Yesterday the United States and North Korea issued separate and conflicting statements regarding a way forward in the Six Party Talks. While this should come as no surprise, the most notable policy change is the administration's willingness to move forward with 240,000 metric tons of food assistance to North Korea.
Linking humanitarian assistance to progress or even the resumption of six party talks is a bad precedent and until recently the Obama administration and the State Department have never stated this new position publicly. Many would say that this would be an attempt to bribe the North Koreans to the table taking advantage of a dire humanitarian situation.
During the Bush administration the U.S. and other six party member states agreed to provide assistance in the form of Heavy Fuel Oil as a condition for North Korea to halt its nuclear activities and missile tests. While this created some controversy, there was no link to the humanitarian needs of North Korea.
Until now, the United States has always assessed the delivery of humanitarian assistance on the basis of need, not politics. This is not to say that we blindly give assistance to rogue governments. The U.S. Agency for International Development is well versed in navigating this sensitive subject. Experienced teams will put conditions on humanitarian aid, taking extraordinary steps to assure what commodities are needed most and what areas of a country have been most affected. USAID will then elaborate on how it can best respond to humanitarian emergencies.
The Obama administration has been assessing the food situation in North Korea and deliberating on what to do for almost a year. This delay and the statements released by both governments will fuel speculation that the Obama administration decided to wait until now and use humanitarian assistance as leverage on Kim Jong-un's new regime to get them back to the negotiations table.
There were signs earlier this week when, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Robert Willard, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, linked humanitarian food assistance to the stalled six party talks aimed at North Korea's de-nuclearization.
Admiral Willard said, "In terms of these negotiations that have been ongoing, I have been supportive of them, with regard to the United States' proposals for conditional food aid into North Korea and the preconditions that have come with it, which now include discussions of cessation of nuclearization and ballistic missile testing."
I experienced the reality of negotiating with the North Koreans firsthand in late 2007 and early 2008 on three trips to Pyongyang as the lead American negotiator with the North Korean government over the terms for resuming food aid where each of these meetings was chaired by First Vice Minister, Kim Kye-gwan. These discussions were done entirely separate from the six party negotiations.
The United States reached an agreement with North Korea to provide up to 500,000 metric tons of food under a significantly improved framework ensuring food would reach the North Korean people who needed it most.
This agreement remedied past problems of the regime diverting humanitarian food shipments to the military or for black market revenues. The North Koreans agreed to improved access at all stages of the food distribution apparatus, to allow random assessments, and, for the first time, permit American and U.N. World Food Program workers fluent in Korean to work in-country to oversee the distribution process, assess needs in different locations, and review distribution lists.
This program came to an abrupt halt in March 2009 with the expulsion of U.S. NGOs who were in-country monitoring the distribution shortly before the regime conducted another round of nuclear tests and long-range missiles.
The subject of food assistance should have been brought up separately during the meeting between the United States and North Korea. First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan is well versed in both sides of these negotiations as noted by North Korea's claim that the U.S. has "promised" to offer 240,000 metric tons of food assistance with the prospect of increasing the amount.
What will the Obama administration do when North Korea breaks its promises yet again and humanitarian assistance is now linked directly to the six party talks? One wonders if there was ever a clear strategy within the administration in its attempt to bring the North Koreans back to the negotiating table.
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Secretary Clinton will testify tomorrow before the House Foreign Relations Committee, "Assessing U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities Amidst Economic Challenges: The Foreign Relations Budget for Fiscal Year 2013." Each year there are myriad advocacy groups lobbying for a robust foreign assistance budget and just as many saying enough with tax-payers' money going to corrupt governments, congressional earmarks, dubious special interest programs and long-standing civil servant pet projects that do nothing to address the challenges of the developing world or compliment U.S. foreign policy priorities.
This year, we can add to this annual procession of Republican candidates vying for the 2012 presidential nomination who still repeatedly call for a foreign assistance budget that starts at "zero." A position that still baffles me.
Americans may be more interested in domestic issues with gas prices rising sharply, unemployment still high, and continued instability in the market -- but a coherent message from Secretary Clinton that stresses the important role that foreign aid plays in an increasingly unstable democratic world is in dire need.
She should recognize the critical role that the U.S. plays promoting the ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights that we enjoy in the United States. Much has been said lately of Americans and other foreign nationals committed to democratic ideals being arrested in Egypt. These anti-democratic actions highlight the danger and challenges of countries transitioning from years of dictatorial regimes to elected governments that represent the will of the people.
In his testimony recently, IRI president Lorne Craner, stated that "one election does not a democracy make." He went on to say, "The second and third elections in transitional countries are more important than the first, because voters have by then had a chance to judge their satisfaction with initial winners, and the political space begins to consolidate in a manner reflective of the new democratic environment." As a former senior administration official, I agree. Congress needs to support and defend the work that is being done in many transitioning countries.
Tomorrow, much will be said about the turmoil and progress that has been made in the Middle East. In the Secretary of State's executive summary to Congress, she highlights the enormous changes we have seen in the Middle East and North Africa and the need for the U.S. to have a coordinated and strategic approach to foster (not control) peaceful democratic transitions. She states that the 2013 budget request provides a "blueprint of how diplomacy and development can sustain our country's global leadership and deliver results for the American people."
I note with some optimism, to this regard, The Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund; a new program within an austerity budget -- but still a big idea.
The budget request includes $770,000,000 to address democratic, economic, and institutional reforms in MENA -- the Middle East and North Africa. It also mentions how various bureaus within the Department of State and USAID will coordinate and provide incentives and conditions on how aid monies will be allocated and accounted for.
Congress will certainly look to hold funding until they are comfortable that monies being spent are not supporting those who are opposed to democratic transition. To be sure, this will be a challenge but it is also a strategic risk we should be willing to take.
The road to democracy around the world will continue to be hard and dangerous. The U.S. should not back away from promoting the ideals of self-determination that humankind is willing to fight for.
It is nice to have a big idea within an austerity budget.
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2011 seems to be the year that the world has said goodbye to ruthless dictators and terrorists. We have witnessed the deaths of Osama Bin Laden, Muammar al-Qaddafi, and now Kim Jong Il. They were all oppressive leaders who had no regard for their people or the sanctity of life, and all promoted international terrorist movements.
Granted two of the deaths came from military action and in areas where there exists a struggle for freedom and democracy. The death of the "Dear Leader" had nothing to do with North Korea's quest for freedom and democracy. He died of a heart attack - apparently of "fatigue."
Fatigue from what? From over indulgence, love of fine wine and cognac, extravagant dinners, a decadent lifestyle, and a corrupt ruling class that has enriched itself at the expense of its own people. This man's lifestyle was grotesquely at odds with the suffering of his people.
We don't see North Koreans flooding to the streets to express a desire for freedom, democracy and self determination. We see instead the thousands of crying and wailing citizens expressing great sadness that Kim Jong Il was taken too soon. Having been to North Korea several times I am not surprised to see this public response. Keep in mind that from birth, North Koreans are taught to worship "The Great Leader," "The Dear Leader," and now "The Great Successor."
Those who live in the capitol, Pyongyang, are among the most privileged and benefit from a life far better than those in the countryside. Ordinary North Koreans have no access to outside information, something which is almost unthinkable in today's world but remains a chilling reality inside this secretive, paranoid and ruthless system.
World leaders yesterday expressed concern and hope that the passing of Kim Jong Il may provide an opportunity for change.
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Last Thursday's 90-minute debate in South Carolina was the first time Republican candidates vying for the 2012 Presidential nomination focused specifically on foreign-policy and national security. It is of course true that Americans are more interested in issues that face them domestically; with unemployment still above 9 percent, an economy that is still sluggish, and a consensus that we are in for a slow recovery, how could they not be? But it is also true that the next president will be drawn into issues that affect us globally -- the uncertain outcome of the Arab Spring, weak democracies in Latin America, and development issues in Africa.
I was surprised that several candidates suggested that, each year, our foreign assistance budget start at "zero." Really?
The only candidate to respond in a way that I found realistic was Huntsman, who blasted his colleagues with "sound-bite" campaigning. I couldn't agree more.
During my time in the Bush administration, we stressed the importance of foreign assistance and the fundamental role it plays in laying the foundations for democracy, the rule of law, economic development, health interventions, building bridges, and promoting the ideals of freedom and liberty.
Here are several key quotes from President Bush's introduction to the 2006 National Security Strategy:
America now faces a choice between the path of fear and the path of confidence. The path of fear - isolationism and protectionism, retreat and retrenchment - appeals to those who find our challenges too great and fail to see our opportunities. Yet history teaches that every time American leaders have taken this path, the challenges have only increased and the missed opportunities have left future generations less secure.
This is still true today. The presumptive leader of the United States needs to demonstrate his or her understanding that our country must continue to lead on the world stage. It is important that we as a nation (and our elected leaders) turn not to isolationism, even in rhetoric, but convey how we will continue to deal with global security and development challenges.
The path we have chosen is consistent with the great tradition of American foreign policy. Like the policies of Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, our approach is idealistic about our national goals, and realistic about the means to achieve them.
The introduction goes on to say that the United States should also continue to promote economic prosperity around the world and to support vibrant democracies.
How is this done?
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During the recent G20 meetings the world watched as Western leaders tried to make sense of the growing Eurozone crisis while the Greek government teetered on collapse. Many other topics for debate failed to get much public attention and that will remain the case until the Greek crisis is resolved and the growing financial crisis is addressed.
Gone are the days when world leaders looked forward to talking about the role the G8 and G20 should take to commit to the developing world and its needs on global health issues, the spread of democracy and the provision of humanitarian assistance to those still in dire need.
Add to this the skewed view that now is somehow the time to transfer a large portion of this responsibility to the private sector insinuating that they are in many ways responsible for the current shortfall in government foreign aid budgets.
Politicians would rather place blame on the private sector than look at their own bloated and over-spent government foreign aid programs.
And yet they still profess a desire to maintain robust foreign assistance programs and to look for new ways to fund global development in a bid to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals.
So how do some of our "progressive" leaders aim to do this? A new financial transaction tax (known by its advocates as the "Robin Hood" tax) has been proposed to raise more money for developing countries. Far from being a creative solution, I fear that this is yet another way for governments to trumpet flashy big number deliverables rather than focusing on making aid more effective and coordinated.
The "Robin Hood" tax also fails to take into account what the private sector continues to do in the developing world.
To be sure, there remains great hardship in the developing world and foreign aid should be a priority within the G20. But, we need to get away from just upping the ante for the sake of a headline and move towards requiring international aid organizations to prioritize and strategize.
There is also a need to set conditions in which foreign aid recipients themselves start to contribute some revenue to establish a coordinated approach to solving a programs objective.
There exists a continued disconnect and infighting between donor nations on how best to address foreign assistance.
Agencies like USAID are often accused by donor nations in Europe of setting up parallel structures and as a result not providing the funding needed to government institutions in developing countries. At the same time, Congress wants accountability for money spent knowing that there exists too much waste in budget transfers to governments who take advantage of (and even squander) tax payers' money.
So, let's take some time while governments are short on cash to actually prioritize what we are already spending. Let's get away from big number deliverables and "bold new approaches" and move towards a focus on best practices, program money based on results, targeted spending and investment where we know it will make a difference.
The one thing that should not be on the table right now is an ambitious new tax, especially not one that risks penalizing the only sector that can truly lift people out of poverty; the much maligned private sector.
No matter how many actors and activists Tweet about the noble "Robin Hood" tax, let's remember what works and then focus on making that even more effective.
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During his first stop in Argentina on a four nation tour through South America, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez visited the University of Argentina, La Plata, to receive the Rodolfo Walsh journalism award lauding him for his, "unquestionable and authentic commitment" to freedom of the press and breaking the so called media monopolies. Never mind the questions about how and who decided within the University that he should deserve such an award, or the fact that President Cristina Kirchner was present at the ceremony. Kirchner, like Chavez, sees privately owned media as a threat. She is seeking legal measures to break-up Argentina's existing communications industry in favor of state controlled outlets.
Let's take a moment to review the accomplishments of President Chavez since he was first elected in 1998. To be sure, Venezuelans turned out in droves at the ballot boxes to vote for change. Gone were the days of power sharing between the Partido Social Chirstiano de Venezuela (COPEI) and Acción Democrática (AD). Venezuelans were fed-up and wanted change. Enter Hugo Chavez, a charismatic former junior military officer who tapped into Venezuelan frustrations and won with the largest percentage of votes in four decades.
Thirteen years later Venezuela is plagued with a leader who continues to manipulate the democratic process, restrict press freedom, intimidate his opposition, and most alarming - foster formal diplomatic relations with the likes of Ahmadinejad in Iran where Iran and Venezuela have agreed to collaborate on a secret nuclear plan to help Iran obtain uranium.
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There are reports coming out of North Korea again that they are suffering from a severe shortfall in food supplies. North Korean emissaries have gone on a multi-national tour asking foreign governments to resume food assistance programs to feed their malnourished population.
This is not a new scenario for North Korea. The regime has continually struggled to feed its people since the famine of the mid 1990s when over one million lost their lives.
What is more shocking is the effect the many years of living on less than 1,700 calories a day have had on the general population. I saw this first hand in a Pyongyang park in 2008 where some elderly people were quietly harvesting grass so they could supplement a meal. Those in the NGO community with access to remote areas of the country have confirmed many in North Korea suffer from malnutrition and infection. In many cases, people outside of the capital are on the brink of starvation.
Today, a North Korean child can expect to be up to 7 inches shorter than his/her South Korean counterpart and 20 pounds lighter by adulthood.
A recent Washington Post article stated that the North Korean request has "put the United States and other Western countries in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to ignore the pleas of a starving country or pump food into a corrupt distribution system that often gives food to those who need it least."
Not if the policy makers in Washington use the agreement reached in 2008, which remedied past problems of the regime diverting humanitarian food shipments to the military or for black market revenues.
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The U.N. secretary-general is hosting a high-level meeting this week in New York calling on governments to remain committed to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015. It is clear that in the midst of a world economic crisis, the United Nations is hoping to use the MDGs to garner billions of dollars in additional financial commitments.
The United States is not a formal signatory to the MDGs (established in September 2000), but broadly agrees with the eight targets and uses them as "indicators, but not a strategy" (as Laura Hall and Elizabeth Cutler point out over at the Stimson Center blog; see also Laura’s take on the importance of implementation here).
Both the United States and Britain have in large part continued to lead the developed world in fighting poverty and bringing positive change to the developing world. Programs such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Malaria Initiative, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, access to education, and Debt Relief for Africa all charted new paths for partnering with the developing world to provide opportunities for millions. The Obama administration has largely remained committed to the paths set forth by President Bush.
Yesterday during his speech to the U.S. General Assembly, President Obama said that foreign assistance should be focused on development, not dependence. Obama went on to say that, "Secretary of State Clinton is leading a review to strengthen and better coordinate our diplomacy and our development efforts." He further said that his administration is rebuilding the United States Agency for International Development (USIAD).
This rebuilding of USAID has been mired with challenges and problems. Phil Levy highlights below that it took more than a year for an USAID administrator to be appointed. Today, USAID still has vacancies in the majority of its top political posts. Even if the White House were to nominate appointees now, these individuals will have little affect on USAID policies and programs in the short term.
To add to the confusion, the administration is still undergoing an internal review of development assistance grappling with who actually controls the budget mechanisms to implement foreign aid. The development community continues to express its frustration that there is no clear strategy.
While governments, foundations, businesses and civil society groups continue to rally around the MDGs' call to action to slash poverty, hunger and disease by 2015, the Obama administration needs to demonstrate it is serious about foreign assistance and its overall development policy.
The infighting between the White House and the State Department should stop, and the administration must provide clear inter-agency guidelines through the White House's Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7) or the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).
We will fail to make the grade on the world stage if we can't get our own house in order.
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Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.