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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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International Herald Tribune
Ivo Daalder and Paul Stares
13 May 2008

The military junta in Burma is failing the most basic responsibility of any government - to take care of its citizens. (...)

(...) If not the national government, who can protect the people? The question has long been raised in the context of genocide and large-scale crimes against humanity, and three years ago all the members of the UN provided a solemn answer: the international community. The members agreed that governments have a responsibility to protect their people, and the international community had to assume that responsibility if a government cannot or will not do so.

(...) The United States and Britain should join with the French government and introduce a resolution in the UN Security Council demanding that the Burmese government accept the offers of international relief supplies and personnel, let them to enter the country immediately and without interference, and allow the UN to take charge of the humanitarian mission. To make the case, Washington should show detailed imagery of the suffering and the extent of devastation in Burma (as it did so effectively in the cases of Bosnia and Darfur to shock a disbelieving United Nations).

The resolution should hold open the possibility of additional measures - including air drops of relief supplies - if the government did not comply at once. And the Security Council could commit to return to the matter in 24 hours, assess Burma's response, and consider additional actions.

Skeptics will doubtless say, why bother? China - Burma's closest patron - and perhaps Russia will block any such efforts. But there are good reasons to believe that China will want to avoid the opprobrium that would inevitably follow obstructionism in New York. Having just overcome the widespread condemnation of its actions in Tibet and the embarrassing arms shipments to Zimbabwe, Beijing cannot afford another global public relations crisis that might, this time, convince countries to pull out of the Beijing Olympics. On the contrary, by taking the high road at the highest body of the UN and being seen to use its influence in Rangoon, China would help restore its tattered image.

More important, China would help the people of Burma.

The desperate situation calls out for urgent action. If in this case, when millions of people have been felled by Mother Nature and are let down by their own government, the responsibility to protect principle cannot be invoked, then there is no case where it can. We are at a pressing moment. If the international community fumbles this, it will not only confirm the hollowness of its commitment to the principle, but accelerate the increasing irrelevance of the United Nations.

The world - not least the people of Burma - cannot afford such failure.

Ivo Daalder is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Paul Stares is director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.


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