Is It Time to Invade Burma?

Romesh Ratnesar takes to the pages of TIME to ask, in apparent seriousness, “Is It Time to Invade Burma?”

The disaster in Burma presents the world with perhaps its most serious humanitarian crisis since the 2004 Asian tsunami. By most reliable estimates, close to 100,000 people are dead. Delays in delivering relief to the victims, the inaccessibility of the stricken areas and the poor state of Burma’s infrastructure and health systems mean that number is sure to rise. With as many as 1 million people still at risk, it is conceivable that the death toll will, within days, approach that of the entire number of civilians killed in the genocide in Darfur.

So what is the world doing about it? Not much. The military regime that runs Burma initially signaled it would accept outside relief, but has imposed so many conditions on those who would actually deliver it that barely a trickle has made it through. Aid workers have been held at airports. U.N. food shipments have been seized. U.S. naval ships packed with food and medicine idle in the Gulf of Thailand, waiting for an all-clear that may never come.


That’s why it’s time to consider a more serious option: invading Burma. Some observers, including former USAID director Andrew Natsios, have called on the U.S. to unilaterally begin air drops to the Burmese people regardless of what the junta says. The Bush Administration has so far rejected the idea — “I can’t imagine us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday — but it’s not without precedent: as Natsios pointed out to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. has facilitated the delivery of humanitarian aid without the host government’s consent in places like Bosnia and Sudan.

Let me just go on the record: Hell no, it’s not time to invade Burma. Are you friggin’ kidding me?

Frankly, I don’t care what the junta in Burma wants. The international community doesn’t recognize them as legitimate. If the people who do these things for a living decide that ignoring the junta and dropping relief supplies will do more good than harm, I don’t have any problems with it.

But coercive humanitarian intervention? No, thanks.

FILED UNDER: Natural Disasters, World Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    You would think Ratnesar would read his own article against such neo-con schemes, “Cowboy Diplomacy RIP” from Time magazine in ’06:,9171,1211277,00.html

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    Everything old is new again.

    Can anyone really argue that we should grant any government – no matter how brutal or how unpopular – the right to terrorize or kill its citizens for as long as it can cling to power? Would it have been morally wrong for France, or the U.S., or the Soviet Union, to intervene in Pol Pot’s Cambodia and thereby to have saved at least one million Cambodian lives?

    I have been thinking about this issue since I visited Burma last April to research an article on that nation. The Government of Burma – the country now is called Myanmar -takes a back seat to none in the extent and severity of its repression. The dictator, Gen. Ne Win, overthrew a democratic Government in 1962, and his tyrannical rule has brought his country to ruin.

    NYT from 1990.

  3. I agree with you that it’s time to consider a more serious option for invading Burma otherwise They will loss something great.

  4. Brian says:

    How is this proposed unilateral action fundamentally different than the unilateral action that has brought us nothing but scorn from the international community? Whether you approved of the Iraqi invasion or not, to do it again should bring great pause. Not saying that airdropping supplies is the same thing as an invasion, but the diplomatic statement it makes is.

  5. William d'Inger says:

    Maybe we should let the children vote on this one?

  6. Michael says:

    So, which is more sacred, life or sovereignty?

    Also, if we don’t recognize the Junta as the valid government of Burma, why are we even asking them for permission?

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    Where are the voices supporting coercive humanitarian interventions before these disasters take place when they’re the foreseeable consequences of regimes like the Burmese one?

    Or when the Iranians failed to respond adequately after the Qom earthquake? Or when the Chinese do worse to their own citizens in the name of preserving harmony over, say, the period of the last 60 years?

  8. Fence says:

    There are other reasons too, but a clincher is because our military is already stretched too thin serving the pointless role of human drain stopper in Iraq.

    What’s more interesting is whether China will end up doing it, at the “invitation” of the government like USSR’s entry into Afghanistan. If the Chinese military goes in to “help,” I doubt they will be leaving any time soon. Or is China happy enough with the existing government? Feel free to correct me, I’m no China-Burma expert.

  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    I know lets send Jimmy Carter and the new Slick Willy over to talk them into doing the right thing I’m sure the Junta are ready for a change.

    Damn their ain’t nothing like a liberal talking about change to get the ball rolling and nothing like it in the history of the world that COMES CLOSE TO GETTING SOMETHING IMPORTANT DONE!!!

  10. DL says:

    “So, which is more sacred, life or sovereignty?”

    Careful with this clear moral thinking -that might allow any one to destroy us because of our abortion mills.

  11. William d'Inger says:

    Also, if we don’t recognize the Junta as the valid government of Burma, why are we even asking them for permission?

    I smell a strong odor of hypocrisy on this one. I guess liberals consider it alright to unilaterally invade another country as long as it’s for liberal causes. Bill Clinton used the army to overthrow the government of Haiti and install our puppet leader, for instance.

    So, which is more sacred, life or sovereignty?

    You’re asking the wrong question. What you should be asking is whether or not it’s in our national interest to do so.

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    So, which is more sacred, life or sovereignty?

    for who? and why?

  13. Red Herring says:

    Joyner hasn’t even really made an argument at all, just one sentence with nothing to back it up, and even that sentence is a deeply flawed one.

    Coercive humanitarian intervention? How can you use such a phrase? The key point is this: The people receiving humanitarian assistance are not the ones being coerced!!!

    We wouldn’t be helping them against their will, we’d be helping them against their government’s will! And the people have already rejected their government: They voted them out, but were ignored; they rose up in defiance, but were crushed.

    Invading Burma may not be the most effective way to help the Burmese people. But if it were, I have no doubt that it would be morally justifiable.

  14. James Joyner says:

    Coercive humanitarian intervention? How can you use such a phrase?

    Ratnesar uses it in his piece, although I believe it goes all the way back to Boutros-Boutros Ghali.

    Invading Burma may not be the most effective way to help the Burmese people. But if it were, I have no doubt that it would be morally justifiable.

    I don’t disagree. I just don’t think you invade other countries and get your own troops killed for mere morality. We’ve got a humanitarian interest in helping the Burmese people but not a national security interest worth the risk of American lives.

  15. jphimself says:

    No nation can simply “ignore the junta and drop relief supplies.” Burma is a sovereign nation with, according to Wikipedia, a serious air defense capability consisting of AAA, SAM missles, and jet interceptor fighters.

    No responsible military leader would allow C130’s to invade Burmese air space without first taking out their defensive capabilities. Remember Shock and Awe? And how can that be done without also taking out much of the government’s capability to manage the distribution of dropped supplies. Without government control won’t the biggest and baddest dudes in country simply loot the supplies and resell at a nice profit. What is the plan for after any supply drop?

    It seems to me that it is all in or nothing for this situation. Are we prepared for Iraq, Part Deux at this moment in history?

  16. >Invading Burma may not be the most effective way
    >to help the Burmese people. But if it were, I
    >have no doubt that it would be morally

    Just because something is morally justifiable doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea. ‘But I Was Right’ is probably the world’s most popular epitaph.

  17. I’ve quoted you and linked to you here.

  18. Red Herring says:

    I just don’t think you invade other countries and get your own troops killed for mere morality.

    OK, now we’re getting somewhere. I wouldn’t agree with that as a blanket statement. After the Holocaust the world agreed that such a thing must never be allowed to happen again. To stop a genocide basically means using your military for purely humanitarian purposes. We didn’t do this in Rwanda, but many (myself included) feel we should have. We did do this to some extent in Somalia but when our troops started getting killed we got the hell out.

    To me, it’s a difficult moral question to decide how many of our own we should be willing to have killed to save a large number of “others”. I agree the bar has to be set pretty high to consider such an intervention. But I wouldn’t say they should never be done.