Saturday, September 29, 2007

Vaclav Havel, Myanmar and Laissez Faire

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit (courtesy of Larwyn) has posted the following quote from Vaclav Havel:

"The international community's failure to act means watching helplessly as victims of repression in Burma are consigned to their fate."

Reynolds adds:

"I'd feel better about things if he were Secretary-General of the UN."

Reynolds links to Havel's Guardian article:

>"I fear that, with only a few exceptions, most countries have been surprised and caught off guard - once again - by the rapid course that events have taken in Burma. So they seem to be completely unprepared for the crisis and thus at a loss as to what to do.

"How many times and in how many places has this now happened? Worse, however, is the number of countries that find it convenient to avert their eyes and ears from the deathly silence with which this Asian country chooses to present itself to the outside world.

"In Burma, the power of educated Buddhist monks - people who are unarmed and peace loving by their very nature - has risen up against the military regime. That monks are leading the protests is no great surprise to those who have taken a long-term interest in the situation in Burma.

"...Of course, without universal and coordinated international political, economic, and media support for these brave monks, all development in Burma may quickly be put back nearly 20 years.

"On a daily basis, at a great many international and scholarly conferences all over the world, we can hear learned debates about human rights and emotional proclamations in their defense. So how is it possible that the international community remains incapable of responding effectively to dissuade Burma's military rulers from escalating the force that they have begun to unleash in Rangoon and its Buddhist temples?

"For dozens of years, the international community has been arguing over how it should reform the United Nations so that it can better secure civic and human dignity in the face of conflicts such as those now taking place in Burma or Darfur, Sudan. It is not the innocent victims of repression who are losing their dignity, but rather the international community, whose failure to act means watching helplessly as the victims are consigned to their fate.

"The world's dictators, of course, know exactly what to make of the international community's failure of will and inability to coordinate effective measures. How else can they explain it than as a complete confirmation of the status quo and of their own ability to act with impunity?"

Today, the New York Sun posts an AP report that a UN envoy is "heading to Myanmar" but that there is little hope as protesters suffer government violence. Yesterday, troops opened fire on a crowd, and at least 10 deaths have been reported since Wednesday. America has urged "all civilized nations to press Myanmar's leaders to end the crackdown". In 1988, 3,000 Burmese protesters were slain.

What is the appropriate extent of state action in the face state suppression? Advocates of laissez faire argue that the state has no role to play, and that foreign entanglements should be avoided. When is intervention moral, and when does it become another form of state violence? Can the UN be trusted to play such an interventionist role given the wide range of dictatorships that belong to it? Is there a cost/benefit ratio of severity, such as mass murder, beyond which intervention is triggered? If so, hasn't it been reached in Darfur, as Havel asks, and wasn't it reached in Rwanda, neither of which was sufficient to trigger intervention?

Even if Havel is right, can the US or even the UN be asked to intervene in the terrible events unfolding in Myanmar?

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