The disastrous earthquake striking Haiti has clearly exposed its frailty as the poorest nation in the Americas. With the consent of the Haitian government, the United States must seize the initiative in leading the international rescue and relief effort. The effort must not only match but go beyond the level of American assistance provided to Indonesia after the 2005 Tsunami.
From a humanitarian perspective, it is simply the right thing to do. The vacuum created by the catastrophe, and its long-term social, political, economic and security implications, underscores the need for U.S. leadership. From a strategic perspective, Haiti’s proximity to the U.S. and America’s national interest and role in the broader region further highlight the need for U.S. leadership. Failure to act now will further complicate the plight of ordinary Haitians and force many to seek refuge in the U.S. From a security perspective, it is necessary to bolster the existing UN presence which is not adequate to address the earthquake’s fallout on its own.
Diplomatically and politically, direct U.S. engagement will reinvigorate American credibility and legitimacy as a force for good in the region and internationally. United States Southern Command in Miami has a critical role to play in the rescue and relief effort. As the United Nations’ special envoy for Haiti, former President Bill Clinton must be given an expanded mandate and assume leadership as the effort’s international public face and point of reference to draw desperately needed resources from around the world. Mr. Clinton must use his global gravitas to galvanize international participation. His personal credibility with ordinary Haitians resulting from his extensive involvement in Haitian affairs as president provides another critical asset. Once stabilization is achieved, Mr. Clinton must continue his work and lead the international reconstruction effort through constant and consistent engagement. Organizing international donor conferences and other fundraising activities will ensure a sustainable long-term commitment.
The magnitude of this disaster must galvanize wider regional efforts for collaboration and cooperation to address the fallout from crises in the Americas. It underscores the need for the creation of a regional multi-national rapid-reaction force of less than 10,000 members designed to provide humanitarian assistance during and immediately after natural and ensuing crises disasters. It would principally apply to cases involving hurricanes, earthquakes, prevailing lawlessness and the breakdown of civil order. The force would have a limited scope to restoring order, providing rescue and relief services and facilitating the transition to the reconstruction phase. Its missions should be prepared and supplied for three- to six-month deployments.
Together with regional and international partners, America has an obligation to provide the necessary global leadership to address the crisis in Haiti. Haiti’s leaders and ordinary citizens have an even greater obligation to assume responsibility and implement real change. Out of the rubble, a new sense of national purpose and renewal must emerge among Haitians. With international assistance, they must seize this opportunity to take ownership of their future and end the vicious cycle of political violence and endemic corruption that has plagued Haiti throughout its history. Failure to do so will render all those lost to have died in vain.
Marco Vicenzino is director of the Global Strategy Project in Washington, D.C. He provides global political risk analysis for corporations and regular commentary on foreign affairs for publications/media outlets worldwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.