U.S. should move beyond just using sanctions in its relations with Burma
By Nehginpao Kipgen, Special to The China Post
November 28, 2008, 10:26 am TWN
In an apparent shift from the policy of traditional sanctions, the U.S. Congress created a post for policy chief for Burma to increase pressure on the military junta.
In response to this unprecedented action, the White House announced the nomination of Michael Green for the post on November 10. Whether this maneuver brings vigor to the Burmese democratic movement is a question remains to be seen.
Green, who has served as a senior director for Asian Affairs under the Bush administration, should have noticed the quandary over the Burmese political imbroglio, especially the futility of conflicting approaches by the international community.
According to this legislation, the policy chief will consult with the governments of China, India, Thailand and Japan, members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the European Union to coordinate international strategy.
Years of sanctions after sanctions, this is a new birth in the American policy toward Burma. Sanctions, however, still remain the popular way of punishing the rogue regimes and governments around the world.
When it comes to Burma, sanctions have little impact on the military regime due to engagements by neighboring countries, notably China, India and members of ASEAN.
A solution to Burma's problems greatly lies in two possible ways: Popular Uprising and Intervention. Popular uprising have been tasted twice in 1988 and in 2007. Both events were brutally crushed by the military with force.
The word intervention can be engagement or sanction. There is no doubt about the U.S. sanctions hurting the military generals and also the general public. Had there been a coordinated international approach, Burma could have been different today.
It must be difficult for the U.S. government to abandon its traditional policy of isolating the Burmese generals and start engaging with them. But they have to realize that sanction alone is not effective in resolving Burma's crisis when there is engagement on the other end.
While sanctions are in place, the new envoy can start initiating a "carrot and stick" policy by working together with key international players. The one similar to the North Korean six-party talk model should be given emphasis on Burma.
The six-party talks involving the United States, European Union, ASEAN, China, India, and Burma should be initiated. In the beginning, the military generals and some other countries might resist the proposal, but we need to remember that the North Korean talk was also initially not supported by all parties.
The hard work of the U.S. in North Korea is now paid off with North Korea being removed from the State Department's list of terrorists, and in return, North Korea promised to shut down and dismantle its nuclear facilities.
It was not only the sticks that worked but also the carrots. The U.S. offered energy and food assistances to the North Korean leadership. A similar initiative could convince Burma's military generals to come to the negotiating table.
Now that the U.N. Secretary General is heavily involved in the process, the U.S. can garner stronger support from the international community. Without such move from the U.S., Ban Ki-moon's 'Group of Friends of the Secretary General on Myanmar' will yield little.
The most effective U.N. intervention would happen when the Security Council decides to take action. This scenario is bleak with China and Russia vetoing the move, and likely to do again if Burma issue comes up in the Council's agenda.
The creation of U.S. special envoy and policy chief for Burma is a widely welcome move. With this new position coming into place, the U.S. should start moving beyond imposing sanctions.
Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com) and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).