Friday, May 9, 2008

United Nations Refuses Aid to Burma, or Myanmar, or Myanma

It's all the same country: you may still think of it as Burma, but around 1989 the bunch that's running the place decided that they liked the mame Myanma better. Sometimes it comes into the Latin alphabet and English as Myanmar.

Names are important, but right now I'd say that a higher priority is getting food and supplies in to people who weren't killed in the cyclone that hit the country.

Tens of thousands of people have already died. The body count may top 100,000 as survivors run out of safe drinking water and food.

Sure, it's Bad News, But So What?

There's something to be learned from this humanitarian disaster. I'm getting to that.

United Nations World Food Program (WFP) aircraft touched down in Burma yesterday. Then, according to the WFP, the shipment of supplies was seized. By the bunch that runs Burma/Myanma/Myanmar.

The WFP isn't sending any more aid for now. (UPDATE: Latest News indicates WFP will try again, tomorrow. "U.N. 'furious' as Myanmar aid 'seized'" CNN (May 9, 2008))

That shipment included 34 tons of high-energy biscuits. For survivors of a disaster like this, those biscuits could be life-savers. Literally.

A U.N. spokesman "said he didn't know why the supplies had been seized, but the move has left the WFP with 'no choice' but to suspend its aid shipments." ("UN halts aid shipments to Burma, accuses government of seizing supplies" CBC (May 9, 2008))

Humanitarian aid workers aren't being allowed into the country, which also is not helpful. The junta that runs the country isn't granting visas.

Unilateral Action? Cette Fois, l'Idée est Acceptable

American officials "have raised the idea of dropping aid into Burma unilaterally, without permission from the ruling military junta." There could be a problem with political fallout, and the practical issue of getting supplies to the people who need it. ("CBC" (May 9, 2008))

Interestingly, unilateral action is okay this time. French officials were considering the same idea. "French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of the aid group Doctors Without Borders, said this week that unauthorized air drops could be permitted under the UN's "responsibility to protect" mandate, which applies to civilians." ("CBC" (May 9, 2008))

National Sovereignty is Important: So Are People's Lives

I haven't seen any arguments against efforts to force Burma/Myanmar/Myanma's leaders to let life-saving supplies through to their subjects. That's not surprising: humanitarian missions are well-thought-of among most Americans, at least.

In fact, the news about the Burmese hurricane shows that saving people's lives is so important that "unilateral" action is acceptable. Even if it violates the sovereignty of a non-western nation.

This is no exaggeration: Crossing a national boundary with a formation of aircraft, without permission, and then dropping un-asked-for materials on another nation's territory, would be very close to an invasion.

Something to think about

If it's okay to unilaterally save people's lives by defying a nation's leaders by bringing in food: is it okay to unilaterally save people's lives by defying a nation's leaders by bringing in military forces?

Of course, the two situations are completely different:
  • On the one hand, you have humanitarian aid saving people's lives
  • On the other hand, you have big, rough, soldiers barging in and, in the long run, saving people's lives
Obviously, there's no similarity at all.

Except that tyrants often don't have the best interests of their subjects in mind. And they don't seem to give up power, no matter how nicely they're asked. It takes force to unseat such people. And, once the big, rough, soldiers have fought their way through and removed a despot, they can, if they're Americans, stick around to fix roads, water plants, hospitals, and all the other critical systems that the tyrants were ignoring.

I think this comparison is worth thinking about.

2 comments:

Ashish said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Ashish,

I'm sorry, but your last comment, regarding widgets, isn't close to being on-topic for this post, or this blog.

Regrettably, my spam policy requires that I remove it.

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