Man Without Qualities

Monday, March 03, 2003

Brussels' Biggest Concern

According to the Financial Times, the European Commission is insisting it will not operate under US military control once it starts allocating humanitarian aid to Iraq after any US-led war...[ and] it has also been suggested governments could be reluctant to rush into repairing what the US destroyed in any bombing raid.

"We have to help people. It is our mandate to provide relief according to needs," said an official. "Nevertheless, our biggest concern is that the US is going to make it difficult for anyone to distribute without subscribing to US conditions."

Yes, indeed, one must keep one's eye on one's "biggest concern" - which is by the EU's own confession not helping people hurt by the war. Their "biggest concern" is the little French inspired Euro-American pas de deux over who has to "subscribe" to whose "conditions" - even when it comes to a refusal to distribute humanitarian aid.

In other words, after huffing and puffing about the "human costs" and "civilian casualties" of the coming war, the EU is now saying that considerations of political primacy and who gets to structure the aid are more important than what the EU really treats as subordinated humanitarian hooey.

This is an issue that comes up all the time for international aid agencies. For example, governments often instruct aid workers that they may be active only in certain areas - often on political grounds. I have never met a legitimate international aid worker who would subscribe to using a threat of withholding all aid (in other words, hold the victims hostage) to effect a political or organizational agenda. Can one imagine, say, the International Red Cross or the World Health Organization publicly threatening a government with a threat to not treat its people from a plague in province "A" unless the government also allows the Red Cross or WHO into province "B?" Of course not. The correct and previously nearly universal approach is for humanitarian agencies to help the people they can help and then later criticize the government for any harm the agency thinks was done by the way the aid was directed. Of course, some international agencies sometimes don't even do the later criticism where political considerations come into play.

At least the EU's new decision to withhold humanitarian aid in Iraq if it doesn't get to set the priorities - a unilateral decision by the EU to change the way international humanitarian aid is delivered - is a flash of honesty on the part of the EU. Squalor. But honesty.

As for the US: USaid, Washington's official aid agency, would be going in immediately after, if not in the rear, of US military strikes against Iraq.

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