A humanitarian coalition of the willing

An unscheduled next step in a strategic partnership

C Raja Mohan throws more light on the accelerated diplomacy that preceded President Bush’s announcement of the formation of a humanitarian coalition comprising India, Japan, Australia and the United States.

A series of telephonic conversations on Wednesday between External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, and between the National Security Adviser J N Dixit and his American counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, prepared the ground for the swift decisions that followed.

Hours later, US President George W Bush was on the line to PM Manmohan Singh, and it was agreed that the two armed forces would work together along with other major military establishments in the region to provide relief and assist in the rehabilitation of people devastated by the tsunami.

Soon after, President Bush announced the formation of a core group comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia to deal with the tragedy. [IE]

The Indian Navy, besides remaining fully engaged in relief operations in India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, is also sending a hospital ship to Indonesia’s Aceh region. The American fleet is expected to arrive with helicopters, surveillance aircraft, floating hospitals and water-conversion plants.

The formation of this humanitarian coalition is a welcome development, especially if it can coordinate the efforts of the international community in assisting the overstretched local authorities. This is the first time that the US and its military allies are cooperating with India in an operation of this scale. In the wake of this unprecedented disaster two things stand out — first, India has a greater role to play beyond its immediate neighbourhood and second, it needs to work out a framework with regional powers and the United States in order to do this effectively.

Update: Clare Short, a British critic of the Bush administration has accused the United States of undermining the UN.

She said the US was “very bad at coordinating with anyone” and India had its own problems to deal with. “I don’t know what that is about but it sounds very much, I am afraid, like the US trying to have a separate operation and not work with the rest of the world through the UN system,” she added [Scotsman via The Diplomad]

The UN system ? If India had to wait for the UN system to give the green signal, those Navy ships would not have made it to Sri Lanka and the Maldives within hours of the tragedy. The UN system has an important role to play — but that’s in the second stage, concerning the long-term rehabilitation of the affected communities. Clare Short’s grudge against the Bush administration apart, such criticism gives no credit to those actually taking the initiative and going in to help. Moral authority (ownership debatable) is rather useless if those who wield it cannot put hardware on the ground (or in the sea) fast enough.

7 thoughts on “A humanitarian coalition of the willing”

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  4. I was watching the BBC (or was it the CNN?) and they showed Colin Powell having to answer why Britain was not made a part of the grouping “since they were a close ally” and stuff. Sickening question if you ask me. Political correctness should always take a back seat in a time of disaster like this one. Britain is always free to help in every way it wants to. Who is ever going to refuse their help? That does not mean the victims have to be kept waiting though.

  5. A good decision overall. Apart from issues like accessibility and competence – it takes into account the long term itra-regional calculus as well. However it is sad that it needs a tragedy on such a collossal scale to get it up and running.

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