September 22, 2011
Since July 2011, there has been an increased level of reporting on food conditions in North Korea. This has included reporting based on information sourced from World Food Program (WFP) observers with access to North Korea, which to date has proved more credible than other sources. Recent reporting has also focused on (1) decreasing military discipline as food shortages begin to affect the North Korean military—historically more immune from annual food shortages; and (2) increasing numbers of refugees seeking to escape food shortages.
Reporting on the humanitarian situation in North Korea is difficult to evaluate. Despite claims to the contrary, humanitarian aid is not separate from politics. Governments, multilateral agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can pursue different and sometimes incompatible agendas. Accordingly, reporting sources can be biased.
The humanitarian situation has a particularly significant impact on domestic politics. This includes a direct impact on political debate regarding humanitarian aid and unification policy; as well as a secondary impact on policy coordination with major coalition partners. Reflecting the current frequency of reporting, it could be expected that humanitarian aid to North Korea will be a major issue in the lead-up to elections in 2012.
The Grand National Party (GNP) has implemented changes designed to negate any potential impact. However, a worsening of the humanitarian situation in the North still poses a risk of painting the Lee administration in a negative light, as doing ‘too little, too late’. This would potentially affect conservative candidates in both the national assembly and presidential elections in 2012.