In a new development on the North Korean front, the American government has decided to send a 50,000 ton shipment of food aid to its bitter foes in Pyongyang to help the Korean people face a sharp shortage of food, a crisis that threatens the country with famine.

Despite the “humane dimension” of this American move, one which U.S. diplomacy has been working on very intently these past few days, the initiative comes at a rather precise moment, after intense talks between Pyongyang and three of its partners in the six-party talks: South Korea, China and the United States, all of whom wish to find a way out of the current diplomatic impasse. This is to be achieved by calming North Korea’s fears over American intentions, thereby defusing Pyongyang’s rising crescendo of threats, and bringing the country back the six-party talks.

Therefore, this U.S. aid initiative is occurring within the context its own requirements and calculations, to give an appearance of goodwill, and is the result of back-channel negotiations and secret international deal making, rather than a purely humanitarian act spurred by deep sentiments of benevolence, brotherhood and care for one’s fellow man.

In Washington’s political and diplomatic speak, phrases such as “humanitarian aid,” “humanitarian intervention” and “foreign assistance” are tightly woven with the goals of foreign policy, the requirements of national security, the obligations of international relations, and the necessities of having a military presence throughout the world.

What is happening in North Korea today reminds us of many past American “humanitarian” interventions in third world countries. We might even recall cases when European countries, who were beset with natural, military or economic disaster, became fertile ground for a long-term American presence, intervention and influence.

Humanitarian intervention became a pillar of U.S. foreign policy when, at the end of the 19th century, Washington adopted the Open Door Policy. This policy ushered the United States toward the outside world after decades of isolation and seclusion. During the Cold War era, humanitarian intervention was put to service in the war on communism, as part of a strategy to isolate and blockade socialist countries, and as part of a basket of underhanded policies against all powers that were hostile to the West.

Humanitarian aid during the Cold War took two forms: As direct aid to support the war effort in frontline countries in Europe and Asia, and as clandestine aid through intelligence services and civic groups in non-allied Asian, African, and Latin American countries. In most cases, the clandestine aid resulted in the propping-up of corrupt and fascist ruling classes, political parties, and paramilitary organizations. It also established hated and repressive dictatorships loyal to Washington.

With the end of the Cold War, “humanitarian intervention” returned to prominence as a mainstay of American foreign policy, along with others such as military intervention (which includes armed invasion, total aggression, direct occupation, and military threats), diplomatic intervention (which involves ignoring international law, dominating international organizations, violating international legal authorities, and manipulating United Nations organizations, resolutions, and charters), economic intervention (including isolating, boycotting, blockading, and embargoing), and media intervention (manipulating news and information, covering up truth and facts, deceiving foreign public opinion, and misleading the American people themselves).

Humanitarian intervention has been cynically utilized by Washington in the following ways:

1) In the service of direct military goals under the guise of offering assistance.

2) To reinforce its domination diplomatically by undermining the U.N.’s traditional role, and the participation of international aid organizations.

3) For influencing the policies of other governments, and the action of local officials.

4) To strengthen its control over resource-rich and strategic regions.

The pretext of humanitarian intervention has also been bandied about in a number of other environments: at one location it is set up to address wars of genocide, extermination, civil was, and the influx of refugees (as we’ve seen in Africa); at another time it is to face totalitarian regimes and dictatorships (as we’ve seen in Asia and Europe); at yet another time it is to face natural disaster and economic collapse (as we’ve seen in both Asia and Africa).

Throughout all this, humanitarian assistance has been an entry point to influencing relations between countries, for intervention into the internal affairs of many countries, and for the manipulation of economic policies and diplomatic positions. Humane assistance is used to shape social movements, political parties, and local groups in ways that threaten their stability, security, independence, and sovereignty. This naturally serves the goals and tactics of American policy.

What is happening today in the Arab region is a clear example of how “humanitarian intervention” is used to bolster policies Washington describes as, “constructive chaos,” “consecrating democracy,” “securing human rights,” ‘protecting minorities,” and “fighting extremism and fundamentalism,” as long as they help in furthering American interests and to catering to American perception of what these slogans mean.

But none of this serves the real interests of the world’s peoples.