- Paperback: 252 pages
- Publisher: United States Institute of Peace (October 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1929223331
- ISBN-13: 978-1929223336
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,919,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Great North Korean Famine: Famine, Politics, and Foreign Policy
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From Publishers Weekly
In The Great North Korean Famine: Famine, Politics, and Foreign Policy, Andrew S. Natsios (American Foreign Policy and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) sneaks past the physical and media barricades the North Korean dictatorship hides behind to explore the tragic events that killed approximately three million people between 1994 and 1999. As a senior administrator of an NGO, Natsios spearheaded an international humanitarian effort to stem the famine's spread but was met with ignorance and indifference by many governments and organizations. Culling information from the testimonies of refugees, from his experiences with North Korean and Western officials, and from his considerable grasp of the interplay between the realms of international relief and foreign policy, Natsios delivers a portrait of an unfeeling North Korean government and the politics of humanitarian aid.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In the Great North Korean Famine: Famine, Politics, and Foreign Policy, Andrew S. Natsios sneaks past the physical and media barricades the North Korean dictatorship hides behind to explore the tragic evens that killed approximately three million people between 1994 and 1999. . . . Culling information from the testimonies of refugees, from his experience with North Korean and Western officials, and from his considerable grasp of the interplay between the realism of international relief and foreign policy, Natsios delivers a portrait of an unfeeling North Korean government and the politics of humanitarian aid. --Publishers Weekly
Natsios provides the most detailed analysis this reviewer has seen on this massive disaster. . . . The Great North Korean Famine is essential reading for anyone interested in the Korean peninsula. . . . Whether you agree with Natsios's policy recommendations or not, he has written an important and profoundly disturbing book. --Parameters
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This is a difficult book to evaluate. It basically gets the story of the North Korean famine right, but it is misleading or wrong in many of the specifics, starting with the first sentence of the book "In September 1995 the North Korean government, in a rare admission of vulnerability announced to the outside world that severe flooding had devastated its agricultural regions and that subsequent failure had caused widespread food shortages." Narrowly true, perhaps - the government of North Korea may well have made such a statement in September 1995 - but thoroughly misleading. The government of North Korea had publicly admitted it had food shortages and successfully reached agreements with Japan and South Korea to supply emergency food aid in May 1995 - before the floods hit in June. So unless time moves backwards on the Korean peninsula, floods in June could not be the cause of agreements reached in May. As evidenced by the September statement that Natsios uses to begin the book, the flooding proved politically useful to both the North Koreans (the famine was an act of God and not a combination of their own incompetence and malevolence) and to the donor community (easier to supply aid in response to victims of natural disasters than victims of a thoroughly odious regime).
Much of this book is built on such half-truths. In part, this is due to its author's intended or inadvertent tendency to place himself at the center of all events. This gives the book a certain strength: the first-hand accounts -- I visited this orphanage on this date and this is what I observed -- are compelling. But either Natsios is disturbingly self-promoting or simply doesn't know what he is talking about. Time and time again, he makes false claims that he was the first (or the only) participant to see or understand some aspect of the famine. For example, in chapter 4 he makes much of his June 1998 trip to the Chinese border region and interviews with North Koreans refugees there. Not for another 150 pages does he mention in passing that his own colleague at the US Institute for Peace, Scott Snyder, had done the same border trip, interviewed the same refugees, and published a report on this a year earlier. To cite another example, the following chapter argues that no one except Natsios and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen understood that famines are economic phenomenon, and as a consequence everyone misread what was occurring in North Korea. Problem is, two economists, Marcus Noland, a Korea specialist associated with the Institution for International Economics, and Sherman Robinson, an agricultural economist affiliated with the International Food Policy Research Institute, had read their Sen, understood the economic basis of famines, and had produced an economic analysis of the North Korean famine, similar to the one that Natsios lays out in this book, in 1998. Indeed, as in the case of Snyder, Noland and Robinson's work is listed in the reference list - so Natsios clearly new of its existence - though oddly it is never mentioned in the text. I could go on. Individuals are misidentified, private informal emails are quoted as "trip reports" etc.
It is unfortunate that this book is so error-filled, since it is unlikely that another comprehensive account of the North Korean famine will be produced in the near future. Moreover, Natsios has been appointed director of the US Agency for International Development, so his view on these issues counts. But while he got the broad outlines of the story right, he is wrong on many specifics, and one should not regard this book as the final authority on the North Korean famine.
According to the Nobel winning author/economist Amartya Sen (whose book on right-based development I have just read recently), no democratic government has ever let famine happen. Famine is preventable if the government cares about its people.
You should read this book if you are interested in North Korea or on the politics of famine.