On July 10, 1954, President Eisenhower signed into law Public Law 480 – the Agricultural Trade Development Assistance Act. The legislation’s stated purpose was to “lay the basis for a permanent expansion of our exports of agricultural products with lasting benefits to ourselves and peoples of other lands.” As the United States began to focus on development as a key facet of its foreign policy under the Kennedy Administration, the law was renamed “Food for Peace Act.” Having established both the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Peace Corps., President Kennedy clearly saw food aid as a potent instrument of American influence:
Food is strength, and food is peace, and food is freedom, and food is a helping to people around the world whose good will and friendship we want.
Title II of the Food for Peace Act allows for the United States to assist in relieving humanitarian crises through the donation of US agricultural products.
Last week, the Senate passed an amendment that bans food assistance to North Korea without a presidential waiver.
SEC. 3015. PROHIBITION ON ASSISTANCE FOR NORTH Korea.
(a) In General.–No amounts may be obligated or expended to provide assistance under title II of the Food for Peace Act (7 U.S.C. 1721 et seq.) to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
(b) National Interest Waiver.–The President may waive subsection (a) if the President determines and certifies to the Committees on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committees on Agriculture and Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives that the waiver is in the national interest of the United States.
Senator Dan Coats of Indiana originally proposed a blanket ban, but Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee chairman, John Kerry of Massachusetts, and ranking Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana proposed allowing a presidential waiver because “A sweeping prohibition would not allow for the U.S. to provide humanitarian relief in the event of North Korean political reforms similar to those in Myanmar” (Senator Kerry).
This new measure comes at a critical time when the worst drought in over a hundred years is wreaking havoc on agricultural production throughout the Korean Peninsula. The Korea Rural Economic Institute expects North Korea’s barley and wheat production yields to drop 20 percent this year, with overall crop production down around 15 percent. The country is already suffering from a major food shortage and there are testimonies of whole communities succumbing to starvation.
Meanwhile Kim Hartzner, managing director of the Danish humanitarian organization Mission East, emphasized the dire importance for assistance after returning from a brief aid mission to North Korea.
Approximately 400,000 malnourished children are in urgent need for help. In the 1990s an estimated 1 million people died from hunger and we are worried that a similar situation may take place again.
As the needless death of vulnerable members of society do not further the foreign policy objectives of the United States in ensuring a more stable Northeast Asia, the US House of Representatives ought to strike down the bill and push for immediate assistance. Providing aid will at least secure the lives of North Korean children, many of whom could hold the key to regional peace in the future.
Stay tuned for the results from the House.