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In recent years, when international attention has turned to North Korea, it has focused on the country’s nuclear program. The dramatic negotiations between its leader, Kim Jong Un, and U.S. President Donald Trump have obscured other issues of equally profound importance. One such concern — the inability to feed its population — has resurfaced in the wake of the failed Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim. The country — again — faces a huge food deficit that threatens mass starvation, forcing the rest of the world to grapple with an old dilemma: How can it respond to a looming catastrophe that is created by economic mismanagement and misplaced priorities when relief threatens to undermine efforts to halt North Korea’s nuclear program. Or to put it more bluntly, what is the proper response when a regime weaponizes mass starvation of its own population?

North Korea has warned that its food production has been drastically reduced this year, blaming extreme weather and natural disasters. The United Nations has confirmed that North Korean agriculture suffered a miserable year, with the food harvest dropping 9 percent. Maize yields were down nearly a third in the most important food-producing provinces.

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