Page 24 - FSJ_03_12

This is a SEO version of FSJ_03_12. Click here to view full version

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »
F
OCUS ON
H
UNGER AS A
F
ORE IGN
P
OL ICY
I
SSUE
F
EEDING THE
O
THER
K
OREA
22
F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A R C H 2 0 1 2
e have all experienced
the confused feeling that washes over us in the initial few
seconds after waking up from a dream, right? Complete
bewilderment is followed by a surge of relief that you’ve
somehow narrowly escaped an unbelievable situation.
As the only official American living in the Democratic
People’s Republic of Korea from 2004 to 2005, I wrestled
almost daily with this fuzziness. I was there as the United
Nations World Food Program representative, in charge of
the largest feeding operation in the world.
Considered the more successful of the two Koreas dur-
ing the early postwar period, the North went into a steep
decline following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Be-
cause it mainly produced poor-quality finished goods for
communist markets, its already limited manufacturing
trade base evaporated. The country did, however, possess
a range of raw materials that were in demand, so it traded
ferrous metals, labor and other finished industrial prod-
ucts for cereals.
Only a small portion of the mountainous country is con-
sidered arable, so North Korea has regularly faced food
production deficits. This makes access to external cereal
sources, principally China and the Soviet Union, essential.
So once Pyongyang lost its Russian patron in the early
1990s, the situation rapidly began to deteriorate.
Into the Hermit Kingdom
My relationship with the “Hermit Kingdom” actually
began in 1995. That was in the midst of a particularly tense
period in U.S.-DPRK relations, when Pyongyang’s efforts
to develop nuclear weapons accelerated.
The greatest hope for slowing their progress was an in-
strument called the Agreed Framework, signed on Oct.
21, 1994 — just a few months after Kim Il Sung, the na-
tion’s founder, had died. The agreement laid out a step-by-
step path toward normalization of relations between
Washington and Pyongyang, but the pace of implementa-
tion soon slowed.
Then, early in 1995, reports began to emerge that
North Korea faced a new crisis. Reliable information was
F
EW
A
MERICANS HAVE EVER VISITED
P
YONGYANG
,
LET ALONE LIVED AND WORKED THERE
. H
ERE IS
A FIRST
-
PERSON ACCOUNT BY ONE WHO DID
.
B
Y
R
ICHARD
R
AGAN
Richard Ragan is currently the United Nations World
Food Program representative in Tanzania and has served
in the same capacity in Zambia, Nepal and North Korea.
Prior to joining the U.N., he worked for Representative Les
Aspin, D-Wis. During the Clinton administration he
served successively in the Office of the Secretary of De-
fense, on the National Security Council staff and as
USAID’s deputy assistant administrator for humanitarian
assistance.