Thinking of US Policy on Burma

The international community together with the ethno- democratic forces of Burma has been waiting for the New American policy towards Burma and after six months, the Obama administration’s does not appear to have focused on the one measure with the best chance of inducing the regime to change: a global arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council. In the meantime the Burmese military Junta continue to wage a war against its own people.

Recently, thousands of Burmese from the Kokang ethnic group living near Burma’s North-eastern border have fled to China to escape a new military assault by the Burma army. Not only is the regime a threat to its own people, but there are growing signs that it undermines international security and stability as well, such as the growing military relationship with North Korea including nascent nuclear program. Even China is frustrated with the Burmese General’s reckless rule for provoking refugee flows across the border into China’s Yunnan Province.

As the United States assumes the presidency of the UN Security Council this month, it should renew a diplomatic effort at the Council, coordinated with the EU and other allies, to pass a long-overdue arms embargo of Burma and see whether China and Russia still uses the veto. Of course it will not be easy. But such a push would be an effective, multilateral, and noble centerpiece for the current American administration’s policy toward Burma because both the justification for Security Council action and its chances for success have significantly increased.

Great care should be taken that Hillary Clinton and the State Department not to allow them to be distracted by the all-too-familiar delaying tactics of the Burmese generals and by circular policy debates about sanctions, levels of engagement, and humanitarian aid. The most dangerous is Senator Jim Webb’s policy of doing business, rough riding over morality and conscious including the American values as epitomised by the release of John Yettaw instead of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Meanwhile, the situation for Burma’s people gets worse, not better. The massive human rights abuses by the Burmese Tatmadaw (military) against civilians, often women and children, in ethnic nationalities continue unabated. These abuses are so severe, pervasive, and well-documented that five prominent jurists from around the world had called for the Security Council to establish a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity in Burma. But so far nothing has been done. We hope that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice who had serve in the National Security Council during the Rwandan genocide would lead any push on Burma at the Security Council. Perhaps she could recollect of what she uttered “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”

But lamentably the State Department’s insipid statement this week on the current military assault in Burma notes only that State is “monitoring developments carefully” and is “deeply concerned” which can be interpreted in the diplomatic language as “We are very busy doing nothing.”

China, the largest arms supplier to the Burmese regime remains a challenge at the Security Council as the Burmese saying goes, where there is China there is trouble, and has used veto to block action on Burma. But Beijing seems to be changing now that its national interests are at stake. There is every possibility that the Tatmadaw will soon launched a major offensive against the UWSA and more than a million people will seek refuge in China with the Sino-Burmese people suffering much as in the Chinese riots of the 60s. If China is slow to realizes that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is not only the best hope for democracy in Burma, but also for the border stability it prizes so highly, then Security Council action should become more palatable. And for this America should take the lead.

The world leaders has first articulated the “responsibility to protect” as official UN doctrine in 2005, but it still remains on paper. The power to intervene has always existed within the Security Council’s mandate, but this new language stipulated the conditions to prompt such intervention. The situation in Burma more than meets those conditions. With increasing public support, including across Asia, and with a coordinated diplomatic effort led by the United States to bring around China and Russia, a global arms embargo against the Junta is a possibility. At least it will bring a small light in a long dark tunnel of suffering for the people of Burma.

As the Obama administration assesses its options, it would be wise to remember it is dealing with one of the world’s most brutal tyrannies, which has held power for decades through terror and totalitarian control. Fear and force are the two things that the ruling junta most understands—and are the only two factors that have ever succeeded in altering its behaviour over the years. Any policy review must be mindful of that history. For any Burmese it is disturbing to think that important ground gained under the previous administration of bringing the issue of the tyrannical Burmese government to the Security Council for the first time will be discarded and tantamount to easing the pressure on the Junta.

Admittedly the current sanctions have not yet brought freedom, but that is no reason to abandon them. They must be intensified and coordinated multilaterally. The people of this fertile, resource rich, and once well-educated country are suffering under the economic malevolence and ignorance of their oppressors, not the effects of economic sanctions. A policy review of sanctions would be helpful only if it leads to better targeting and expanded coordination with allies in the region and beyond. But any backtracking or easing of pressure would be a huge mistake and would play right into the hands of the generals

The most important thing that the US can do is to apply more and smarter pressure on the generals and not the people of Burma to force them to the negotiating table with the legitimate leaders of their own people. Likewise, a policy review that leads to a renewed diplomatic push in Washington and at the United Nations might have a chance of overcoming the Russian and Chinese veto threat. A strong U.N. Security Council resolution, especially one with sharp multilateral teeth such as an arms embargo or targeted global sanctions, would quickly get the attention of the generals. The case for Security Council action is clear. Ongoing military offensives against civilians that include rape as a weapon of war, as well as refugee displacement, disease spreading across borders, and trafficking in drugs and people, make the situation in Burma as much a security issue as a human rights or humanitarian one.

Concern for Burma has long attracted strong bipartisan interest and support in the United States, and Secretary Clinton herself has previously made a priority of supporting female leaders such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. If this review goes forward and new tactics are considered, U.S. policymakers should remember the nature and history of this brutal regime and pay heed to the vital voices of the Burmese ethno- democratic movement over those tired voices of Western academics, the United Nations, or aid agencies.

The West had failed the people of Burma time and again with their weak statements and short memories, and yet the people of Burma persevere with an honour and steadfastness that should put the Western world to shame. They are the ones who know what is best for their country. The world led by the super power must continue to stand beside them against tyranny and terror until freedom and prosperity are once again theirs.

– Asian Tribune –