Letter to NSC Advisor on North Korea Famine, April 10, 1997

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

April 10, 1997

Dr. Samuel R. Berger
National Security Advisor
The White House
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Dr. Berger,

As Chairman of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference Committee on International Policy, I am writing to support the call of the Church in South Korea for the international community to help avert a major famine in North Korea. For months, the extent of this threat has been debated and some details may till be lacking, but the outlines of a major humanitarian disaster are becoming daily clearer. 

Authoritative estimates of the problem have been multiplying:

World Food Program (WFP) chief Catherine Bertini asserted after her recent visit that "millions of people are going to starve to death this summer if the international community does not get a lot of food to North Korea soon."

Jonathan Schaar, Asia-Pacific Director for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies which also completed a recent visit to North Korea, said that "without urgent international aid programs, a large number of North Koreans will face starvation."

Kaethi Zellweger, director for international cooperation of Caritas-Hong Kong, the Catholic agency coordinating private church aid to North Korea, has compared the situation to that of war-devastated Germany in 1945 and said that "unconditional food aid for North Korea is very urgent."

While the WFP has now doubled its appeal to 200,000 metric tons of grain, all observers agree this is still far short of the minimum needed to avert disaster. Caritas-Hong Kong has estimated that as much as 2 million tons of food will be needed this year. Further, given the long delivery time required to move large food stocks, urgent attention to logistic concerns is also essential.

It is the people of North Korea who are threatened by starvation. Our longstanding and legitimate differences with the Government of North Korea cannot permit us to ignore the threat to the lives of our sisters and brothers in North Korea who are not responsible for that authoritarian governments policies, past or present.

Last year, when the South Korean government banned private donations of rice to the North, Cardinal Kim of Seoul insisted that the South Korean government should help those flood victims in the North who are facing starvation...[It] should not block any civilian efforts to help the North but encourage and facilitate them to carry out their projects. Fortunately, the government ban has now been lifted and the Archdiocese of Seoul reports sending several hundred tons of wheat flour to the North. Important as these symbols of private humanitarian support are, the real needs can be met only by an urgent and concentrated effort by the international community, requiring a strong leadership role by the United States.

I urge, therefore, that you encourage a U.S. policy that:

  • responds immediately and generously to the new and urgent WFP appeal;
  • assists in meeting logistics needs;
  • stands ready, if higher estimates of urgent need are confirmed, to increase the U.S. contribution.
Time is short and the threat great. Without United States leadership, a major tragedy involving widespread loss of life, political instability and potential mass migration, may go unchecked.

With sincere thanks for your attention to this matter. and with assurance of my prayers and best wishes, I remain

Sincerely yours,

Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark
Chairman, USCC Committee on International Policy