Save the World, Now!


In yesterday’s Washington Post, Fred Hiatt makes the case that the UN is at fault for suffering in Darfur and Myanmar.
Yes, that’s Darfur, where the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has been begging and pleading with member states to contribute essential equipment, weapons and supplies (much has been made of a critical helicopter shortage, but right now it seems that water is just as much a limiting factor), and Myanmar, where the UN is the only actor that has actually been able to provide substantial aid.

Despite the difficulties, UN agencies report that they have been active on the ground. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says it has begun setting up “child-friendly spaces” in camps where people are sheltering, to ensure that children receive care and protection. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is using boats and vehicles to provide immediate assistance to people in 19 locations in the affected area. The World Food Programme (WFP) has reached 27,000 people in the Irrawaddy delta with crucial food supplies and the World Health Organization (WHO) has deployed experts to support Government relief efforts and to supply emergency health kits.

Granted, much more is needed, but UN personnel are making a difference on the ground in a way no one else has.
Also troubling is Hiatt’s apparent misunderstanding of the emerging Responsibility to Protect norm. A bit of background: R2P was adopted at the 2006 World Summit. It’s a complex concept and that boils down to two core principles. First, governments have a responsibility to protect their own people from grave crises. Second, the international community has a responsibility to protect populations that have been neglected or abused by their governments.
Unfortunately, Hiatt (like some others), seems to equate this principle with an international obligation to trample over the sovereignty of Myanmar in one fell swoop. It would be a disaster if R2P were first operationalized in the form of a hastily arranged military intervention in Myanmar, both for the Burmese people, for whom such an intervention could just as easily exacerbate the crisis as bring relief, and for the promise of the R2P concept, which actually outlines out a set of diplomatic and humanitarian options that are intended to avert a military showdown and preserve national sovereignty. For R2P to really grow in importance in a positive way, military intervention must be a last resort. Ivo Daalder and Paul Stares get R2P right, when they prescribe more diplomatic pressure and potential air drops of relief supplies. And while Michael O’Hanlon doesn’t explicitly reference R2P, he makes a smart call for a “Chapter 6 and a half” resolution under the Charter.
Ironically, many of the folks clamoring for the UN to brush aside the regimes in Khartoum and Naypyidaw are also convinced that the UN poses a threat to U.S. national sovereignty. And so many people lamenting the slow deployment and other imitations of UN peacekeeping aren’t outraged by (and often support) our policy of chronically underfunding missions that we authorize in the Security Council.
Any international response needs to be strong, but measured. And once we choose our course, we had better be prepared to pony up — financially and diplomatically — to make sure the job gets done right.
— Scott Paul


13 comments on “Save the World, Now!

  1. PacificCoastRon says:

    Thank you Scott Paul and JohnH for your further contributions. I don’t have any criticism or objection, and was thinking about the New Orleans example myself yesterday.
    I will be googling the exact language of the protocol — anybody for an over/under friendly bet, the PDF must be at least 85 pages. As I remember poring through UN documents at the UC Berkeley library in the mid-70’s, 385 pages would be more like it.
    Basically, it’s small but revolutionary step away from the Westphalia doctrines of 1648 which established the modern state system, and towards what a small cadre of us (who I guess will have to established under my leadership over the next few years) see as the inevitable wave of the future, after three or five generations of our educational and social movement: a truly decentralized, truly small-d democratic federal world governmental structure (which will bear no resemblance whatever to a hypothetical union of today’s existing nation-states).


  2. JohnH says:

    R2P: 1) governments have a responsibility to protect their own people from grave crises. 2) the international community has a responsibility to protect populations that have been neglected or abused by their governments.
    How would the R2P protocols have been applied to New Orleans after Katrina? Think about it: were the American and Myanmar government responses that different? Will R2P, like the Geneva Conventions, be applied only to countries we deem undesirable, not to ourselves?
    Why is it that the Myanmar floods receive so much publicity, while recent, devastating floods in Tabasco, Mexico, our neighbor, were virutally ignored? Any politics involved there? (At least the Mexican government organized a prompt response.)


  3. Zathras says:

    This is an interesting line of reasoning.
    Correctly understood, the Right to Protect doctrine is a framework for dealing with human rights abuses by doing all the things that would be done without it. To preserve the doctrine, it is required that actions to which governments abusing their people might object be ruled out right at the start. The international community must, if need be, prove its good and non-imperialist intentions by watching tens of thousands of people die. In the meantime, proclamations about the international community’s duty and obligation to protect the helpless and stand up for human rights must continue unabated.
    That fool Hiatt doesn’t understand any of this. He doesn’t understand the vital importance of good intentions, or of declarations of good intentions arising from a meeting attended by lots of head of state. He doesn’t understand the meaning of “last resort,” either. The last resort, as we all know, defines a set of conditions we can recognize only in retrospect. How else can we preserve the concept of bold, decisive action on behalf of human rights but by reserving its application for situations we can recognize only several years after they have happened?
    Thus, Rwanda in 1994 clearly called for a firm international response, but at the time such a response would obviously have been rash, and perhaps even imperialist. Similarly, it could be years before we know if Burma, Darfur, or Zimbabwe place the international community in a position of last resort. But, when we do we’ll be able to reinforce the framework of the Right to Protect, perhaps at a meeting attended by even more heads of state.


  4. Scott Paul says:

    Per JohnH’s objections and PCR’s questions, here’s some background. R2P was originally dreamed up by a commission charged with creating a framework for dealing with gross human rights abuses.
    R2P was adopted at the 2006 World Summit, the meeting in 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the UN. It was attended by more Heads of State than any meeting in history. While the U.S. and other governments at first only wanted to recognize individual countries’ responsibilities to protect their own people, the international community’s responsibility was recognized as well.
    JohnH’s concern reflects that of many developing countries, who fear that R2P will be used as a cover for imperialist interventions and/or regime changes. Some Americans harbor a similar fear that R2P will lead to an erosion of U.S. sovereignty. While I think these fears are off base, they highlight the importance of NOT using R2P to rush into a military engagement. R2P, as a framework, lays out a number of diplomatic alternatives for the international community and leaves military intervention as an absolute last resort. That’s one of the reasons Hiatt’s understanding of the concept is so flawed.


  5. TokyoTom says:

    MM, you’ve gone a bit off-thread here, but I’m all for seeing Jim Webb – but on Obama’s ticket.
    Given the enormous role that the military/defense establishment play in our domestic and foreign policy and politics, someone like Jim Webb would provide the Democrats with enormous depth in this area and help to neutralize some of the advantages that McCain has in this area in the election. In any case, direct expertise like that Webb has will be seriously needed by the White House leadership in the next administration.


  6. Mr.Murder says:

    Condi is trying punt the Sudan into the next office holder’s lap so she can blame someone for something she hasn’t f’d up beyond all imagination yet.
    Meanwhile, Steve, it seems to me like the perfect ticket pairing would be Sen.James Webb as VP to Sen.Hillary Clinton.
    He has security bona fides in abundance, no deficit in that topic. He has McCain topped in terms of service in the Navy as well. He’s not the type to grandstand on taking credit for accomplishments, more a team player.
    Someone who has your six in tough situations. Someone with a capacity to speak Truth to power. He dogged Sen.Allen on his turf.
    Let’s paint the Ohio valley and Smokies, and yes even the Rockies a deeper shade of blue. Webb can help do it, he’s unique in the political context of his environs. He compliments any ticket with the ability to mollify the greatest campaign calls levied against Democrats on a traditional basis.
    PS- John McCain, all your voters are belong to ours.


  7. PacificCoastRon says:

    I like TWN for the quality of its comments, I totally understand the emotions of POA and Tony F. and many others, but to my understanding we could still raise the discussion a notch or two higher.
    JohnH reminds me of myself maybe a decade ago, ready to assume the worst about R2P on the fact that it was cooked up at the highest levels of state and therefore must be corrupt/authoritarian. But as I read Scott Paul’s words again, I want more details. What was this World Summit that happened in 2006, who pushed for the Summit itself (certainly not GWB & gang) and who pushed for this language out of it? (I assume the internat. bureaucratic elite do-gooder types, but let’s have the facts exactly.
    I know you tech-heads can google this all up, I’m locked into a tough work schedule at my two jobs at age 57, I’m slippingt off schedule unless I cut this off right now, see ya in a day or more.


  8. Mr.Murder says:

    He didn’t let golf get in the way of his August 6th briefing.
    Osama Been Golfin determined to attack in the United States.


  9. nwittry says:

    The Secretary General can issue condemning statements one after the other, but unless the most powerful and influential UN member states lend their support, the UN can make only meager progress. The UN has no income of it’s own, no military of it’s own, and no economy of it’s own. It can’t withhold trade. It can’t withdraw diplomats. It can’t threaten to invade. The UN is simply an organization of collective will, and if the members don’t agree, the UN has very little tools of it’s own to effect real change. The UN is, after all, the sum of it’s parts: sum up the UN members and you get the value of the UN as a whole, and if the UN doesn’t deliver on it’s promise, it’s because of a failure of the members to deliver and not a failure of the UN itself.


  10. easy e says:

    Off topic but newsworthy:
    President Bush in a Tuesday interview expressed in unusually frank terms his disappointment over flawed pre-war intelligence and acknowledged his fears about leaving an unfinished war to a Democratic successor.
    In an Oval Office interview with Politico and Yahoo News — Bush’s first for an online audience —the president said his doomsday scenario for a premature withdrawal “of course is that extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States.”
    For the first time, Bush revealed a personal way in which he has tried to acknowledge the sacrifice of soldiers and their families: He has given up golf.
    “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,” he said. “I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”
    See entire article at


  11. JohnH says:

    R2P sounds like a thinly veiled cover for industrialized countries to occupy and exploit countries suffering disasters of one kind or another. Once invoked, multinationals (Bechtel, KBR, etc.) are authorized to move in, loot the resources, build tourism industries, or take advantage of whatever the country has of value.
    Darfur and Rwanda apparently had nothing of value to the West, so they were left to suffer. Kosovo, on the other hand, had potential for a massive military base, Camp Bondsteel, but not much else.
    Isn’t it time to set up true humanitarian mechanisms to assist suffering countries, regardless of their potential for exploitation? And without attaching lots of strings to enable disaster capitalism?


  12. Zathras says:

    “The emerging ‘Right to Protect’ norm” amounts to a lot of big talk from people at cocktail parties.
    Everything now being done with respect to the crisis in Burma, or for that matter the one in Darfur, would be done anyway. Humanitarian intervention on behalf of people being abused by their government depends now, as it always has, on one of two things: the offending government being strong enough to injure its people but not strong enough to withstand any significant outside pressure, or the availability of the American military. Sudan, might, had it been isolated from its supporters among other Arab governments, have met the first condition four or five years ago. Burma doesn’t meet it now, and the commitment in Iraq has taken the American military out of this game for the forseeable future.
    Personally, I prefer not to put myself in the position of making promises I know I can’t keep. That’s what the Right to Protect is. Its proponents know this; sometimes they practically brag about it, as in the post here. It looks as if whatever downside they see in making this kind of empty promise of more than offset by the value of the Right to Protect as a statement of their good intentions, and the good intentions of the people they know.


  13. Don Bacon says:

    Does Hiatt also think that the UN was responsible for the suffering in New Orleans, when the US failed to act and refused assistance from other countries?


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