Burma/Myanmar and the Responsibility to Protect

Imagine that a crowded building is on fire, that people are dying inside, and that a guy with a gun is standing outside the door to prevent firefighters from entering. Now multiply that by a couple million times or so and you can get a feel for what is happening in Burma right now.

The junta has never had a reputation for caring much about its own citizens, but the fact that they are erecting all sorts of bureaucratic hurdles to prevent life saving relief from reaching their own citizens is downright criminal. Given this behavior, I wonder if the Security Council should invoke the “Responsibility to Protect” and authorize the violation of Myanmar’s sovereignty by other member states? (This is the principal, agreed upon by UN member states in 2005, that the international community is permitted to violate the sovereignty of a country when that country is unwilling or unable to prevent mass atrocities from being visited upon its own citizens.)

It seems that at least one P-5 member, France , thinks so. The proposal was aired by Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister and founder of Doctors Without Borders, but quickly shot down by China and Russia. The UN’s Top Humanitarian Official, John Holmes, also derided the proposal, saying “I’m not sure that invading Myanmar would be a very sensible option at this particular moment. I’m not sure it would be helpful to the people we’re actually trying to help.”

True, the immediate goal is to get relief to Burmese citizens as fast as possible. Right now, this means working with the military junta. But if this kind of obstructionism on the part of the Burmese government is not overcome soon, invoking Responsibility to Protect should not be too far outside the realm of possibility.