How Far Should the International Community Go To Deliver Humanitarian Assistance?

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
May 9, 2008
United Nations Aid Bound for Burma

In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, the Burmese government has been reluctant to accept foreign assistance to help the estimated 1.5 million people affected. On Friday, the Burmese government seized food and relief supplies provided by the UN. In response, the UN temporarily suspended its airlifts but resumed flying food aid into the country Saturday.

When a government is incapable of, or unwilling to protect its people, how far should the international community go to deliver humanitarian assistance?

Comments

Comments

Ronald
|
New York, USA
May 9, 2008

Ronald in New York writes:

Myanmar's Crisis is an Opportunity.

The Myanmar Regime is now faced with the highest degree of political exposure in the post-Nargis period. Global humanitarian aid should be ramped up regardless of the Junta's response. The aid is for the people, and responsible
world leaders must maintain their focus on their needs. The regime will do what they do best; and eventually be held to account. This is a clear case of crisis as opportunity for change.

Luke G.
May 9, 2008

Luke writes:

This would probably require a bit more work but couldn't we drop small boxes with parachutes, and scatter them all over the place whereever people are? That would get the food/supplies right to the people and make it harder for the army to confiscate.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 9, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

In present circumstance, the sovereignty of a nation is secondary to that of a global responsibility to protect populations, if that government cannot or is unwilling to.

Lot of folks (upwards of a million or more) are homeless. 100,000 dead, unknown total injured.

What's the possibility of a visa waiver (visa application - post arrival) for survivors on an international level to get them out of harm's way and provide shelter and the basics? Or how would current U.S. policies approach such a task in this context?

As I see it, the local infrastructure can't cope with the displaced, regardless if the regime were doing back flips to help render assistance.

If the international community is willing to open its doors wide to those willing to leave Burma, upon realizing that Burma has lost over 60% of its cropland for a number of years and the nation can no longer support the surviving population over an extended period of recovery and land reclamation; Then deeds will match words spoken in acceptance of "responsibility to protect" at the 2005 UNGA.

It is odd to think that it might be necessary to deliver aid backed up by the use of force to deliver it in the face of a regime seemingly unwilling to provide for its people, and indeed interfering with the aid provided by the UN and others.

But there is no time to debate the matter, or wait for the government of Burma to act with rationality for folks are a week late as it is getting massive amounts of aid in, with a lot of folks lives depending on it.

I think it is fair to ask folks globally to simply act now in the people's interest, because they are the ones that we all will be answering to if we let them perish.

Do so regardless of what the regime thinks, does, and if they have a problem with aid being delivered, remove them from power for the legal premis exists to do so under these dire conditions.

Matt
|
Louisiana, USA
May 9, 2008

Matt in Louisiana writes:

We used air-drops to deliver food to the Afghans in 2001 - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/1588630.stm - why can't we do the same thing for the Burmese in 2008?

Catherine
|
Texas, USA
May 10, 2008

Catherine in Texas writes:

To the base of the question, when a state's government is unwilling to help its own people, it is then that the international community must step up the most to fill its place. Burma is obviously an exclusive case to this, though, because its past history makes the United States and the international community particularly unwilling to work for its aid. However, it is clearly unfair to the Burmese people to punish them for the actions of their government. It is safe to assume that the Burmese government is not acting without reason. The U.S. and the international community need to find the motivation for their actions (is this a power grab? A retaliatory response to sanctions?) and if possible, do everything to dissuade them from their response. If that means temporarily lifting sanctions or complying with their rules in order to get aid to the Burmese people, so be it. Once the crisis has passed and the international community can ensure that the Burmese people are safe, normal relations can continue. But the international community should definitely not use this as a staging ground for political action. In the end, does it really matter to us who gets the credit for the relief, assuming it happens at all?

BillMahoney
|
California, USA
May 10, 2008

Bill in California writes:

The tragedy in Myramar/Burma is a world Health event. We as a nation and a world cannot allow Burma's leaders to think ,we the world, have abandoned them. We can also not allow the diseases that will inevitably be bred in the aftermath to be spread throughout the world.

We have to let the Burmese Admin know that we will hold them politically responsible for the 38,000 plus still missing, and that they will face charges in the world court. It is their responsibility to Govern themselves, But we cannot let their addiction to power supercede the rights of the people to food and shelter in the aftermath.

Why is no one voicing these concerns on a state level?

JOE
|
Tennessee, USA
May 10, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

Why not simply drop some food with banners and leaflets that say: The World Cares. Even if we or the UN has to use escorted flights and actually use military power in Defense. They have no real government per se. What could they do if food was dropped all over Burma?

How is that a violation of law - Violation of Air Space for feeding destitute citizens?

Maybe this is an opportunity for the UN to show it DOES care before there are massive deaths.

jameshigham
May 10, 2008

James writes:

The difficulty is that, as a sovereign nation, not a lot can be done and international law is a slow process. This junta do not seem overly interested in anyone else's opinion.

By the way, I'm running a little review of your blog now.

DipNote
|
District Of Columbia, USA
May 10, 2008

DipNote Bloggers write:

Thanks James! We're doing our best to incorporate suggestions like yours as we move forward with DipNote. Keep the suggestions coming!

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 10, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

The Disease That Kills All dictatorial Regimes

May 06, 2008
Iran Press Service
Safa Haeri

In a speech on 4 May in the small southern city of Kazeroun, Fars Province, where he was on a visit, Ayatollah Ali Khamenehãi, the megalomaniac leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran warned ãanybody who try to divide the people from the Government and drum on differences, he is acting against the interests of the regime and the nationã, touching on the very disease that destroy all dictatorial regimes.

Like any other dictator, Mr. Khamenehãi do not like to hear the truth and not see the realities, prefers sitting in his ivory tower, flanked by courtesans that equipped his tower with loudspeakers that bring to his ears things he would like to hear, like ãevery thing in Iran is better than anywhere else, thanks to your wise leadership. Under Islam, people of your country are the happiest, the freest, the smartest, and the more intelligent of the world, particularly the young onesã

Looking outside from the prism-like windows of the tower, the Leader do not see but what he wants to see: A beautiful land, full of modern factories, flourishing agriculture, soldiers training with some of the most deadliest weapons, including one named "Suicide", a happy people busy thanking God for having send to them the one of his sons, the Great, Beloved, Mighty, Wise, Fearless Ayatollah Ali Khamenehãi, the most intelligent of all leaders of the world.

As the above may speak of the mindset of ethical infants in general, I believe mother nature in Burma's case has rendered the "emperor" without cloths.

Implementing existing international law only requires that nations act upon it, without debate or delay and with all the means at their disposal to execute a successful plan of action, both physically and diplomatically.

There is no excuse for the international system to fail the people of Burma, or anyone else for that matter. Especially perhaps, not to collectively fail each other.

John
|
Greece
May 10, 2008

John in Greece writes:

Again, I agree Joe. Totally!

People need help there. And their regime has no right to say "we do not accept U.S. humanitarian help", because it's American.

Flaps 15 / use Air. Sky is the limit.

Especially when their "friends", Russia and China, cannot do anything at all for them. Besides, I am not sure if they want to.

This is ridiculous!

More than 100,000 people have lost their lives. Maybe itãs 1,000,000. (We will never learn the real numbers)

Who knows with these guys?

Thousands of others need help, food and water.

Burma regime is constituted of common killers.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 10, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ James -- A little feedback on your "review" of DipNote:

As a professional house painter, I can tell you that the physics of "black" is such that it isn't the total absence of light, it is the total absorption of it, in all spectrums.

Black therefore may be a totally appropriate background for a blog that entices all spectrum of opinion, eh? Including your's I might add. An interesting perspective.

Why is it I suddenly feel like I'm in a fish bowl?....(chuckle).

Jason
|
California, USA
May 11, 2008

Jason in California writes:

Honestly, the United States is one of many dominant countries on the world stage and while I support the mission of foreign aid, I sometimes question what would be appropriate diplomatic moves in this situation. The U.S.A. helps many countries but often with a big footprint, that has not always been positive. Honestly, the Chinese government could go in to Myanmar and deliver aid as they are the super power of the region. I think that instead of condemning Myanmar the U.S. may want to use leverage with the Chinese government to get aid delivered as Russia and China are the two security council members who oppose a UN resolution to enter Myanmar without permission. I do also feel that the U.S. is stretched to thin in our commitments around the world and it is time for more focus to be on the Interior and Commerce Departments, than having State and DoD events dominating our news and asking us to give while our country hasnot heard from the Secretary of the Interior or Transportation for awhile and our infrastructure continues to diminish. Thank you.

John
|
Greece
May 11, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ James -- It's the second time I read a comment about the background color of the Blog.

I think that the site colors are balanced and absolutely appropriate for this serious diplomatic platform of discussion. The architecture (navigation) is also great and helpful. Besides, the content is very reach and always fresh on a daily basis.

DipNote Bloggers, you are doing a fine job!

All the other are nonsense and please let me say ridiculous, especially the part that attempts to associate black with Satan etc.

By the way, why the site is black and not white? When I read the posts, I read white characters. What would we say if the background was white, but the characters black?

It's the same common anti-American propaganda that always attempts to attribute U.S.A., dollar, Americans or anything that has to do with the New World to ...Satan.

THIS IS CLASSICAL ANTI-AMERICAN PROPAGANDA, but especially in this case, when the question comes to the black color of the Blog's background it ends up a really childish argumentation.

After all, who is the one that told us and persuade us that Black is associated with Satan? Orthodox priests wear blackã

So, concerning the Blog's colors, I have to say that "the cowl does not make the monk."

And in this case, both the cowl and the monks are great!

P.S. Why do you care so much about the "byline".

Who cares who's writing as long as the posts are interesting, intellectual and promote free debating?

Gail
|
Texas, USA
May 11, 2008

Gail in Texas writes:

In a situation like Burma, I am at a loss. The first thing we need to understand is that the only thing the United Nations is united about is blaming America for all of the world's ills and using those problems to extort money and resources from us.

The UN is the most corrupt and despicable organization the U.S. is a party to. We cannot lead by example alone. We have demonstrated in Germany, Japan and now Iraq that we do know how to build democracies. We need to find a way to deliver that expertise to countries against which we have not declared war.

In the meantime, we should respect Myanmar's wishes. We cannot ask them to allow in UN aid because the UN has a history of raping and pillaging disaster victims as we saw in Darfur and other places where the UN peacekeepers were allow to act without U.S. supervision.

We are going to have to allow a little death right now because our own security is imperiled. U.S. first. We can offer aid, but not enforce it. As long as the rest of the world hates us, and most of it does, and we not only tolerate it, but we reward countries for despising up, we should not go to extreme efforts to help others.

We must not appease people who threaten our well being, and any country that is not helping us in the war on terror is threatening us. We must hold firm.

Best regards.

John
|
Greece
May 12, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Gail in Texas -- I really do not know about the UN and what's happening there (I mean the UN).

Maybe you are right. Maybe you are wrong.

However, you say:
"As long as the rest of the world hates us (U.S.A.), and most of it does."

Gail, many many (hundreds of millions) people overseas (We) LOVE AMERICA and the U.S. values. Some of them, may act sceptical due to the anti-American propaganda they have to face, but in fact they love the States and Americans and all these "things" that U.S. provided and keep on providing to the rest of the world.

So, as long as we are read all over the U.S. too, please, if you also love U.S., don't say that people all over the world hate us, because plenty of us love you there.

In other words, (according to my opinion) don't spread panic. Plenty of people like you guys!

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 12, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Gail in Texas -- Gail, are you suggesting that the U.S. mearly sit by and watch as 1.5 million people affected, suffer catostrophic misery, death, because the regime has not allowed the help needed to avert a far greater disaster and death toll among the survivors that will be aflicted with disease?

Is that the "little death" you find acceptable because you think the U.S. cannot take care of its own, and take care of those around the world that need our help at the same time?

We do both, have been doing both, for a long time now. So the premis of your reasoning has no basis in fact, and you would have the U.S. appease the Burmese gov. for neglecting it's own people?

Scuse me, but I find that quite hypocritical thinking as you say the U.S. must "hold firm".

Let us then firmly respect the wishes of the people of Burma to live, eh?

As long as people find an excuse not to, we have a long way to go in respecting our own values as a nation.

Food for thought.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 12, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

I think the following deserves an appropriate notable response, so I'll offer mine and see if it makes any sense to folks at State and beyond.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7392662.stm

Ed Luck, a special adviser to the UN Secretary General, has argued that linking the "responsibility to protect" to the situation in Burma is a misapplication of the doctrine.

The World Summit in 2005, he says, saw this responsibility being applied in four very specific cases - genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.

I would ask if Mr. Luck has ever heard of the "good samaritan act" whereby it becomes the legal duty of a US citizen witness to another injured, to render assistance.

I would ask him what catagory above would he place intentional criminal neglect leading to the loss of many thousands of lives in?

Myself, I believe I'm witness to a crime against humanity already in progress.

I don't know about anyone else's metrics, but if this situation isn't currently qualifying, then I suggest there really isn't much hope for humanity after all.

America has its own Katrina, we were not shy about accepting the aid from others of good will from around the world.

We had our problems in coping with such a large scale disaster on multiple levels. But one thing that kept it from being on the scale of what we see today in Burma is the fact that the US government warned its citizens in advance.

To do otherwise is to have intentional criminal neglect for a population. Then to deny them aid could be viewed as an act of genocide. Being that there is a convergence of opinion what will happen to the Burmese population without outside help in massive ammounts delivered in a very short time, this is hardly the time to offer a misapplication of logic as Mr. Luck has with his assesment.

JOE
|
Tennessee, USA
May 12, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

When we give world attention to despots, it only re enforces their power. If we ignore them and move forward, the world shows they have no real consequence in the grand scheme of humanity.

STOP SENDING THEM ANY MONEY...NOT ONE CENT!!!!!!!!!

They took in over 3.5 million in the first day and did nothing with it but fill their coffers.

What is the purpose of sending money to thieves?

Reports are that even the food is being stored and not getting to their peopleã.until they relabeled the bags and disperse it themselves.

Airdrop the food directly to the people -- It has taken this county 17 years to even develop a constitution -- if you dare to call it that.

We are idiots. The people who make the decisions don't have to worry about medical, jobs, eating lunch or how much petrol cost. We are in an economic war here in America and getting to the point of not even being able to help our own. Why should Russia and China try to help? They have been draining us for the last two decades while many were asleep at the wheel.

The people getting the assistance could care less what is printed on the bags "and they are changing that anyway".

Sometimes simplicity and common sense works much better than all the diplomatic horse manure we levy to prove our people are well educated.

AGAIN: When we give world attention to despots, it only re enforces their power. If we ignore them and move forward, the world shows they have no real consequence in the grand scheme of humanity.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 13, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Joe in Tennessee -- Joe, I think the world needs to give despots all the attention they richly deserve, but not the kind of attention they crave or expect.

The only politics being played is by the regime, one cannot wish it away or ignore their malfunction of standing in the way.

They do so at the risk of being moved out of the way by force, if aid cannot be delivered any other way.

China just suffered a pretty devestating earthquake which may interfere in their ability to offer assistance to Burma, and the U.S. has offered China whatever assistance it needs to cope.

You wrote:

"We are in an economic war here in America and getting to the point of not even being able to help our own."

I don't see it that way, even though I live paycheck to paycheck.

John
|
Greece
May 13, 2008

John in Greece writes:

"What is the purpose of sending money to thieves?"

I agree with Joe, no matter our "conflict" about humanitarian help.

Joe is right.

Unfortunately, I also see, that in my country too, money that humanitarian help gave due to the 2007 summer fires never delivered to the victims.

William J.
|
Massachusetts, USA
May 13, 2008

William in Massachusetts writes:

You have got to distinguish between "unwilling" and "incapable". If the government is unwilling, the Iraq example is entirely appropriate. If it is incapable, that is another matter entirely, and entirely different measures are required.

The choices of Myanmar's government put it into the "unwilling" category.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 13, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ William in Massachusetts -- William,

The regime has demonstatable been both "unwilling" and "incapable" of rendering the assistance required both to their own people, and unwilling to accept that foreign intervention is required to safeguard its population.

Whether that intervention involves more than humanitarian aid and assistance is fully dependant upon their cooperation, or lack of it.

Then there is the question of the resolve of the international community, which is being put to the test.

If diplomacy is to work in this case, I believe that the alternatives should be put to the regime in very stark and concrete terms.

They should have no illusions of grandure about their future should they fail to grant access for a UN "aid corridor" and fully comply with the needs of their people.

President Bush has questioned whether they are "isolated" or simply "callous", but assuming someone has handed them sat. photos (BBC has a few) of before and after, they are not ignorant of the broad devastation.

Delays in communication at first can be overlooked due to circumstance, but that is no longer the case.

Ryan
|
Virginia, USA
May 15, 2008

Ryan in Virginia writes:

I have heard of a few other possibilities for considering the Myanmar situation.

One, are there geologically isolating factors involved which should be taken into consideration before making a judgement? Furthermore, what is the carrying capacity situation for the population in this region?

Two, what cultural factors have we not yet understood which may be driving inaction? Are cultural factors linked to carrying capacity issues?

After all that, I guess the question then can probably start to look at what the government's motivations really are in ignoring international aid.

You'll forgive me if I took a bit of a population ecologists angle on looking at this when that isn't the fad of the day. However, I am fairly certain though that there is more that we need to know in this situation before we start thinking up a plan of attack. I like having all my information first.

Best of luck.

JOE
|
Tennessee, USA
May 15, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

Motto on the entrance of the United Nations building (Persian) Iranian poet Saadi, wrote a poem eight century ago that later became a motto on the entrance of the United Nations building. Saadi, eloquently manifested: The sons of Adam are limbs of each other, Having been created of one essence. When the calamity of time affects one limb The other limbs cannot remain at rest. If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of a human... To what extent would God go to feed people?

@ Eric in New Mexico:

  1. Politics are always involved. Even if only perceived, which may well be the case, it sets a precedence in the decision making.
  2. What if you didn't have a pay check?
  3. Your blind: If your over 50 and a professional who loses his job you chances are under 35% you will be able to replace that job.
  4. Your dollar is worth less then 5 cents to 1972.
  5. Repossessions on autos have just had a 50% increase.
  6. Social Security is dissipating since it was borrowed against for the war. This fund was NEVER supposed to be used for any other purpose.
  7. We don't control our National Debt.
  8. We are printing money we cannot back up. Russia alone cost us 3 billion in less then a day by purchasing in Euro dollars and not American.
  9. The simple dynamics of the effect of the Oil crisis alone is devastating to average workers, especially in rural communities who have to commute. Public transportation is limited in most of Americas States. Even Trailways/Greyhound stopped many routes years ago.
  10. The average American is paying for people who spend their money without their consent. It's easy to spend other peoples money.
  11. Unemployment figures are totally inaccurate with intent. You don't poll a broad band spectrum of 100,000 people and say that is the way it is.
  12. Medical ...we have working class people with no medical coverage ...veterans with no benefits and living on the street.
  13. State Governments are having to provide less services and cutting jobs.

Why go on? In 1999, someone a very well educated man I was with from El Salvador already noted: "The United States I becoming like a modest third world country: The Rich, the Professional class, the Governmental class and the poor, with less opportunity for all but the rich and Government workers."

You sound like a legislator who has their head in the sand and a $75 lunch limit who forgot his constituents may have less then that to live on all week.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 15, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Ryan in Virginia -- Ryan, perhaps I'm not being articulate enough. I'm not suggesting anyone attack Burma. In fact the whole idea of "forced assistance" is bizarre to contemplate, even in extremis.

But the reality that the regime sees is not jiving with reality on the ground given some of Admiral Keeting's statements to that effect, and a certain "lack of concern" has existed from get go.

Imagine if you will, what America's reaction to Katrina would have been if no one in government had bothered to warn folks in advance. Impeachment would be the least of Mr. Bush's worries had that been the case, I think.

Thus it is a very stark future indeed for the regime if it fails its people now.

It would also be highly probable that were the regime to give a hypothetical order to resist by force any aid deliveries, that open revolt of its rank and file troops would result by trying to enforce it.

Why? Because they all, or almost all of them have family members who are depending on this aid to arrive in a timely manner so they can survive.

So the rank and file Burmese military would shoot those delivering it? I don't think so.

Accepting aid should not be something to be embarrassed about nor "lose face" over, the regime should be much more concerned about its "loss of face" as it fails the people.

That may be one of those cultural aspects you mentioned, and pride has been a factor known to kill millions throughout history.

Tim
|
Maryland, USA
May 15, 2008

Tim in Maryland writes:

I think the best context for this question is to imagine how the story will be told in the aftermath of this tragedy. Imagine telling the story to your grandchildren. Will you be telling a story in the best tradition of the response to the San Francisco earthquake and the Berlin airlift? Or will you be explaining to your grandchildren how the responsible nations of the world, with the right resources at the scene, stood by helplessly as 1.5 million people died? How will you answer when they ask you why? Will you explain that their "government officials" didn't want us to help and didn't care about their own people? How will you explain why the responsible governments of the world were willing to let these "government officials" make such a disastrous decision against the interests of their own people? How will you explain why the responsible governments of the world decided that these "government officials" constituted legal representatives for their people? This is not shaping up as the story I want to tell my grandchildren. Will we tell this story in our places of worship as we ask our children and grandchildren to follow the tenets of the golden rule and the good Samaritan?

The question posed is how far should we go to help? My answer is that we should announce (and mean it) that we will go as far as necessary to deliver aid to those in need. If those "government officials" choose to shoot at our helicopters and aid personnel we should withdraw (temporarily) to ensure we don't catch cyclone victims in a crossfire. But we should announce that we are landing military forces with orders to keep the aid flowing and to protect the aid personnel. And that's what we should do!

I will be happy to tell this story to my grandchildren and to let this story serve as the precedent for the U.N and coalitions of responsible governments in the future.

.

Latest Stories

November 21, 2014

The Case for Studying Abroad

Talk to Americans who studied abroad and chances are you will hear some version of the same story. "I understand… more

Pages