, were “mostly unsubstantiated,” even though an independent external investigation strongly demonstrated otherwise.
A Fox News investigation in September 2010 further revealed that in the previous year, significant “lapses,” “anomalies” and other variations were uncovered by auditors in the way the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) reported on its financial and commodity management in North Korea. Even countries that serve on WFP’s 36-nation executive board were denied access to the WFP internal audits that noted the unexplained flaws.
To the extent these lapses are mentioned at all in the Policy Committee document, they come through only obliquely. The paper points positively, for example, to government-U.N. efforts “to resolve perennial issues of access, monitoring and data in relation to the United Nations humanitarian and development work in the country.” It then refers delicately to “the need to move toward international standards in that regard.”
Only “regular” high-level dialogue with North Korea, the paper concludes, will “have meaningful effect on the issues in question.”
The U.N. has already declared its intention to send at least $290 million to North Korea through various aid agencies over the next four years, despite the still escalating nuclear tensions. One of the major aims of the proposed p.r. blitz contemplated in the Policy Committee document is to open that faucet even wider, and to keep it separate henceforth from political and security tensions.
If Ban’s plan is endorsed and proceeds, the North Koreans who insist on “No Aid-No Access” might indeed be satisfied. If, that is, they consider the aid to be enough.
George Russell is executive editor of Fox News.