Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why Not Save the Children?

According to the AP, Save the Children has reported that thousands of children in Myanmar face imminent starvation if food is not distributed quickly. The Myanmar government has permitted relief supplies to enter the country, but will not allow aid workers to distribute them. Although it claims it will distribute them itself, there have been reports that the military is hoarding relief supplies and that deaths from malnourishment and communicable disease among the most vulnerable are rising.

The situation led France to suggest last week that armed intervention might be warranted. This question has been taken up by Peter Howard in a post at Duck of Minerva, titled "Why Not Invade Burma"? Commenters to the post make various arguments against, most on pragmatic grounds.

"'Junta.' Do we have a Junta? Or is it just them?"

"Geography. There are certainly worse places to fight in the world. But not many."

"I think the equally interesting question here is how on earth the French government thought this was even remotely feasible, simply from a logistical and military point of view."
Hank of Eclectic Meanderings asks the important prior question:
"Is it legal? Burma is not developing weapons of mass destruction; it is not attacking a neighbor. It connot even threaten a neighbor. It just wants to mind it's own bussiness without outside intervention. The UN charter guarantees National Sovereignty."
The answer is that sovereignty ain't what it used to be. The concept has been progressively redefined to be contingent on a responsibility to protect one's people. This principle was agreed to by consensus in the 2005 UN Millennium Outcome Document, and while it's not binding one can argue that it enshrines a new understanding of sovereignty that could be invoked in this case.

Also, the UN Security Council can override sovereignty anytime 2/3 of its members can agree without a veto from a Permanent Member. (Though it's likely China would veto in this case.)

The humanitarian case for an intervention here is at least as compelling as Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1991. The US government and a few other nations, under the authority of the United Nations Security Council, deployed forces to ensure the distribution of aid to starving famine victims. The operation went sour when the began to fight back; but in the meantime numerous civilian lives were saved.

An invasion of Myanmar would have to be just that, and would involve many of the very logistical and political drawbacks mentioned; but these should not be confused with a moral argument for standing by while children starve to death because a brutal regime is standing by indifferently. There is every ethical rationale for doing something more than continuing to negotiate; there is simply, as Peter explains in his post, no political will.

1 comment:

hank_F_M said...

And the adults? They are people too.

I’m glad some one noticed.

The president of county with a nuclear arsenal, one of the few counties that can lunch a modest expeditionary force on it’s own (though Burma is a bit far for that) and a penchant for interventions in former colonies suggests military action apparently in frustration. Certainly the thugs that run Burma are a bunch of thugs but I think there are other questions that need to be asked.

Well, as I would explain long before 9/11 since the advent of the UN one could go to war in self-defense, or the Security Council two thirds agreeing, with no vetoes, could authorize a military action on the grounds of “a threat to peace” the only apparent “threat to peace “ to meet this requirement is that the SC might vote for military action. The WJD only applies if the members feel like applying it and with more members not from the western tradition it is less likely. R2P hopefully puts this on a less “might makes right” basis.

It appears some aid is now getting thru.

"; urchinTracker();