Robert Kaplan: Invade Burma

Robert Kaplan’s NYT op-ed today is infuriating on a number of levels. Kaplan argues that the United States and a number of our European allies should consider mounting an invasion of Burma. He concedes that once such an an operation is mounted, the regime might fall so we should also be prepared to impose security afterward. Kaplan acknowledges that a Security Council resolution authorizing an invasion would likely be shot down by the recalcitrant Chinese, but proposes we send a coalition of the willing anyway.

No problem with that, right? It’s not like American forces are already fighting two costly wars. As for the Europeans, I foresee two problems. One, it’s a big step to think that the Europeans will circumvent the Security Council. They take international law very seriously. Second, European forces are also bogged down around the world in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chad and Lebanon. Fact is, most European (and Commonwealth) governments are under strong domestic pressure to scale back their military commitments oversees. A new “coalition of the willing” for Burma is basically a non-starter.

Also bothersome about the piece is that he believes the fantasy that we can just airdrop food and humanitarian assistance to the affected areas. This is just not so. Without intelligence on the ground (i.e. where to drop the relief) and a ready-to-go distribution mechanism, airdrops can do more harm than good. The strong will fight off the weak and people with guns will sell the relief on the black market. The aid will not go to the people who need it most.

Yes, we do have a moral obligation to help the suffering Burmese. The way to fulfill that obligation is not to froth at the mouth for toppling another odious regime, but by working diplomatic channels to force the junta to relent their obstruction of humanitarian relief efforts. This may mean taking a harder line with China over its support of the junta. It certainly does not mean we need to ready the gears of war to invade and occupy the country. That, frankly is a distraction and counterproductive to first imperative of helping those in danger.

UPDATE: Robert Farley has a couple of thoughts on the wisdom and utility of invading Burma.