In the mid-1990s, as many as one million North Koreans died in
one of the worst famines of the twentieth century. The socialist
food distribution system collapsed primarily because of a misguided
push for self-reliance, but was compounded by the regime's failure
to formulate a quick response-including the blocking of desperately
needed humanitarian relief.
As households, enterprises, local party organs, and military
units tried to cope with the economic collapse, a grassroots
process of marketization took root. However, rather than embracing
these changes, the North Korean regime opted for tentative economic
reforms with ambiguous benefits and a self-destructive foreign
policy. As a result, a chronic food shortage continues to plague
North Korea today.
In their carefully researched book, Stephan Haggard and Marcus
Noland present the most comprehensive and penetrating account of
the famine to date, examining not only the origins and aftermath of
the crisis but also the regime's response to outside aid and the
effect of its current policies on the country's economic future.
Their study begins by considering the root causes of the famine,
weighing the effects of the decline in the availability of food
against its poor distribution. Then it takes a close look at the
aid effort, addressing the difficulty of monitoring assistance
within the country, and concludes with an analysis of current
economic reforms and strategies of engagement.
North Korea's famine exemplified the depredations that can arise
from tyrannical rule and the dilemmas such regimes pose for the
humanitarian community, as well as the obstacles inherent in
achieving economic and political reform. To reveal the state's
culpability in this tragic event is a vital project of historical
recovery, one that is especially critical in light of our current
engagement with the "North Korean question."
Subjects: History, Political Science
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