Posted : 2008-07-14 15:43
Updated : 2008-07-14 15:43

Should military intervention deliver emergency aid in humanitarian crises?

Myanmar was hit by a storm that displaced millions of people and a slow government reaction resulted in many deaths. The military junta in charge of the country initially rejected any outside assistance. Much debate developed as a result of this situation. Immediately after the flooding, it was imperative to get potable water to people where all ground water had become contaminated. Many countries offered aid, yet such offers were refused by the military junta that controls the country.

Being Human. Human rights are universal, so everyone should have access to basic necessities such as food and shelter. People are more important than nations. People must be respected before nation-states. Horrible leaders of nations should not be able to hide behind the label of sovereignty when citizens are dying. When our fellow human beings are down, that is when they need help the most. We should not cower to tyrants, nor invade as the tyrant seems weak, but offer the olive branch of assistance at the time of need. Such assistance could lead to changes in the country.

Borders Are Porous. At a minimum, we must think regionally. A government's inability to protect its people violates the social contract that exists between the citizens and the government. If the citizens are not assisted, the problem could become regional and issues such as food riots could spill into neighboring countries. Vietnam intervened in its neighbor Cambodia, Tanzania intervened in neighboring Uganda, and later NATO intervened in Kosovo.

Action. The philosopher Edmund Burke posited, "All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing." How long did it take for the Holocaust to stop? Why did the killing fields of Cambodia persist for so long? Why is there a crisis in Darfur even though the world knows what is going on? We must stop standing by. We must act. We must do what is right.

Sovereignty. Outside governments should not interfere in the sovereignty of any nation, even when in the middle of a civil war, unless issues such as genocide are at stake. Such rare instances should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Such discretion respects sovereignty up to severe cases as just by those outside actors, such as the United Nations, which judge intervention necessary. Such intervention should not be the standard, but the exception.

Counterproductive. Even if we assume that the UN and nations as a whole would agree to this, which is highly unlikely given both UN inaction and the fact that such a topic exists for debate, this proposal may cause more harm than good. Nations will generally accept aid when a crisis comes along. In May of 2008, just as Myanmar (Burma) was refusing aid, China was accepting aid from many countries after a major earthquake. Had an outside force imposed "good will" on Myanmar, the military junta there would have been emboldened by the seeming aggression of outside forces.

Exponential Harms. If we accept the notion that military intervention should be used in humanitarian crises, then we must assume that this is not an empty idea, but a call for action. Does this mean that if a country such as North Korea needs humanitarian aid, the US will fly in its military to force help that is not wanted by that regime? The US "assistance" will be greeted with a salvo of bullets. Rebels may even provoke governments just to get outside intervention.

It is important to note that while Myanmar's military junta initially rejected initial offers of help, the government has since altered its stance to request Western assistance. The Myanmar government now states, "Powerful countries have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the Iraqi and Afghanistan issue. How much will they spend on rehabilitation of the victims to the storm 'Nargis'?"

* Next week's topic:
Does the government have a duty to bail out failing financial institutions?
The author, Roger Hatridge, can be contacted at Mr. Hatridge would like to dedicate this column to his grandmother, Ioma Hatridge , who passed away this past week at the age of 93.
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