The call for proposals by the US State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has attracted harsh public criticism, centering on three focal points:
1) That these types of activities (which could involve the carrying of illicit products into North Korea) mean that funding is actively encouraging violations of North Korean law.
2) That funding could be used to facilitate activities that place those who undertake them in danger.
3) That resulting projects will do little to help ordinary North Korean people.
In sum, naysayers feel that the money could end up promoting projects that are not only illegal, but also risky and ultimately quite unhelpful.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if one acknowledges that some illegality, danger, and even some unproductive outcomes may result, the fact is that the benefits still far outweigh the risks.
The illegality argument is misguided. It is no exaggeration to say that North Korea is the kind of endemically corrupt place where the person who does not engage in illegality of some sort is at risk of death. A vast and completely incomprehensible litany of activities is forbidden there.