Robert Kaplan writes in an Op/Ed published today in the NY Times:
Especially, I agree with the strategy presented in the last paragraph. What could be gained by having the US threaten to invade? The answer, I think, is a viable compromise. Namely, international approval for the kind of rescue operations which I proposed here and here.
As it happens, American armed forces are now gathered in large numbers in Thailand for the annual multinational military exercise known as Cobra Gold. This means that Navy warships could pass from the Gulf of Thailand through the Strait of Malacca and north up the Bay of Bengal to the Irrawaddy Delta. It was a similar circumstance that had allowed for Navy intervention after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.
Because oceans are vast and even warships travel comparatively slowly, one should not underestimate the advantage that fate has once again handed us. For example, a carrier strike group, or even a smaller Marine-dominated expeditionary strike group headed by an amphibious ship, could get close to shore and ferry troops and supplies to the most devastated areas on land.
The magic of this is that an enormous amount of assistance can be provided while maintaining a small footprint on shore, greatly reducing the chances of a clash with the Burmese armed forces while nevertheless dealing a hard political blow to the junta. Concomitantly, drops can be made from directly overhead by the Air Force without the need to militarily occupy any Burmese airports.In other words, this is militarily doable. The challenge is the politics, both internationally and inside Myanmar. Because one can never assume an operation will go smoothly, it is vital that the United States carry out such a mission only as part of a coalition including France, Australia and other Western powers. Of course, the approval of the United Nations Security Council would be best, but China — the junta’s best friend — would likely veto it.
And yet China — along with India, Thailand and, to a lesser extent, Singapore — has been put in a very uncomfortable diplomatic situation. China and India are invested in port enlargement and energy deals with Myanmar. Thailand’s democratic government has moved closer to the junta for the sake of logging and other business ventures. Singapore, a city-state that must get along with everybody in the region, is suspected of acting as a banker for the Burmese generals. All these countries quietly resent the ineffectual moral absolutes with which the United States, a half a world away, approaches Myanmar. Nonetheless, the disaster represents an opportunity for Washington. By just threatening intervention, the United States puts pressure on Beijing, New Delhi and Bangkok to, in turn, pressure the Burmese generals to open their country to a full-fledged foreign relief effort. We could do a lot of good merely by holding out the possibility of an invasion . . .