Love is a Many Splendour thing US policy on Burma in the Katrina context
Vancouver, Canada: Hurricane Katrina has painted the real picture of the mass suffering of people and for the first time the Americans have witnessed it, while in Burma, the people have been used to this scene as it was repeatedly played again and again for one and half decades of Burmese
Military Rule. The only difference is that there is no television camera to beam it to the world for this man made Katrina. The pangs of Katrina if compared to the agony of the Burmese people is equal, for over 3 million people fled the country with one million refugees in Thailand alone (subjected to persecution) and hundreds of thousands of ethnic people are in forced labor as the latest report of the Amnesty International indicates.
President Bush authorized the dispatch 40,000 troops and we witnessed the soldiers helping the people everywhere in the disaster hit area. However, in Burma whenever the people see the soldier approaching their way, they just sprint off knowing that trouble is ahead for they will either loot, rape or forcibly recruit them to be used as porters, as the latest reports of Amnesty International indicates. Here, in America, we behold the soldiers giving medical aid to the people, but in Burma, it is just the opposite and in one occasion alone in 1988, the soldiers went into the Rangoon General Hospital, shooting at the nurses and doctors, a scene, which no Burmese people who had seen the horrific event could ever forget. Such is the general character of the Burmese soldiers if compared to an American GIs.
Unlike the Katrina victims, there is no relief of any sort, for the poor 3,000 Burmese workers suffered in Tsunami floods in Thailand. Worst case is that many of the families did not even dare to claim the bodies of their loved ones lest they would be arrested and deported back Burma where they will be persecuted or died of starvation. The compassionate and sympathetic NGOs, such as the World Vision that tried to help them were arrested and persecuted. The most paradoxical aspect was that the Burmese workers were even prevented from performing the last rites for their beloved ones. When I was in Phuket area, I attended that “hush hush“ ceremony in the midst of the rubber plantation, where they cried their heart out without anybody hearing. I asked them, what do they wish for in times like this and according to the Buddhist believe, they unanimously replied that in the next life they should be born away from the tyrannical Junta. Because they construed that all these inhuman suffering fell upon them because of the Burmese military regime. But the worst fate was suffered in the coastal regions of Burma where there is no sort of relief, as the military government would not allow any of the international relief to come to their aid.
The suffering images of the people beam directly over the television in the Katrina hurricane made the American realize of what the Burmese people are going through. The Burmese army, when it took power in 1988, the fact that the soldiers fired into the crowds killing some 10,000 in six major cities is the same Junta that is ruling Burma. The continuous carnage has been going on for one and a half decades up until now, and nobody heard the clarion call of the Burmese people. Is it time to lend their ears to a pathetic call of the 50 million plus people of a far away country with an entirely different culture?
Burma needs America
Since “May Flower” carrying the Puritans landed in 1620 seeking, “freedom,” has been the cornerstone of American values as it permeates in every aspect of the American society, which is guaranteed in the constitution and protected by the judicial system. This was followed by self-reliance, equality of opportunity, hard work and competition. President George Bush’s speech to the Czech Republic last November said `We share the common values of freedom, human rights and democracy,’ that was very much echo by the Burmese people both inside and outside the country. Unwittingly, the US has won over the hearts and minds of the people of the world particularly the Burmese in this aspect of universal values and now it is left for the US administration to follow up with concrete actions.
Even though “values” is one of the more contentious and frustrating parts of the foreign-policy debate, it has played a pivotal part in themselves and in their influence on the conduct of a nation’s affairs. And the Burmese are just waiting of how these values will transcend on to Burma. The people of Burma seem to remember George Washington words, “Observe good faith and justice toward all nations… worthy of a free… nation to give to mankind the magnanimous… guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.”
Burma can be considered as the onset of what Samuel Huntington calls the “third wave” of global democratization. The global trend towards democracy is both exciting and gratifying to peoples everywhere, especially to the Burmese who value freedom. So sadly however, freedom in the third world countries are shallow, fragile, and in need of support. Even if Burma gets federal democratic government, it still needs to institute the rudiments of democratic institutions. Effective control over the military may need to weigh every policy and action. Political parties lack substantial organization and resources, meaningful ties to major interest groups and grassroots constituencies, and the political skill and experience to govern effectively. Also lacking, typically, is the cultural and civic infrastructure that sustains democracy: a strong positive commitment to democracy that is widely shared among elites and citizens; a variety of democratic associations and interest groups that are autonomous from the state and can hold it accountable; a vigorous, independent, and pluralistic mass media.
If so, why should the America bother with Burma? Why should American spend energies and resources to promote democracy in Burma? Are just some of the legitimate questions to ask? With the extinction of communism and the waning of the Soviet threat, what should be the purpose of American national interest lie? This debate is as old as America itself, and has been of particular prominence since the US became a global power at the start of this century. This explicitly means not only completing the agenda for strategic and conventional arms control agreements, but also halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction and promoting democracy in the world including Burma.
There are compelling reasons to reject this cold calculus of “realpolitik.” One reason is moral. It has to do with what most distinguishes the United States as a people and a nation – the American commitment to political and economic freedom, to openness, pluralism, democracy, and the rule of law is paramount. This is what the Burmese admired and are now constantly requesting for help at least just to get their freedom. The US, in concert with its democratic allies, has enormous power to aid and empower the struggles for democracy around the world especially Burma.
The Burmese people has seen that the American diplomatic pressure apparently played an important role in facilitating the transition to democracy in South Korea 1987, by dissuading President Chun Doo Hwan from unleashing massive repression against the widespread popular mobilization for democracy. Who can forget that it was US criticism of Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship that finally conceded to the presidential “snap election” that unraveled his grip on power? In Chile, when substantive pressure was threatened by the 1985 multilateral loan abstentions — the dictator quickly lifted the state of siege. The American Administration deserves praise and gratitude from democrats worldwide for forcing Noriega out of power in Panama and Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Both the Administration and the Congress are to be applauded for greatly increasing funding to promote democracy and to support new and emerging democracies. We think that it is now the turn of Burma to be helped.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting her Burmese counterpart U Nyan Win, in New York with member countries of ASEAN just looks at him directly and chided for the need to speed up political and human rights reform. But this is not enough, and will have to be followed up by concrete actions. Ms Rice words will just fall on deaf ears of the Junta as they are bent on keeping the power to themselves – no matter if millions of Burmese people died of starvation, Aids and diseases.
There are several reasons of why the American should be interested in Burma. There are international issues, that relate to refugees, then there are the questions of illegal labor, health and HIV, and prostitution and worst of all the country was run by narco related economy. All of these have effects on the countries around Burma and, so Burma is no longer isolated case. In July, a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank, painted a bleaker picture — that Burma is the main source of all strains of HIV that have spread across Asia, from Kazakhstan on one end to southern Vietnam, on the other. In some northern parts of the country, HIV infection rates were ”as high as 77 percent,” the report revealed, and added further that heroin routes originating from Burma and crossing the region have been the ”greatest contributor of new types of HIV in the world”. This will get worst with no help from Global Fund.
American Policy Towards Burma
Current U.S. policy toward Burma authentically reflects American political values and is morally validated by the long record of human rights outrages by the Burmese regime. An overall US policy objectives in Burma remain unchanged: the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo, Hkun Htun Oo, and all political prisoners; the re-opening of all NLD party offices and the start of a meaningful dialogue leading to genuine national reconciliation and the establishment of democracy. The US policy goals include the establishment of constitutional democracy, respect for human rights and religious freedom, the repatriation of refugees with monitoring by UNHCR, the return home of internally displaced persons (IDPs), cooperation in fighting terrorism, regional stability, a full accounting of missing US servicemen from World War II, combating HIV/AIDS, eliminating trafficking in persons, ending forced labor, and increased cooperation in eradicating the production and trafficking of illicit drugs. In fact US officials persistently requested meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo. The Junta prohibited US and other diplomats in Burma from visiting them either. It also published a series of newspaper articles attempting to intimidate diplomats, including American Embassy personnel, who visited NLD headquarters or met with other pro-democracy leaders.
It is understood that the United States will continue to maintain extensive sanctions including an arms embargo, bans on new investment and imports, an asset freeze, and a prohibition on the exportation of financial services to Burma and the provision of financial assistance to the military regime. The Department of State maintained visa restrictions on the Junta members; Government ministers and other senior Burmese Government officials; military officers above the rank of Colonel; all officials of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA); civil servants above the rank of Director General; and managers of state-owned enterprise and this will remain. Until there is significant progress toward political transition and genuine respect for human rights or until a democratically elected government in Burma requests that they be lifted.
In 2004-2005, the US provided $2 million to address the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in Burma by funding international non-governmental organizations to undertake prevention and care activities. It also seeks greater commitment to more effective prevention, treatment, and care programs, including for pregnant mothers and high-risk groups. In addition, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – which receives one-third of its funding from the American government – has made grant commitments totaling $35 million over two years to fight the three diseases.
Pressure from the United States and other nations has not yet eased repression in Burma, and therefore will have to work out more aggressively. While people can differ about some aspects of the sanctions debate, there is no denying that the aim is to compel the regime to change. The most important aspect was that it must not make it impossible to provide humanitarian aid to the Burmese people who are really in need. The country is indeed suffering a humanitarian crisis, including an uncontrolled HIV/AIDS epidemic, a deteriorating health care system, and growing malnourishment and the outdated education system. There is a clear consensus that it needs help from the outside world to meet basic humanitarian needs. But this does not indicate that sanctions stands in the way. Indeed, UN agencies like UNICEF and UNDP along with a number of non-governmental organizations are present in Burma. It must be through the military that aid should be channeled. The only restriction they impose is that no aid can be channeled through the Burmese government and the military sponsored agencies.
It is not the international community’s fault that aid does not reach to the desired needy people of Burma but rather a series of Burmese military government’s policies that stunt development and impede the relief of suffering. So much so that Global Fund stop the funding and hurt the people. Hence the cause of Burma’s humanitarian emergency is not a lack of aid but that of the military regime that is hampering the aid.
There are additional issues about the private sector, about how it will or will not operate-questions about how to change a centrally planned economy into a more open one. Burma is not a communist economy but a centrally planned one nevertheless, and one that has had a stormy relationship with the private sector. The Junta’s dismal economic policies have resulted in widespread poverty and the flight of most foreign investors.
But Washington must ask itself whether current policy meets two other tests. Firstly, does it have any realistic prospect of success in altering the character of the Burmese regime? And secondly does it jeopardize the US strategic and foreign policy interests in Southeast Asia, particularly as they relate to China and ASEAN? The most important external pressure exerted on Burma is China. China has moved into Burma in a way that has upset the other neighbouring countries. China has built a great deal of infrastructure-road infrastructure, airport infrastructure, bridge construction, and China has modernized the Burmese army in terms of equipment. The Chinese have also moved into Burma economically. Northern Burma is tied to the Yunnanese economy. For officials in Washington, Burma is something of a foreign policy free good comparable to Cuba and in contrast with China or North Korea. Beijing’s increasing military, political and economic prowess may create a situation that would leave the United States without stable or reliable allies in this vital region, which is essential to America’s economic stability and national security. The people of Burma are ready to help the Americans in their pursuit of international terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons and they expect the American to help them in throwing off the tyrannical Junta who does not care for the spread of AIDS and the gap between rich and poor
President George W. Bush speech at his second inaugural address pledged that “all` who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” And not only in spirit: “We will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary.” The Burmese ethno-democratic forces were encouraged and invigorated by those words coming from the leader of the free world, and the. Greatest superpower. However, the president did not utter a word about Burma on his trip to Southeast Asia.
The Burmese people knew that American government has a long and sometimes questionable actions of encouraging opposition groups, only to stand by and watch tanks or helicopters mow them down. In 1956, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles pledged to the opposition in Hungary “to all those suffering under Communist slavery, let us say you can count on us.” But we witness thousands of Hungarians were slaughtered. In 1991, during the first Iraq War, the first Bush administration pursued a “murky” policy by encouraging the Shiite Iraqis to rise up against Saddam Hussein, but never help them when the Shiites were slaughtered, and the Bush policy was roundly denounced as morally bankrupt. Now Bush II has pledged in an open forum to “all who live in tyranny and hopelessness.” How will it apply to the Burmese scene is still to be seen. We just hope and pray that President Bush is not just perpetuating the legacy of broken promises
Supposing Taiwan decides to declare its independence, will the United States “defend our friends by force of arms.” If so, will it even serve the US national interest? Bush has expanded the National Endowment for Democracy, which helps opposition groups across the globe. It provides training, funds, and other support to them including many Burmese opposition parties. Sometimes, we ploy with the imagination that President Bush didn’t really mean it and is just a throwaway speech, a chance to rattle on about lofty principle and encourage the democracy promotion project. Imagine he intends to adhere to real politik with countries where the US has an interest in stability. Bold pronouncements and faltering action is what the Burmese are afraid of the Bush administration. Is it right to encourage and fund opposition groups, to pledge openly that the United States will stand with them, and then to step aside when it matters? Take, for example, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. These are just some of the thoughts, which an average Burmese harbors and the Bush administration has to prove it otherwise in the wake of Katrina tragedy.
Burmese Military Version
The Burmese military is determined to retain power at any cost even after killing millions of people directly or indirectly by diseases. It may civilianize but it will not have a civilian government it does not control. The Military it has expanded in numbers and armaments have increased-some US$2 billion worth of new arms since 1988. It has effectively neutralized a large part of the ethnic nationalities opposition. There have been about 17 cease-fires that are fragile, but now the military is not losing troops except on Karen front. The Communist Party has disintegrated. Hence the military is in a strong position. The NLD is in a weaker position than it has been in the past. The military is out to destroy the National League for Democracy, to isolate Aung San Suu Kyi from the League and to make sure they never come to power. The military thinks it has the moral authority to interfere in society in a way that would suit their need. It intervene in the media, control what you read, what you say, with whom you associate in all aspects. It affects the economy, civil right, human rights and it means.
The military believes that it is the only group holding the country together. “The monarch of all I survey attitude“. A self-fulfilling prophecy. It has destroyed all the other groups that might have done so. Then it believes that foreigners are out to divide the country. Historically, this is substantiated as the British supported the Karen; the Americans the KMT; the Chinese the Burma Communist Party; the Thai four or five different groups to create buffer states between conservative Bangkok and radical Rangoon; the Bangladeshis supported the Rohingyas, and the Nagas and Mizo operated on both sides of the India border. So they say look, all you guys are out to destroy us. The NGOs operating inside Burma are just meddling in their affairs and letting the cat out of the bag. Who knows they may be looking just for a pretext to destroy Burma, hence thy put on restraint to them.
But times have changed. None of the separations are viable. The ethnic nationalities now, don’t want independence but they want some form of federalism. The military is stuck in an earlier view of Burma-a view of two generations ago. It also believes that the ethnic nationalities want to split off and become independent and it doesn’t really trust them. But the most important aspect is that the military really believes that the National League for Democracy is a tool for foreigners. In so far as there is foreign support for the National League for Democracy, the argument makes some sense to the military. No doubt Daw Suu is tough, strong, brave and very determined to do what she thinks is in the interests of the country and what she believes in, but the military doesn’t believe in that.
It seems that the military has changed its position. It has now become an ideology.
One has had a different set of ideologies over time. When the military came to power in 1962 the economy was then in the hands of foreigners and socialism was the natural way to get the Burmese back into control of the country. There was a parallel development in Tanzania. Then there was an odd combination of Buddhism and Marxism; the focus was then the Burmese Socialist Party. It was rigidly socialist. All of that failed and now the Burmese military has created itself as the ideology holding the country together. If one read the Burmese language press, one will get the feeling that the military is now calling itself the cohesive intellectual and ideological focus of that society. And it is rewriting history to demonstrate that this is true. It believes that civilians have been corrupt, incompetent, and should in no way control society any longer. It believes that the role of economic development in the private sector is to enable the government to continue its control. There is nothing inherent in the private sector or in a liberal market economy of value in itself. It is a means for the military to retain power. It very strongly feels the threat of retribution if it relinquishes power-the Pinochet syndrome. The military feels the threat of losing the perquisites of power from which it now benefits.
The ambiguity in the date for the resumption of National Convention deliberations, so trumpeted by the Junta, is symptomatic of the confusion the process has generated abroad, where the demand for hard information and precise dates is heard. The insistence on clarity is, of course, a political weapon used by those excluded from the constitutional drafting process inside and outside the country. The “Divide and Rule” policy over the ethnic nationalities has been successful as some of them enter ceasefire with the Burmese army while other continues to fight.
The Ethnic Nationalities became the main criteria of eventually establishing a civilian administration, following years of military rule is simply that if the convention should fail and no agreements are reached, the prospect of renewed armed conflict cannot be excluded. There is thus a lot at stake for the people of the country, as well as to the ethnic nationalities. It is known that the 28-armed groups have put forward 18 separate papers on aspects of power sharing between their regions and the central government. But most of the ethnic delegates are more experienced guerilla fighters than constitutional lawyers and of course many of them did not reflect the people’s wishes. However, they are still under the umbrella of ENSCC and some main ethnics such as the Karen, Shan and Chin are still fighting the military government.
While the West and the Burmese Diaspora insist that Daw Suu and the NLD must be a part and parcel of the convention, the ceasefire ethnic nationalities at the convention see the crucial question as being how they will share constitutional authority with the armed forces, hence, to the ethnic leaders, the offer of – 25 per cent of the seats in any future legislature to be held by the armed forces, and other measures to protect the autonomy of the armed forces as well as its concerns for the integrity of the state – is a deal worth doing, at least as the next step in Burma’s journey to constitutional government. For them half a loaf is better than none. In addition Burma’s neighbors have a stake in the outcome for stability in the country’s border areas is critical for the security of the wider region. As long as the threat of the break-up of the Union of Burma is posed by potential insurgency, many people inside and outside the country will concede the need for a strong, authoritarian government.
On the other hand, the NLD believes the military is out there to destroy them, and wants to split Aung San Suu Kyi from the National League for Democracy. Not surprisingly, the National League for Democracy calls for continued sanctions, but not now on all humanitarian assistance, as long as the SPDC organizations do not benefit. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi since then has modified her position on humanitarian assistance. The League has responded to the military by creating a set of confrontations with the military to gain support. All this created very strong international and national support for the NLD. The economy is very weak but unlikely to collapse. The NLD is sustained by international support; but the more international support it gets, the more it is accused of being the axe-handle of foreign imperialists out to destroy the country.
Hence this was the backdrop of the current Burmese scene. By the end of this year there is every possibility that the rubber stamp National Convention will be completed and if successful, the pro democracy forces led by NLD will be acutely marginalized. The dictatorship of the Burmese army will become legitimate government and will have more teeth and force.
Federal Democratic Republic
The American devotion to democracy is one of our greatest (if most intangible) assets in world affairs. This is only one respect in which the commitment to promote democracy abroad has real political and strategic — not just moral, idealistic — ramifications. Freedom will not be completely secure anywhere in the world so long as it quashed or threatened in any part of it. Burma, a remote country in Southeast Asia is struggling for democracy and federalism. This is truer today, in a shrinking world, than ever before. But it has always been the case that despots and tyrants have seen democracies as a threat to their own hegemonies of power, and have tried to undermine them. As long as there are military and ideological challengers to free states, democracy will not be completely secure.
A more democratic world will be a safer, saner, more prosperous, receptive, and friendly world for Americans. Democratic countries do not go to war with one another. Democracies do not sponsor terrorism against one another. They do not build weapons of mass destruction to use on or threaten one another. So what kind of Burma do the Americans want? Democratic countries form more reliable, open, and enduring trading partners with one another. They offer in the long run better and more stable climates for investment. They are more environmentally responsible because they must answer to their own citizens who organize to protest the destruction of their environments. They are better bets to honor international treaties, because they value legal obligations, and because their openness makes it much more difficult to breach them in secret. Precisely because within their own borders they respect competition, civil liberties, rights of property, and the rule of law, democracies are the only reliable foundation on which we can build a new system of international security and prosperity. We want our beloved country Burma to be in that category.
By the same token, the absence of pressure can be taken as a sign of tacit support from which an authoritarian regime may draw strength and this is what the Junta’s apologist are striving for. Americans take pride in being democratic and believe it is the best form of government. And they know that a world free of corrupt, abusive, cynical, and unpredictable dictatorships will not only be a better and more decent world, but also a safer one.
Even those who do not want or admire democracy may reconcile themselves to it if they believe there is no other way to remain in power, or to increase the international standing of their country. It is by now widely accepted that the democratic requirement for membership in the EEC was “an important incentive for the consolidation of democratic processes in the Iberian Peninsula,” Greece, and now Turkey. Some African regimes are liberalizing now not only because of indigenous pressures but because they rightly perceive the climate of international opinion. This kind of pressure should be maintained, formalized, and escalated in the case of Burma. All aids, with the exception of emergency humanitarian aid, should be conditioned on respect for human rights and movement towards democracy.
Implementing stringent sanctions is the most effective policy in seeking political change in Burma. Like many other military regimes in Southeast Asia’s history, power and access to riches go hand in hand. The same is true for Burma, except military control is even more formal. The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) are the two major industrial conglomerates controlled by the military, and they have managed to dominate many of the key economic sectors of the country. The junta’s domination of the economy is intended to enable it to outflank any sort of pressure to share political power. For a regime whose power is based on the repression of human rights and political aspirations of the people, economic growth and prosperity is seen as an alternative source of legitimacy. Economic sanctions and campaigns against foreign investment in Burma have effectively prevented this strategy for political legitimacy from succeeding in Rangoon.
Moreover, sanctions create pressure against the SPDC’s base of its political power by threatening the military leadership’s relationship with the middle and lower level officer corps. In an army where forced conscription and child soldiers are common, maintaining control means keeping the loyalty of the officers. Economic sanctions reduce the size of the “economic pie” from which the SPDC can slice pieces for its patronage networks, and creates additional hardship for low- and mid-level military families.
Furthermore, when the economy is weakened by sanctions, pressure grows on the Burmese army to rely increasingly on seizures of land and property, and forced labor projects—mostly agricultural—to supplement the incomes of officers. Economic repression in these areas creates additional popular resentment against the military, and builds support for political change. The dearth of foreign investors also has a psychological effect that strikes at the Burmese army’s perception of self as highly competent managers of national affairs, creating further pressure for change from the general populace and, potentially, from within the military.
Sanctions have forced the Western Companies to force out and the Junta reliance on the Chinese firms is increased. Rather than a negative, this trend should be viewed as positive, since it serves to increase resentment of the general populace, as well as nationalistic Burma Army officers, against the leadership of the SPDC that is making policy. Steinberg points this out, when he says, “If the Burmese perceive that Chinese control is too great, they may take out their anger against their own government…” If Chinese economic investments are threatened, and international opinion continues to move strongly against the SPDC, it cannot be discounted that behind-the-scenes Chinese government pressure may be forthcoming to improve political conditions as a way to defuse building anti-Chinese pressure.
Extension of economic sanctions also provides critical bargaining leverage to internal Burmese democrats, led by the NLD. In a bargaining situation where the NLD has only principles and popular support (one which is ignored by the regime, and the second which cannot be mobilized without casualties), the power to reduce the burden of international sanctions is a significant bargaining chip. Most observers agree that Aung San Suu Kyi’s words matter greatly in Western capitals, and influence North American and European policy toward Burma.
Burmese peoples’ hope that the UN would one day act to end their sufferings under the repressive military regime in Rangoon has proven to be wrong, even though it is heartening to hear the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s opening speech at UN Summit in New York when he comments that “ Burma is a country where political freedoms continue to be unacceptably restricted.” But the Security Council did not even mention Burma. Now the honesty has fallen on the US.
As the world shrinks and international exchanges intensify, “Freedom” will not be completely secure anywhere in the world, so long as it quashed or threatened in any part of it and in this aspect Burma is a major threat to the world. But it has always been the case that despots and tyrannies have seen democracies as a threat to their own hegemonies of power, and have tried to undermine them. As long as there are military and ideological challengers to free states, democracy will not be completely secure. A more democratic world will be a safer, saner, more prosperous, receptive, and friendly world for Americans. The world will not be safe where most people are getting poorer and persecuted poverty further exacerbated by global warming and global trade alike. The democracy movement of Burma both inside and outside the country today is still weak, fragmented and overburdened.
Hurricane Katrina has amply demonstrated that we are in one world no matter whether one is big or small a minor or a super power. In a remarkable role reversal, some of the world’s poorest developing nations are offering help. El Salvador offered to send soldiers to help restore order, and offers of aid have come from Bosnia, Kosovo and Belarus. The former Soviet republic of Georgia has donated $50,000 to the Red Cross, and beleaguered Sri Lanka, which has received $133 million in tsunami relief from the United States, has donated $25,000 to the Red Cross and even North Korean express their sympathy. The leaders of Cuba and Venezuela, both at odds with the United States, pledged support. Cuban President Fidel Castro offered to send 1,100 doctors, each carrying emergency medical supplies amounting to tons of relief aid. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered to send fuel, humanitarian aid and relief workers to the disaster area. French President Jacques Chirac, one of Europe’s most outspoken critics of Bush, dispatched a handwritten note to the White House expressing his “deep distress.” French, Italian, German, Russian and Chinese officials have offered millions of dollars in aid. All these demonstrate that there is love.
In the case of Burma, US can do a lot other than half-hearted sanctions (allowing the American Oil Companies to work in Burma). The U.S. must develop a proactive policy to deal comprehensively on Burma. The U.S. needs to expand efforts to de-legitimize the Burmese Junta internationally and must work with allies to apply economic and political pressure on the junta. The U.S. should support stronger action at the United Nations such as to expel Burmese regime from the UN or to take the long-standing political crisis of Burma the Security Council. It should toughened multilateral sanctions, in concert with the ILO and call for governments to critically review their relationships with Rangoon. Given the flood of heroin entering the US from Burma, the administration should invoke a national security exemption (citing the Government Procurement Agreement) with regard to the World Trade Organization to fend off future attempts to overturn selective purchasing laws. Grassroots activists will certainly continue a concerted campaign of trade-related tactics to target US, European, and Asian companies invested in Burma, and the US government should not put obstacles in their way, based on misguided appeals to free trade
One of the first steps the US should take is to increase resources for cross-border humanitarian assistance (food and medicine) to the internally displaced population while marshalling greater international attention to the plight of the ethnic peoples of Burma. Washington should also proactively work with the Royal Thai government to broaden its definition of a refugee, allow Shan camps to be established, and ensure that no involuntary repatriations occur. US policy correctly urges a tripartite dialogue between equals—the Junta the NLD, and ethnic leaders. As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wrote that dialogue should be aimed at achieving a “negotiated settlement acceptable to major political forces in our country”. The main issue for U.S. foreign policy towards Burma is to use more forceful political economic and military leverage to accomplish a sustained dialogue leading to a just settlement. In this aspect it is to be noted that the Junta will never negotiate unless from the position of strength. So the US must strengthen the ethno-democratic forces in several ways including showering resources to the multi ethnic unified forces to stand up to the onslaught of the Burmese army. Daw Suu has amply said that the question of sanctions could be easily thrashes out once the NLD and the Junta sits down and talks but the Junta refused. Hence to bring these men in uniforms to the negotiation table the ethno-democratic forces needs a certain amount of leverage and a fang to show that it can bite.
Other than the moral aspect the NLD inside Burma cannot do much because of the severe restrictions. The choice is now on the peripherals and the Burmese Diaspora. In the meantime the EN groups has grown and it seems that soon they will be in a position to take the initiative as they infuse more intelligentsia community into it. It is still to be seen of how they will co-operate with the numerous Burma groups.
The US must spend more, to assist new and struggling democracies and to support the development of democratic institutions in government, politics, and society. All three forms of aid for democracy — development assistance, political assistance, and short-term economic relief — are urgently needed in the struggling countries and Burma is not the exception. All require higher levels of funding than this country has been willing to commit in recent years. Hurricane Katrina has amply demonstrated, not only the sufferings of an average Burmese but also by the international response to the tragedy of a superpower, which we are all in the global village. We as human beings are bound by the strings of love, for after all “Love is a Many Splendour Thing” With not so much effort it is high time for the American to show love to the persecuted people of Burma and lead the international community to a more holistic life
By Kanbawza Win
18th September, 2005