Blaming the UN for the World's Failure
Posted by Michael Cohen
In today's Washington Post, Fred Hiatt averts his gaze for a few moments from the rousing success of Iraq to pass judgment on the United Nation's "failure" in Burma:
At a summit celebrating the organization's 60th birthday, 171 nations agreed that they would intervene, forcefully if necessary, if a state failed to protect its own people . . .
Since then the United Nations has averted its gaze as Sudan's government continues to ravage the people of Darfur. It has turned away as Zimbabwe's rulers terrorize their own people. Now it is bowing to Burma's sovereignty as that nation's junta allows more than a million victims of Cyclone Nargis to face starvation, dehydration, cholera and other miseries rather than allow outsiders to offer aid on the scale that's needed.
Let's be clear as possible on this point: The United Nations does not send troops or use diplomatic suasion in Sudan, Burma or Zimbabwe unless its member states approve such action - and over the past year or so it is the organization's member states that have dropped the ball.
The best example of this came in Darfur when last December Secretary General Bar Ki Moon asked for member states to contribute helicopters to the flailing peacekeeping mission there - it was a request met with resounding silence. Attacking the UN for the failure of its member states is a red herring argument.
And as David Schorr suggests below the notion of intervening in Burma is far-fetched indeed. The right to protect is an important concept and one that I hope receives greater currency in the years to come, but in response to a humanitarian disaster such as the Burma cyclone it is the worst possible test case. The notion that the international community would be able to quickly mobilize a military effort to intervene in Burma is simply not realistic and even in the face of Burmese intransigence would likely do more harm than good.
As Bruce Wallace cogently points out in the Los Angeles Times, an effort along the lines that Hiatt is suggesting is simply fanciful:
Several European Union and U.N. officials have dismissed the idea, saying confrontational tactics encourage the generals to dig their heels in deeper. Others say the idea is flawed for practical reasons.
"Dropping pallets of aid from the sky without teams on the ground is one of the most dangerous things you can do," said an international aid official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the diplomacy. "It's like dropping cars from the sky. We just have to find a way to convince the generals to cooperate."
As difficult as it may be, diplomacy must win out over the use of military force. And while the right to protect is an important concept casting it aside because the UN could not respond to a natural disaster such as this one is both foolish and short-sighted.