The American policy, meant to punish the regime, is worsening a humanitarian crisis.
Last month, Congress denied food aid to a half-starved nation. Some Senators tried to pass legislation blocking nutritional assistance to North Korea. A determined effort by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar successfully inserted an amendment allowing the administration to provide food if "the President issues a national interest waiver."
But waiver or not, neither Congress nor the administration seem to want to give food aid to North Koreans when they need it -- now. They concur it is too awful a state for such consideration. Adding an amendment allows the president to leverage aid in various future contingencies, similar to the current administration's posture of trading food to win concessions from Pyongyang on its nuclear-weapons and missile programs.
North Korea has almost incessant food crises, although the nature and extent of them are often difficult to verify. Nonetheless, it is clear that the situation in many areas was bad last year, particularly for children, lactating mothers, and the aged; reports from the UN suggest that nearly a third of children in North Korea have been showing signs of dwarfism caused by malnutrition. Long-term exposure to starvation and the breakdown of infrastructure have also led to a rampant spread of preventable diseases such as diarrhea, further deteriorating the health of children and other vulnerable members of society.