Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Responsiblity to Protect - Burma

In the Herald this week, was an edited extract of an opinion piece by Gareth Evans (now head of the International Crisis Group, from The Guardian) about the Responsibility to Protect principle [more about the R2P is here], and invoking it in the case of Burma; that is whether or not, we should against the will of the Junta use air-drops, or bring much needed aid in by ship. 
Evans mentions he holds some reservations, that intervening in Burma has the potential to "dramatically undercut international support for another great cause [ed: perhaps Darfur], to which he among others is also passionately committed, that of ending mass atrocity crimes once and for all", and it is clear this is the case here. 
While air-drops are not a complete solution, it could be done, and would perhaps make a difference. There are a few voices suggesting we should think seriously about getting aid into Burma, without the Junta's approval. Given recent history, I think every one is clear on why we should not intervene. Yet there are many reasons why we should. On our front, it is simply an intellectual issue: should we 'invade'; should we 'impose our will', should we 'intervene', but we debate the issues without 'seeing' the human cost of inaction.

Here's an intriguing excerpt from a Washington Post op-ed, outlining why Burma's neighbours are not pushing for an humanitarian intervention -
This is not because of a lack of compassion. Instead, the politics of disaster play differently in Asia than in the West, whether the focus is Burma's cyclone, China's deadly earthquake or the looming recurrence of famine in North Korea. Coverage of human suffering is not nearly as extensive here, and governments do not face the emotional public campaigns to help other nations' victims that are mounted in the United States and Europe. Asian leaders treat humanitarian disaster as a cause to pursue statecraft and diplomacy as usual, rather than as a moment to show the public that they care.
The reluctance of Burma's Asian neighbors to support intervention makes that course impractical. Instead, regional realpolitik -- and its acceptance of extreme human misery as a price to be paid for stability -- allows the junta to get away with murder committed in the name of national sovereignty.


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