By Jany Xu
[Originally posted on JanyXu.com]
Instead of going out on Saturday night, I opted to join a discuss group called the Club of Rome. It’s a forum that meets every once in a while (we haven’t set the pace yet), and everyone brings food, drinks and ideas.
The topic for this weekend was “Is it okay to intervene and disregard a nation’s sovereignty in order to help its citizens during a national disaster or political situation, i.e. genocide?” We used the [not so] recent Burmese cyclone, and the Junta’s rejection to foreign aid as the premise. Should the U.S. have simply crossed into Burmese air space/waters to delivers supplies? What could the U.N. have done?
There’s so much to be said, and I won’t give a complete synopsis of points debated. But about an hour in, I suggested whether or not to accept aid had everything to do with messaging.
The Junta were skeptical of U.S. intentions, since we took our sweet time offering aid during the Sri Lanka tsumani. In another example, China gladly took aid from other nations during the earthquake. The forum speculated that they probably could have handled matters themselves but wanted to seem open and welcoming, especially with the Olympics looming. Similar situation with the U.S. and Katrina. India offered aid but was rejected by the U.S. Forgive me for not fact checking. Did the U.S. say no because it didn’t make logistical sense to send Indian aid workers, who didn’t know the infrastructure of U.S. relief, OR was it because the U.S. simply had too much pride? “We’re the leading country in the world. Why would we possibly need help?”
Intentions masked in layers of political secrecy leave other nations to speculate, often wrongly, about why country A chose action B. The G77 (made up of over 120 developing nations) are completely distrusting of the G8 (eight of the leading OECDs) for this reason.
I think they could take a page from social media and the strives that companies like Cisco, Johnson & Johnson and many others are taking to promote trust and relationship-building. If countries were able to sit at the table and find the mutually beneficial solutions, there wouldn’t be a need for veils of secrecy and empty U.N. sanctions. No one can guarantee the actions of other parties, but there’s no point in creating a prisoner’s dilemma.
What if the U.S. simply said, “Hey, we just want to help the people in your country. Yes, we’re interested in building a relationship because we’re interested in trade (oil) and becoming closer allies (since you’re getting too chummy with China). BUT… this is a crisis. Could we put aside the politics, so that your people can get the relief they need? We’ll offer to drop supplies in unmarked crates. Hell, we’ll even stamp the official Junta seal if you want”?
What if we simply drop the U.N. sanctions and threats from the U.S. military bully and just communicated? Sure, it might not work the first time or even the fifth, but the effort would generate mutual understanding and maybe even *gasp* respect.
Call me idealistic, but transparency and communication could do a world of good. Literally.