Going to war with Burma
May 8, 2008 4 Comments
It is a heady consequence of the Bush doctrine of preemptive warfare that it even feels tangible to think about invading a country like Burma, so I proceed with caution here. Ultimately, my point is similar to what lestro said, after finding the satellite images of the original coastline and the new shape of the country:
Why can’t we use the military to deliver aid the same way we do death?
Why is it we only need to be allowed in to help but it’s ok to just go in when we want to destroy something?
Click on the picture to toggle between the two images, via the Washington Post:
Is this not a weapon of mass destruction? Is this not genocide?
The BBC reports:
The UN says planes carrying vital food supplies cannot enter because they still do not have permission to land.
… the Burmese government has spurned some offers of aid, such as one from the US to deploy navy ships, and many foreign aid workers are being held in a queue for visas.
… it is clear that the resources of the Burmese government are nowhere near adequate to address a disaster of this magnitude.
This Associate Press article from May 8, 2008 stirs a notion that the country needs to be invaded by air to drop supplies in places that need them:
Someone had written on a black asphalt road in Kongyangon village: “We are all in trouble. Please come help us.” A few feet away, the desperate plea, “We’re hungry.”
But Britain and France are apparently already arguing the subject, according to the BBC:
Threatening to air-drop aid into Burma without permission is “incendiary”, UK International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander has said.
“The danger of going down this route … is you could have military action happening which would stop help getting to people,” he said.
Victims would also be put in a difficult position when accepting foreign aid when their own government had not permitted it, he added.
Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said air drops were a “possibility” because of the scale of the disaster, but were not the most efficient way of distributing supplies.
“I don’t think we have any legal right to impose it – we might have a moral obligation.
“But I don’t believe we could give effect to that moral obligation for this reason – Burma is essentially a state run by the generals with an extremely powerful army.
“Any effort to impose humanitarian aid might well be the subject of resistance which would have the effect of damaging yet more of the people of that blighted country.”
… France argues air drops without permission could be allowed under a UN “responsibility to protect” mandate and it wants to raise the crisis in Burma at the UN Security Council.
In the meantime, while we wait to decide what to do:
THE death toll in cyclone-ravaged Burma could hit 500,000 – more than TWICE the total killed by the Boxing Day Tsunami.
Last night’s warning came as it emerged that 17 Britons, including ex-pats and backpackers, were still missing.
Sources said 200,000 people were already dead or dying.
But the figure could rise to HALF A MILLION through disease and hunger if the nation’s hardline army rulers continue to block aid for the devastated lowlands of the Irrawaddy Delta.
update: Via MSNBC on May 8, 2008, the position of the United States:
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the U.S. military was moving forward with plans to mount a relief mission in Myanmar, but he said he could not imagine air dropping aid without permission from the Asian nation’s government.
His comments followed those earlier Thursday by Ky Luu, the director of the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, that an air drop was one of the options being considered with the delay by Myanmar’s junta in accepting assistance from the United States.
… “I cannot image us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government,” Gates said at a Pentagon news conference with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, the top ranking U.S. military officer.
Asked if it would not be helpful to victims for the U.S. to drop supplies, Mullen said: “We could. Typically, though, it’s sovereign airspace and you’d need their permission to fly in that airspace.”
“It’s all tied to sovereignty, which we respect whether it’s on the ground or in the air,” Mullen said.
… Officials said there were several problems with air drops into an unpermissive environment, especially if there are no experts on the ground to monitor the distribution of aid. Desperate people could riot over the assistance and there is the possibility that security forces might confiscate it and keep it out of the hands of the needy, they said.
update: Fox News reports on May 9, 2008:
“All of the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated,” U.N. World Food Program spokesman Paul Risley said. “For the time being, we have no choice but to end further efforts to bring critical needed food aid into Myanmar at this time.”
… Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman said the military junta that governs Myanmar has agreed to allow a single U.S. cargo aircraft to bring in relief supplies for victims of a cyclone.
… Three Red Cross aid flights loaded with shelter kits and other emergency supplies landed in Myanmar Friday without incident.“We are not experiencing any problems getting in (unlike) the United Nations,” Danish Red Cross spokesman Hans Beck Gregersen said.
It is not clear how much of the aid has been delivered to the victims in the Irrawaddy delta.
“Believe me, the government will not allow outsiders to go into the devastated area,” said Yangon food shop owner Joseph Kyaw.
“The government only cares about its own stability. They don’t care about the plight of the people,” he said.
One relief flight was sent back after landing in Yangon on Thursday because it carried a search-and-rescue team and media representatives who had not received permission to enter the country, the junta said. It did not give details, but said the plane had flown in from Qatar.
… France was sending a navy ship loaded with 1,500 tons of humanitarian aid to Myanmar, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said Friday.Private donations also were flowing to aid organizations, including a luxury river cruise liner donated by a British travel company to transport relief and 25,000 shoes sent by a U.S.-based group.
But Myanmar has snubbed a U.S. offer to help, refusing to take advantage of Washington’s enormous ability to deliver aid quickly, which was evident during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.
update: via the BBC on May 10, 2008:
A constitutional referendum has been held in Burma despite calls from the outside world for a postponement after last week’s devastating cyclone.
… Groups involved in last year’s pro-democracy protests accused the junta of concentrating on a “sham constitutional referendum” instead of “putting all resources toward saving the lives” of cyclone victims.
… On Friday [U.N.] Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned of “catastrophic” consequences if Burma continues to ban most foreign aid workers from its cyclone relief work.
Mr Ban also says he has not been able to get through to Burma’s leaders to speak to them directly.
… Two BBC correspondents who have travelled to the Irrawaddy delta say tens of thousands of bodies are strewn across the landscape, with houses toppled and trees uprooted.
They say diseases like dysentery are already starting to take hold, and although some aid has arrived there is still no relief effort to match the size of the catastrophe.
update: from The Independent on May 11, 2008:
… Burma is an entire nation crying for help.
… yesterday, despite more than 100,000 deaths from the cyclone, despite the warnings of aid agencies that disease has already broken out among the survivors, the brutal, deluded generals who run the country insisted on holding a meaningless referendum on a constitution that will entrench their power.
… one aid worker told the Associated Press: “The government wants total control of the situation, although they can’t provide much and they have no experience in relief efforts. We have to report to them every step of the way, every decision we make. Their eyes are everywhere, monitoring what we do, who we talk to, what we bring in and how much.”
… Supplies of water, food and sanitation equipment were hopelessly inadequate, others added. “This is the second disaster,” said Greg Beck of the International Rescue Committee. “First was the cyclone and the surge of water, the second will come if there is no access to food, water and shelter. They will start dying.” The WFP said it had never seen such delays in dealing with a modern humanitarian crisis, and described the official response as “unprecedented”.
Oxfam warned yesterday that 1.5 million people could die needlessly unless the military junta allowed immediate access to those stranded without food, clean water or medicines.
update: Time reports in an article entitled “Is it time to invade Burma?” on May 10, 2008:
“We’re in 2008, not 1908,” says Jan Egeland, the former U.N. emergency relief coordinator. “A lot is at stake here. If we let them get away with murder we may set a very dangerous precedent.”
and that we’ve imposed humanitarian assistance in the past:
the U.S. has facilitated the delivery of humanitarian aid without the host government’s consent in places like Bosnia and Sudan.
The cold truth is that states rarely undertake military action unless their national interests are at stake; and the world has yet to reach a consensus about when, and under what circumstances, coercive interventions in the name of averting humanitarian disasters are permissible.