Sunday, January 02, 2005

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

In a progress report this afternoon, delivered from his United Nations office, head of humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland spoke of the recently arrived US Sea Hawk helicopters as "worth their weight in gold".

And well he might. This is the man who earlier complained of the "stinginess" of wealthy nations, a jibe clearly aimed at the United States. But, even as he spoke, the USS Abraham Lincoln was being despatched to the disaster area.

Having now arrived, it is germane to note that helicopters that Egeland now so fulsomely praises cost the US taxpayer some $100 million – more than the entire amount donated by the British government (without taking into account the cost of the aircraft carrier that brought them to the scene) . And, unlike the UK’s effort, the American assistance is there, on the ground, helping save real people.

Crucially, the utility of the US Sea Hawk helicopters owes much to the foresight of the much-despised US military planners, in that they included in the aircraft specification a humanitarian relief capability, a function which they are now so admirably performing.

The twelve aircraft on station will be joined in a few days by a similar number of helicopters from Expeditionary Strike Group 5, with its three-ship force, comprising the amphibious assault ships, USS Bonhomme Richard, USS Duluth and USS Rushmore. Together with their landing craft and other assets, they will provide a real boost to the humanitarian aid effort under way.

All of this again emphasises the role of the nation state, and the generosity of the much maligned United States, but it also points up the utter uselessness of the European Union when it comes to doing something useful in a crisis situation.

But, if the EU is useless now, that at least is a neutral attribute in that it is not actually, at the moment, doing any damage to the relief effort. That will come later when, as before, it continues with its blind obsession with global warming and the Kyoto agreement, stunting developed world economies and retarding development in the third world.

That point was made admirably by Ross Clark in an op-ed in the Sunday Telegraph today, in a piece entitled: "Disasters don't kill people: poverty does", by the paper’s leader and also in an authored piece by Bjorn Lomberg in the Sunday Times. That latter piece is echoed in this Blog and by my colleague in a more recent posting.

The one thing we can guarantee, however, is that all the practical lessons of the tsunami disaster, and all the sentiments rehearsed here will wash over the heads of the sanctimonious fools that gather at the EU’s donor conference next week.

Instead, my guess is that we will hear self-congratulatory messages, and "firm commitments" to action which in, in the passage of time, do more harm than good. The one thing I would like to do therefore, if I had the opportunity, is emblazon the conference hall with banners in the 20 official languages of the EU, each stating "The road to hell is paved with good intentions".

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