Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 08:35 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 08:35 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Air drops in Burma


Sam Roggeveen


14 May 2008 15:41

Andrew O'Neil responds to my earlier observations about his op-ed:

The point made by the director of the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance that air drops are one of the least efficient ways of delivering aid is well taken. But let’s face it: we don’t have any good options in dealing with the intractable regime in Rangoon. We should keep two factors in mind:

  1. From a logistical perspective, while not ideal, air drops are certainly feasible and even if some of the provisions go astray, surely what can be delivered will be more than what the regime is currently letting into the country; and
  2. The regime has clearly made a decision to deny meaningful surface (or airborne) external aid in an endeavour to prevent the entry of foreign aid workers into the country with a view to preserving its iron grip over the country. I think we’re kidding ourselves by assuming they’ll somehow reassess the situation in light of the appalling human impact of this denial of external aid. I hope I’m proved wrong.

Sam’s second point about the military dimensions of any humanitarian intervention is of course valid. As I note in The Australian article, we shouldn’t be in any doubt about how difficult humanitarian intervention in Burma would be in practical terms. The prospect of Burmese combat aircraft destroying US transport planes is not something any administration in Washington—or allied government in Canberra—would want to see. Equally, however, let’s not be too spooked by the military challenge here. There is a good chance that the regime in Burma would in fact be deterred from striking aid-bearing transport planes if these aircraft were:

  1. Actively supported by US air defence suppression assets located in the region, on carrier groups and other deployable platforms; and
  2. Washington made the consequences of resisting the insertion of aid crystal clear to the generals in Rangoon.

I guess the question I’m still seriously wrestling with is whether saving thousands of Burmese children and adults from the consequences of their appalling government’s negligence is worth taking the risk that this deterrence might fail. Ultimately, it may boil down to how much we value humanitarian objectives over avoiding war. Too many liberal internationalists believe that these two outcomes are mutually exclusive and that there is, therefore, no choice to be made. But I think the Burmese situation demonstrates that this may indeed be wishful thinking in some cases.