Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon, has managed to persuade General Feng Shui, head of the Burmese military dictatorship, to let foreign aid workers in to try to save lives in a (much delayed) response to the Cyclone Nargis tragedy.
This comes as a great RELIEF to me, since there have been people actually suggesting that the Junta's apparently indifferent response to their own people's suffering is justification enough for the West to INVADE. As if "spreading democracy by force" wasn't bonkers already, let's try "spreading disaster relief by force" and see how THAT works out!
Much has been made of the contrast between the actions of the secretive rulers of Burma and those of the regime in China following the just-as-terrible earthquake disaster. While the Burmese have tried to keep their secret state locked up tighter than Mr Frown's wallet, the Chinese have surprised everyone with their openness and admission of where they cannot cope and need help.
(Of course, you could get CYNICAL and say that with the Olympics coming they really couldn't try a "deny everything" tactic; and some people have suggested that this is really good PR that has drowned out all of the protests about the ongoing occupation of Tibet. But the important issue is getting rescue and relief to the people suffering, and it's worked so that is GOOD.)
What would have happened if it had been the other way around, though? Would people have even SUGGESTED the idea of invading China in order to provide humanitarian relief? No, of course not, because China would kick our fluffy bottoms if we tried.
And this is the CLUE: people saying we should invade are confusing MIGHT with RIGHT. Just because we COULD invade Burma, that would NOT make it a very clever thing to do.
Now, I'm NOT saying that the Burmese military are not treating their own people very badly indeed, but that's not the point. WE can't just go around invading places JUST because we don't like the way their government treats them. That is the old BRITISH EMPIRE reason for invading places: "We know better than you hignorant natives!"
This doctrine of intervention stems from the time of the BALKAN WARS when NATO and the United Nations stepped in to separate the warring parties, in particular to stop the ethnically Serbian side from committing genocide against the ethnically Bosnian side.
We were right to do this.
But it's had CONSEQUENCES. One of which was, obviously, the Monkey-in-Chief's Middle Eastern Debacle. And this sabre-rattling over Burma is another.
What we need is to pin the international law down with a framework that we can use to judge future cases against.
What can we say about the Balkans: a) the parties could be separated into identifiable sides; b) there was an active military campaign of genocide being conducted; c) we could intervene with sufficient force to stop the war.
That third one is important. It's part of the old "Just war" justifications of the church, of course, but the point is a sound one. I'm not actually going to claim that anything makes a war "just", but at least with sufficient resources to "win" you stand a chance of making things better rather than worse by just adding to the chaos.
It does seem that we have LOST something, somewhere between the fall of the Berlin Wall and our response to September 11th. It was the MORAL HIGH GROUND. There used to be things WE DID NOT DO. We learned the lesson of post-colonialism: we COULDN'T boss other people around JUST because we had better guns and a superior attitude. We believed in human Rights and the Charter of the United Nations – great goodness, we in Britain WROTE most of those! – and in the power of persuasion and of time and of the insidious strength of the desire for Disney DVDs and McDonalds.
I am glad to say that the head of the UN clearly STILL believes in those things, and is able to show us that they still WORK.
Thank you, Mr Ban!