Thursday, June 28, 2012

Notes on starvation

Stories of famine and starvation in North Korea are making their way across world newspapers as the release of the United Nations' "Overview of Needs and Assistance" report in May coincided with new accounts of devastation in the country's grain-basket provinces. One thing is clear: North Korea is not once again falling into a food crisis - because that would imply that the country had evaded food shortage at some point in the past two decades. Based on the best estimates, the system appears to be perpetually suffering shortfalls and frequently dipping into a major humanitarian crisis whenever it is brushed by the slightest external pressure: last time it was flooding, this time drought. While the acquisition of food itself remains the key effort in allaying the issue, additional problems exist that significantly further or act as the outright cause of the crisis. Without taking a more holistic approach to this ongoing problem, the situation on the ground will not improve.

read the article here

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New blog on North Korea

I am launching a new blog with my friend and analyst Scott LaFoy on the food situation in North Korea. I will continue updating this blog because I will still be writing about much more than the famine in North Korea - but for those looking for a good blog that will keep them informed about the humanitarian crisis in the DPRK, I hope you will frequent our new blog.

DPRK Food Aid Blog

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speaks

After overseeing months of unprecedented reforms in her home country of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi (hereafter abbreviated ASSK) went to Bangkok and spoke at the World Economic Forum on East Asia. Here are the highlights of her message to the leading members of the international community:

  • The question of whether or not the breathtaking reforms have become irreversible in Burma/Myanmar remains the focus of policymakers and policy analysts - but this begs the fundamental question of what the nature of reforms are in Burma. ASSK defines reforms as improvements to the conditions of the Burmese peoples.
    • There is the political aspect of the reforms, which has been the focus of the international community in the last few months - beyond releasing political prisoners and democratizing the electoral system, ASSK calls for national commitment so that all ethnic groups of the union can benefit from the changes. The friction between the ethnic groups are not unbridgeable. 
    • Paralleling the political process, ASSK noted that Burma must engage in more robust economic reforms. The opinions of the entrepreneurs in Burma are that the business climate has not significantly improved - ASSK points out that economic reforms are not held up by just fiscal and monetary measures but also by judicial and legislative reforms. Rule of law is to not only protect political activist, but also to regulate business practices. Key to achieving this will be to establish an independent judicial system to administer laws justly. And so far, reforms in the Burmese judicial system has been slow in coming. 
  • ASSK spoke about the critical mass of educated people (from Paul Collier) necessary to carry out changes in the country. By education ASSK refers to secondary education, not tertiary or doctoral. She believes that education will be fundamental to resolving unemployment among the youth and creating a citizenry capable of implementing the reforms. She hopes to focus on job creation and vocational training.
    • According to ASSK, the biggest problem in Burma is the hopelessness born out of mass youth unemployment. Job creation therefore is both a practical necessity and one that will secure the long term well-being of the country.  
  • ASSK believes that the Burmese people on the ground are ready to adopt the democratic process and sees eradicating corruption and inequality as a chief assignment.
  • Burma is not yet a fully fledged democracy, ASSK admits, and the reforms are still highly dependent on the commitment of the military (she calls for cautious optimism and healthy skepticism); nonetheless, it is the Burmese government's role to assist the people empower themselves by choosing their own means of self improvement. The state must simply be capable of providing the legal and technical assistance necessary.
  • ASSK asks the ASEAN countries to express what they expect of Burma by the time the country takes the presidency of the organization in 2014.

Syria and Russia

As the bloodshed in Syria gets increasingly out of hand, the international community is mounting its criticism of Vladimir Putin for abetting the Assad regime in its bloody struggle to maintain power. The United States and many of the European nations have sided with the Free Syrian Army and support the removal of President Bashar Al-Assad - meanwhile, despite the Russian commitment to Kofi Annan's Plan, Moscow's firm stance against intervention prevents further action from the West.

So why is the Kremlin so wary of putting its boots down on this clear infringement of human rights by Damascus? As I noted before in my blog post and article "The Russian Winter of Discontent," Putin has two major problems with the situation at hand - First, the erosion of Russia's ability to influence events abroad - in particular, the ability to mitigate unbridled Western actions in key regions vital to Moscow's traditional foreign policy objectives; second, the inability of the US to offer anything quid pro quo for Russia's cooperation.

If President Obama wants to change the situation at hand, then he should see to altering the standing conditions on which Moscow creates its foreign policy instead of waiting for the Kremlin to budge on the status quo.