Monday, January 03, 2005

Nature's Fury and Gunboat Diplomacy

Five minutes of Nature’s fury resulted in tragedy for millions of people. This should be a sobering thought for people who aim to control other people’s lives – you just can’t. (This reminds me of Mt. Pinatubo whose fury had sent the US troops packing. Nature took a few hours what Filipinos could not do in decades.) Now it’s the Indian Ocean, next time it could be the Atlantic or the Pacific.

Two days after the tsunami disaster, the US was criticized for not helping enough. Then, it pledged $35 million in aid. Several days later, it announced it was increasing its aid ten-fold. But oops, it seems like the aid would come not in cash, but in kind – the military kind. Thousands of US troops were mobilized. Two warships were sent to the region. Not to be outdone, France and England also sent their warships. All these of course are done in the name of humanitarian aid. But it seems too much like the gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century. In fact, a UN official was very thankful that these “major powers” are helping. Well, even the vocabulary used sounds like the gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century.

The Indian navy also sent a warship to help the victims in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. And archrival Pakistan sent a warship to Indonesia. How about Russian and Chinese warships? Would they just remain in the sidelines? Have the Communists really given up on the Clash of Ideologies?

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State and Jeb Bush, the Governor of Florida who happens to be the brother of the US President are now touring the region. Really, do relief operations need such a high-level delegation from another country? Or is there a de facto US Empire and the Emperor-President is simply sending his Minister-General and Viceroy to inspect the far-flung provinces of the empire?

Tamil Nadu, Northern Sri Lanka and Aceh are conflict areas. I hope Bush and company would have the decency not to exploit the situation for their own interests.

One thing I found positive in this tsunami debacle is the active role of the Tamil rebels in the rescue and relief operations in Sri Lanka. The Tamil liberation fighters are listed by the US government as Terrorists. Yet they are now in the forefront of relief operations in their land, with the blessings of the Sri Lankan government. I wonder if the American forces would coordinate relief efforts with the Tamil rebels whom they label as terrorists.

I also admire India for refusing aid from other countries. It announced that it would accept aid only from UN agencies and some international NGO’s. This was probably in reaction to the sarcastic criticism of Western aid donors regarding Indian bureaucracy. Thailand announced that it would prefer that aid would come in the form of expertise and not money. Perhaps there is something here that Philippine authorities could learn from.

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