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Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 20:51 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 20:51 | SYDNEY

Would it be right to bomb Burma?

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14 May 2008 11:45

Andrew O'Neil's op-ed today argues that if we're serious about our commitment to the 'responsibility to protect', we have to risk the lives of our air crews by dropping relief supplies into Burma without the regime's permission.

The first point to make about this is that, according to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates*, air drops are an inefficient way of distributing aid. If he's right, then we have a tough decision to make. Do we keep trying to convince the regime to let us help them through much more efficient surface transport? Or do we give up on that and instead breach Burmese sovereignty through unauthorised airdrops, on the grounds that some help is better than none? Once we choose the latter, there will surely be no going back to the former, so we would want to be pretty certain the regime is not going to budge on letting us help.

The second point concerns O'Neil's remark that 'some aircrew would likely...be killed' in such operations. Burma has a relatively weak air force, but even its ageing Chinese jets (not to mention a dozen more advanced Russian MiG 29s) would likely make short work of lumbering transport planes. Given the scale of the disaster, hundreds of air drops would be needed to make even the slightest impact, meaning scores of planes could be shot down. Would we or the US take that chance, or would we bomb Burma's air defences pre-emptively first?

O'Neil is right to argue that if we're serious about our moral duty, we have to face the full consequences of meeting it. But helping the Burmese people may require more than just putting the lives of our own service-members on the line. It may mean we have to kill as well.

* Correction: It was Ky Luu, director of the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, who said this.

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