In The Shadow of Catastrophe
Germany-Foreign-Policy on: 14.05.2008
Under the pretext that Myanmar has refused to accept the conditions for deliveries of relief supplies set out by western nations, Berlin is using the natural disaster in that country for a new attack on international law. Several German ministers have declared that a "humanitarian intervention" may well be carried out, even in violation of Myanmarian sovereignty.
Troops could also be deployed, says a leading German international jurist. Natural catastrophes are supposed to justify military operations anywhere in the world. French and US warships are already underway to this former European colony. Berlin is again using a humanitarian pretext to strengthen the German position in this geostrategically important country.
(Own report) - Under the pretext that Myanmar has refused to accept the conditions for deliveries of relief supplies set out by western nations, Berlin is using the natural disaster in that country for a new attack on international law. Several German ministers have declared that a "humanitarian intervention" may well be carried out, even in violation of Myanmarian sovereignty. Troops could also be deployed, says a leading German international jurist. Natural catastrophes are supposed to justify military operations anywhere in the world. French and US warships are already underway to this former European colony. Berlin is again using a humanitarian pretext to strengthen the German position in this geostrategically important country. Myanmar is of importance to its Asian neighbors because of its coastline. It provides China access to the Indian Ocean. Transit through Myanmar should facilitate trade with Europe and the Middle East, including also Chinese importation of raw materials. Already last year an intervention against Myanmar was being discussed in EU circles.
The Myanmar government's refusal to give in to western demands to receive relief supplies is behind Berlin's recent statements about an alleged justification for "humanitarian interventions" in cases of natural disasters. The government is continuing to refuse unconditional access to its country. Among the disputed issues is western relief workers' access to the disaster zones. Whereas Myanmar insists that the deliveries be made by local personnel, Berlin is insisting on having unlimited access for Germans. Also at issue is the labeling on the relief supplies. Officials in the disaster areas are re-labeling the goods to neutralize their origins, because they suspect donor nations of propaganda motives. Southeast Asian nations, among them Thailand, are accepting this neutralization. Berlin fears a reinforcement of the military government in Naypyidaw and is laying down conditions.
Military in Action
This is how the German government joins the French/US offensive. Paris is demanding that the UN Security Council take up the issue of the Myanmar situation and force the government to grant western personnel access to its territory. French Foreign Minister Kouchner declared that "the decision to take action was taken," independently "without waiting any longer." Kouchner announced that therefore a French warship with relief supplies was on its way to the former European colony, that the supplies "would be distributed directly to those affected, either by the ship's crew" - French military personnel - "or by French relief organizations."1 Similar declarations were made in Washington that has also dispatched a warship to the area. If these threats are carried out, this would mean not only a breach of Myanmarian sovereignty, but an unauthorized deployment of western military personnel on Myanmarian soil could provoke an armed reaction from the Myanmarian armed forces - a worst-case scenario for the populations in the disaster areas.
Berlin approves of the French government's provocative approach, as is apparent from declarations by various ministers. "I explicitly support the French Foreign Minister's initiative," to "apply pressure to the government in Myanmar," declared the Minister of Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (SPD). The German Defense Minister, Franz-Josef Jung, CDU, affirmed that "if necessary, (...) a UN resolution has to be contemplated."2 In the opinion of the prominent German jurist, Jochen Frowein, of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, in Heidelberg, a western intervention in Myanmar could be covered by Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which allows for measures "necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security." International law has "evolved further" over the past decade, claims Frowein. Therefore the concept of "threat to the peace" is today more broadly interpreted and could even include "deadly catastrophes".3 In this manner, the list of pretexts for military interventions could be extended at random.
If Berlin and Paris are successful in imposing their interpretation, the threshold erected by international law against military interventions will have reached a new low point. States struck by natural disasters will be forced to unconditionally cooperate with western powers in order to avoid the threat of invasion by European or US American troops. The spreading eradication of protective measures for weaker states - such as military governments as in Myanmar - has nothing to do with a humanizing of global living conditions. This can be seen in the growing criticism of the German government by human rights organizations. Germany, in this case, is playing itself up as the global proponent of humanitarian concerns. If it were really about saving human life, for years the outer borders of the European Union would have offered ample occasion. Already in 2005, because of the massive number of migrant deaths on these borders, the UN High Commission of Refugees classified them "a greater humanitarian crisis".4 The same applies to the wars waged by the west in Afghanistan or Iraq, with direct or indirect German participation.5 Given Berlin's probable implication in cases of kidnapping and torture of suspects, whose elucidation the government is still thwarting, European parliamentarians are warning against inner-European conditions sliding "into barbarism."6
Myanmar is indeed the focus of geostrategic interests. Geographically the country is very important to China, enabling Beijing to open an overland trade route to the West, thereby reducing its dependence on the risky transport through the Malacca Straits (between Indonesia and Malaysia). But the Malacca Straits are not only being threatened by piracy. Berlin and Brussels have, for years, also been active in their focus on increasing German-European military influence over this pivotal Chinese maritime trade route. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.7) Therefore Beijing has been negotiating for years with Myanmar concerning the elaboration of transport links including oil and natural gas pipelines. Currently more than two thirds of China's oil imports transit through the Malacca Straits. Last year, as the German EU Council Presidency intensified military cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), EU circles were already discussing possible operations against Myanmar - at the time, without any concrete pretext. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.8) Declarations concerning the political upheavals in the southeastern part of the country last year, clearly point to German-European interest in seeing a pro-western government in Naypyidaw.9
An indication of the direct exploitation for purposes of foreign policy, of humanitarian relief organizations, who are supposed to obtain direct access to the Myanmarian disaster areas, is given by the so called "Humanitarian Aid Coordinating Committee" that was convened last Friday, as usual at the invitation of the foreign ministry.10 The committee, which, according to the foreign ministry, is "the central instrument for coordinating the foreign ministry's humanitarian aid with its civil society partners" and as such is "unique in Europe",5aab49681379e1e2b12e48c0043fe5fa discussed German relief deliveries to the Myanmarian disaster zones. The committee includes not only representatives of the NGO's committed to these problems but also representatives of all of the ministries concerned, including the foreign ministry, the ministry of development and the defense ministry. The ministries decide on the allocation of state funds to these relief organizations, whose "independence" is without material basis.
Politically Take Advantage
According to prominent German news magazines the massive state solicitation for humanitarian engagement in Myanmar is a smokescreen for political intentions. Spiegel-Online, for example, writes that "the Bush government" is attempting "to politically take advantage of the drama" while posing "as an unbureaucratic donor in the crisis".12 The Myanmarian regime is afraid, "that in reality, a strategy for regime change is hidden behind the relief deliveries." This is "somewhat hampering relief deliveries". But similar criticism of German foreign policy is not to be found. Obviously this is taboo.
1, 2 Bundesregierung: Internationale Hilfe für Burma erzwingen; www.faz.net 10.05.2008
3 Völkerrechtler: Junta könnte zum Einlass von Helfern gezwungen werden; Der Standard 09.05.2008
4 see also Größere humanitäre Krise and our EXTRA-Dossier Festung Europa
5 see also Paramilitary, Söldner and Gulf State Military Partner
6 see also Sinking into Barbarism and Sinking Into Barbarism (II)
7 see also War Options, Subregional Arms Race and Expeditionary Navy
8 see also Subregional Arms Race
9 see also Prestigious and Mit langem Atem
10 Bundesminister Steinmeier leitet Sondersitzung des Koordinierungsausschusses Humanitäre Hilfe zur Lage in Myanmar; Pressemitteilung des Auswärtigen Amts 08.05.2008