Latest U.S. Deal with Pyongyang: good for hungry North Koreans … barren cupboard for U.S., SK

UPDATE (13 March): Right down to the word “tribute.” Compare the post on the recent U.S. deal with North Korea, below, with yesterday’s editorial from the Washington Post on the same subject. Thanks for coming out guys, way to be the ball, way to lead.

UPDATE (2 March): The AP’s new Pyongyang bureau weighs in on the new agreement in this article from the Washington Post. Not surprisingly, the citizens of Pyongyang allowed to speak to the AP are mistrustful of the U.S. and not very hopeful of any reduction in tensions. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what kind of reports this new bureau will be able to dispatch from the North.

Not to be overly pessimistic, but unless you are a starving North Korean, the recent headlines (JoongAng Daily, Washington Post) about North Korea agreeing to suspend nuclear weapons testing, long-range missile launches, and uranium enrichment activities for U.S. food aid really don’t mean much.

As South Korea trades in electronics, cars, and the rest, North Korea trades in international tension. The recent deal allows the North to acquire 240-300,000 tons (accounts vary) of badly needed food aid from the U.S. in return for hitting pause, not stop, on its nuclear and long-range missile development programs. Once the food arrives, there is little to prevent Pyongyang from resuming either of these activities.

This is also 2012 – the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the regime’s founder (sign up here to take the tour), and the year long-promised by North Korea’s leadership as the year the North would finally become a ‘great country’. By winning what will surely be portrayed as tribute from the U.S. for the Great Leader, the North not only gains a domestic political benefit, it also gains a well-timed economic benefit designed to show the regime is keeping its promise of prosperity.

While it’s a great bargain for the North, there’s not much in this latest agreement for the U.S. or South. While food aid for people starving to death stands on its own merits, it is far-fetched to think that this latest deal will somehow alter North Korean behavior and weapons development for more than a few months past the final food delivery.

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