Lessons from the Tsunami

There are many lessons that emerge from the tsunami that brought such devastation and loss of life to Asia. It demonstrated the power of globalization, as television brought vivid pictures of the destruction to homes around the world. Indeed, it is at times like this that the world truly does seem like a global village.

Of course, it seemed to take somewhat longer for news of the extent of the disaster to reach the Crawford, Texas, ranch of President Bush. But, in the end, he decided to interrupt his vacation and offer amounts of aid that were successively revised upwards, in a global competition which promised to benefit those who were desperate for help.

America’s aid still appeared niggardly when compared with the amounts offered by countries with a fraction of America’s economic wealth. Lightly populated Australia offered more than twice America’s assistance, Japan promised almost 50% more, and Europe pledged more than five times as much. This led many observers to reflect on the fact that the world’s richest country was in general the most miserly in foreign assistance – all the more so in comparison to the amount it spends on war and defense.

The disaster was international, so it was appropriate that the United Nations take the lead in coordinating the relief effort. Unfortunately, in an effort that was widely seen as another attempt to undermine multilateralism, the US tried to lead a “core group” driving the assistance program, ignoring ongoing efforts within the region and at the UN. Whatever America’s motive, it later wisely decided to join the UN effort. The Bush administration’s face-saving rhetoric that it had rushed to push together the core group in the absence of other efforts was quietly let to pass.