In the mid-1990s, as many as one million North Koreans died in one of the worst famines of the twentieth century. The socialist food distribution system collapsed primarily because of a misguided push for self-reliance, but was compounded by the regime's failure to formulate a quick response-including the blocking of desperately needed humanitarian relief. As households, enterprises, local party organs, and military units tried to cope with the economic collapse, a grassroots process of marketization took root. However, rather than embracing these changes, the North Korean regime opted for tentative economic reforms with ambiguous benefits and a self-destructive foreign policy. As a result, a chronic food shortage continues to plague North Korea today. In their carefully researched book, Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland present the most comprehensive and penetrating account of the famine to date, examining not only the origins and aftermath of the crisis but also the regime's response to outside aid and the effect of its current policies on the country's economic future.Their study begins by considering the root causes of the famine, weighing the effects of the decline in the availability of food against its poor distribution.
Then it takes a close look at the aid effort, addressing the difficulty of monitoring assistance within the country, and concludes with an analysis of current economic reforms and strategies of engagement. North Korea's famine exemplified the depredations that can arise from tyrannical rule and the dilemmas such regimes pose for the humanitarian community, as well as the obstacles inherent in achieving economic and political reform. To reveal the state's culpability in this tragic event is a vital project of historical recovery, one that is especially critical in light of our current engagement with the "North Korean question."
Stephan Haggard is the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Pathways from the Periphery; The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (with Robert Kaufman); and The Political Economy of the Asian Financial Crisis. His current research is on democracy, globalization, and social policy in East Asia, Latin America, and Central Europe. Marcus Noland is a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics and a former senior economist at the Council of Economic Advisers in the Executive Office of the President of the United States. He has served as an occasional consultant to such organizations as the World Bank and the National Intelligence Council and on numerous occasions has testified before the US Congress.