What Can Be Done About Burma?

Image courtesy of Reuters: Sukree Sukplang (file photo)

With my blog’s birthday, my own birthday, an update on my activities and the launch of my Amazon wish list, last month ended up being a little bit “me me me!”. So I’d like to return my blog to normal transmission this month, starting with turning my attention to someone for whom I have a great deal of admiration: Aung San Suu Kyi. I’m sure she’s somebody who doesn’t need any introduction to regular readers of my blog—let’s just say that she’s an icon of democracy, peace and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and a woman of extraordinary courage and strength.

If there’s anything that puts the lie to the Bush Administration’s excuse for invading Iraq (“bringing democracy to Iraqi people”)—once it became clear they could no longer get away with their original excuse (“removing weapons of mass destruction”)—it is Burma. There we have a democratically elected leader and government who are exceedingly popular with the people of their country, ready and waiting to govern their country peacefully. The only thing that is preventing them from doing so is a military junta, who stubbornly refuse to relinquish the power they have gained through violence, intimidation and sheer brute force, even though they were voted out by a landslide. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no “power vacuum” here—if the Burmese military junta were defeated, there would be a peaceful, stable and immediate transfer of power to a democratically elected government. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, the Burmese people are ready for, and fully supportive of, democracy.

It is often said that the US government isn’t interested in Burma because they don’t have oil, but the truth is, they actually do! However, unlike Saddam Hussein, they are well-behaved suppliers of oil, as they know it’s their meal ticket. This is also why there’s been virtually nothing in the way of trade sanctions against them—indeed, it has only been since the recent extension of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest that the international community has even started to talk about blocking the supply of arms to the Burmese military! Shouldn’t this have been done as a matter of course 20 years ago?

Contrast the situation in Burma with the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq, or the widespread fraud in the recent Afghanistan elections (perpetrated by the leader the west supports, no less!). You can’t bring democracy to people who aren’t ready for it—the people of Iraq and Afghanistan have never fought en masse for democracy, or voted en masse for a democratic government. They had the leaders and governments they did because that’s what a large percentage of their populations wanted, combined with the fact that only a brutal dictatorship can really bring order to such politically and ethnically unstable countries. Burma is not such a place at all—once again, apart from the small percentage of people who benefit from the current military regime, the people of Burma really do want democracy.

I should stress however that I am not saying we should invade Burma to enforce “regime change”, even though I suspect it might actually be effective in this case—military force should always be an absolute last resort. I hope there may be other more peaceful means to try and bring the necessary pressure on the Burmese military junta to allow free and fair elections next year, and force them to respect the result. Perhaps the threat of military force could be used to try and ensure the upcoming elections are legitimate. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what we should do—I won’t pretend I am an expert in such matters. However, I think we can be certain that doing practically nothing, as is the case now (or “faith-based heroism” like John William Yettaw‘s), definitely won’t achieve anything.

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AS much as I despise violence I think maybe the only answer is to remove them militarily. I doubt if the Burmese military has the will or the courage to fight anyone who is anywhere near their equal. They are heroic against children and little old people. A platoon of Aussies could probably defeat a battalion of them.

I know the UN is a rather toothless tiger that makes nice purring sounds but it should supervise the elections with military support. I don’t think this country imports anything of any substance from Burma so sanctions probably won’t work. Besides, trade sanctions only seem to affect the defenceless poor; the scum in charge and their cronies will always survive.

  
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I agree that sending in a UN “peace keeping” force to supervise the elections could be a good idea.

  
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Perhaps it’s time to send President Clinton to negotiate the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. We can’t use the incompetent CIA to foul up yet another botched coup attempt since their record is 0 for+60 years. No one has the belly for fighting in Burma because it recalls the slogging stalemate of Viet Nam or even the Japanese Burma Death March of WWII. Here in the USA, we’ve got delusional leaders thinking we can win in Afghanistan. Win what? The filthy, bearded turban heads will still disrespect women and grow poppy plants for opium. Pakistan is the real problem.
No I think for now Burma is left blowing in the the wind like Cambodia was after the Viet Nam War. Time and its own people will ultimately change their fate. Military options by the UN or US alone won’t create stability there, only more death.
Sorry to be so negative but I’ve lived and learned from history.

  
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Armed insurgency from within would appear to be the only solution. But in order for that to happen you have to have a coordinated group of indigenous people willing to die for freedom. And as we have seen so often throughout history, even if the insurgents win, one oppressive regime gets replaced with another. Power corrupts. The oppressed become the oppressors. Maybe Chinese Capitalist/Communism would be a better alternative, but I doubt the people of Tibet would agree.

  
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Originally Posted By Robert Maybe Chinese Capitalist/Communism would be a better alternative, but I doubt the people of Tibet would agree.

Only the ones who ran off in 1959, Robert.

The problem with a unilateral move by the US, or even one supported by most of the international community is that Burma shares a border with, and is an important trading partner of China, and China has a history of getting antsy when the sovereignty of a bordering country or trading partner is compromised or threatened (see Korea 1950-53, Kashmir 1962, Sino-Vietnam War 1979). China even opposed the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and has blocked any UN sanctions against Sudan (another significant trading partner). Regardless of how ready Burma seems for democracy, military action on China’s border would likely result in Chinese retaliation, either militarily or economically, and in the current economic climate, no country wants to risk any backlash from them.

It is my personal opinion that nothing can be done from the outside unless China supports it. Since that is pretty much impossible at this point, it must be done from inside. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough info on Burma at hand to know their entire story as to socio-economic demographics, but it would be best if the country itself could just develop through free trade to the point where there is a significant enough middle class that could ply pressure on the junta to give up their power.

  
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@sagredo – If the junta would allow something resembling a middle class to develop, the individuals making up this class could only survive as long as they loyally served the junta. The moment they tried to assert any pressure on the junta, their privileged position would disappear along with their physical being.

Burma is a huge jungle and therefore ideal for gorilla warfare as the Japanese found out during WWII. Harassing the junta with jungle snipers whom they cannot see or find might wear them down and create heros for the populace from which to recruit more insurgents. Especially if they choose high ranking targets rather than conscripts who are in the army against their will. A populace who feels helpless will remain helpless. I agree with no outside intervention.

  
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@Sachiko – I would

I about starting a grassroots movement across the globe and pressure Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi.

  
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While I certainly agree that Aung San Suu Kyi should be released immediately as a starting point, they’ve released her before, and just thrown her back in detention later. And even if she does win the election, history has shown that the Burmese military junta simply won’t respect the result anyway.

Clearly just releasing Aung San Suu Kyi won’t resolve the situation, but I really don’t know what will.

  
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CUT OFF THE FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR THAT “JUNTA”. The same “support” also is “regulating” the petroleum trade there, and the economy in general. This “support” also is fiercely opposed to any experience of the population of anything even remotely approaching American-style democracy. One should look outside the country and culture of Burma to find the ultimate backers of the military goons and collectors of tribute: one would find the same criminal perpetrators that are involved in most of the rest of the current ongoing (world-wide) financial mismangement crisis. A joint commitment of the United States and other large world nations to reliable fixed currency exchange rates (and the utterance of solidly resource-based NEW sovereign national monies through true national banks) would end such “juntas” immediately. Burma would quickly sign on to such a treaty structure, along with Thailand, Vietnam, and others, once China and the United States would get together on an exchange rate and a vigorous mutual commitment to develop their respective functional infrastructures to represent new capital.

  
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That’s the kind of thing I had in mind. Once again, I won’t pretend to be an expert on the situation, but these regimes seem to always be partly supported by the west, at least in terms of arms supply.

  
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@alcove6409 – Fixed currency exchange rates are a practical impossibility, as are resource based monies (I am assuming you are referring to the gold standard, or other such precious metals or other such commodities), so long as governments continuously expand their roles in society. The printing of money is necessary in order to fund such projects. Don’t get me wrong, as a true small-government conservative, I welcome shutting down such wasteful spending, but in the current atmosphere, it would be unwise to shift to such a pegged-currency regime. Money printing would have to practically stop, creating dramatic deflationary pressure.

China does actually peg their currency to the US Dollar, at approximately 6.84RMB/USD, down from 8.26RMB/USD just 5 years ago, as they are currently going through a socio-economic transition period where they are investing in HVA industries and starting to develop more skilled labor. Some research already suggests that this is causing some foreign companies to pack up shop and move to Indochina, which will help those countries with their development. China has been quite wise in that they have already used the bulk of their money from foreign investment to help develop the infrastructure in their interior (mainly railways and roads out west). I just got back from Xinjiang and am impressed with how much has been done there.

Sorry I kind of got off the topic of this blog post, but I think that if the Burmese junta at least were doing the kinds of things that China were doing with the monies received from foreign investment, then at least that would be of benefit to their people, and it could be argued that what they give up in democracy, they at least have in development. Unfortunately, I don’t know that the junta has been doing anything of the sort.

  
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I really appreciate your observations on this, Sagredo. Just from what you’ve disclosed, in spite of the fact that a sweeping accord on new non-volatile exchange rates might seem, to many folks, to be a hopelessly ambitious proposal, we can see that China is open to such a possibility. And China has already made some serious moves in that direction. This corroborates what I’ve heard from other sources. Not only that, but that China has hope of winning the mutual participation of Russia, India, Brazil, and eventually, the United States. In terms of economy, that would make a world-level quorum, which would pretty much assure participation of smaller nations. In new resource-based monies, I would expect “precious metals” and the like to be only a small part of the “resources”, but would look to the general operational infrastructure and workforces in themselves as being the major part of the assets backing new credits issued by nation-states. And I would hope to see these “new credits” completely replace the currently failing supra-national cartel-based fradulent securities that have historically (and sometimes popularly) passed for “the Economy” or “progress with Globalization” in peoples’ minds. Whatever it takes to restore productivity, give people jobs and a relevant livelihood, effectively take care of the planet, and allow a mass return to the imaginative pursuit of Arts and Sciences should turn out the be the trump card. That new Ace would put things like Burmese juntas, Wall Street hucksters, and the sleazy “behavioral economists” that still are mis-advising US President Obama permanently out of business.

  
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Thanks for all of your words. Nice to read that.

  
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You are very welcome. :-)

  
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