The Blog

Abetting Burma

The United Nations is complicit in the current catastrophe.

12:00 AM, May 8, 2008 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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The Burmese government reluctantly signaled its acceptance of international aid earlier this week. But the regime's relative indifference to the fate of thousands of its own citizens during this crisis seems to have stirred little consternation among U.N. officials. Sir John Holmes, the U.N.'s Humanitarian Affairs chief, called the international relief effort "slower than ideal"--but claimed that cooperation from the junta was "going in the right direction." French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was less diplomatic, suggesting that the U.N. Security Council authorize the use of force to get assistance to people in need.

The French proposal, an impossible gambit for the United Nations, nevertheless suggests the depth of frustration with the institution: the monstrous contradiction between U.N. ideals and its willingness to implement them. The U.N. General Assembly has approved a "responsibility to protect" doctrine, for example, which authorizes states to intervene to protect civilian populations from gross human-rights abuses. Burma--a tiny, corrupt, desperately poor state--is a standing rebuke to the U.N. doctrine and to the notion that the United Nations alone possesses the moral legitimacy to enforce it.

The cyclone that has laid waste to much of Burma, then, is not only a natural disaster. It is a calamity partly of human design--the result of deliberate moral ambiguity and quiet complicity with terror. Such problems will linger long after the relief organizations have completed their work.

Joe Loconte is a senior fellow at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy and a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD Online.