The Burmese government’s criminally neglectful response to last month’s cyclone, and the world’s response to that response, illustrate three grim realities today: totalitarian governments are alive and well; their neighbors are reluctant to pressure them to change; and the notion of national sovereignty as sacred is gaining ground, helped in no small part by the disastrous results of the American invasion of Iraq. Indeed, many of the world’s necessary interventions in the decade before the invasion — in places like Haiti and the Balkans — would seem impossible in today’s climate.
The first and most obvious reality is the survival of totalitarian government in an age of global communications and democratic progress. Myanmar’s military junta employs the same set of tools used by the likes of Stalin to crush dissent and monitor the lives of citizens. The needs of the victims of Cyclone Nargis mean nothing to a regime focused solely on preserving its own authority.