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This essay analyzes the “human rights” framework that evolved, paradoxically, as a way to address human rights and human security needs in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) by withholding humanitarian assistance from that country. This framework turns on the premise that the North Korean “regime” is the source of the society's ills, that it is unwilling to implement radical reforms needed to restore its economy for fear that they would undermine its rule, and that it maintains its grip upon society by means of propaganda and repression. Regime collapse, some argue, will thus lead to a better life for the North Korean people. Informed by this view, in combination with “intelligence” sources that predict the imminent collapse of the “regime,” U.S. policy has been loath to provide any assistance, including food aid, that might prolong the life of the state. By viewing North Korean society today in the context of its historical experience before and since the decline of its economy starting in the early 1990s, this essay challenges assumptions that underlie the “human rights” argument for regime collapse. It explores alternative reasons for the society's unexpected survival and argues that analysis of North Korean society in abstraction from the state of war in which it is situated, fails to offer realistic options for addressing the human security of the North Korean people.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2014-01-02

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