Starvation deaths in North Korea have returned to 1990s levels. That means
over a thousand people a week dying from lack of food. Over a million people
died during the 1990s food shortages. This time around, the shortages are
caused by government refusal to allow in food that must have its distribution
monitored (making it difficult for the government to divert the food to the
army or private sale). The government also took its time with the current round
of nuclear disarmament talks, delaying shipments of food from South Korea.
These have just arrived and are being distributed.
Meanwhile, North Korea is full of rumors that
leader Kim Jong Il is very sick, and has just had surgery. Kim Jong Il has not
been seen much for months, but that is not unusual. But rumors about his health
have been circulating, on and off, for over a year.
North Korean negotiators, as is their custom, are
now demanding more. They want light water nuclear electric power reactors, and
assurances from the U.S. that there will be no attack on North Korea. South
Korea is so confident that North Korea is no longer a military threat (because
of the economic crises up there) that they are speeding up the downsizing of
the South Korean army.
North Korean tactics have not changed much over the
last half century. There is lots of drama, lots of delays, and maximum effort
to extort as much as they can in the negotiations. Then the cycle is repeated,
endlessly. What has changed is the lack of predictable subsidies from Russia
and China. Until the Cold War ended, these subsidies kept North Korea
comfortably afloat. But in the early 1990s, those subsidies ended, and
starvation and economic collapse ensued. Now the economy has been loosened up,
and some people are making money. But many North Koreans are starving, and the
government fears collapse, or a revolution. No one in the North Korean
government can decide what to do. The North Koreans are trying everything, and
not settling on any one strategy. The hard liners still have a police state
operating, while the reformers have South Korean firms coming in and opening
factories, and there are now free markets, with uncontrolled prices, throughout
the country. Corruption is way up, and discipline is falling. Something is
about to happen, but no one is quite sure what.
July 15, 2007: North Korea has shut down its nuclear
research reactor and allowed UN inspectors to visit and confirm that.