By Roland Watson
September 28, 2002

Note: This article examines the relations between nations, both political, from sanctions through to armed intervention, and economic, including trade and foreign aid. Please forward it to all government officials, of any nation, with whom you are in contact.

- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has a policy that member states will not interfere in the internal affairs of other members.
- China uses the greatest efforts to ensure that no one interferes in what it declares are its affairs, including through reacting with great anger to any offers of assistance to Taiwan or Tibet.
- The United States is regularly accused of interfering, of having an interventionist policy, in the affairs of other nations, particularly those with which it disagrees.

What do all of these cases have in common? They are all predicated on the idea of sovereignty, and the right of a sovereign people to look after its interests and to defend itself. But, the question must be asked, where does such sovereignty – where do “national rights” – end?

One way to qualify this is to determine if the outside party that is accused of interference is influencing or attempting to influence a nation that has a government by and for the people, or if it is a nation ruled by a dictatorship that serves only itself and that exploits and represses its people?

This distinction is never made.

It should be. The art of life, or one of the fundamental components of what is termed wisdom, is to recognize subtle distinctions. It should therefore be possible to survey each such case, each claim of interference, and determine if it has merit, if the actions in question constitute interference and intervention against the wishes of a democratic nation, or if they do not. Indeed, it may be the case that in some situations noninterference is equivalent to interference, when it exists only on the surface and through doing so hides all manner of negative interactions and influences. The statements of those parties that claim they are not interfering in these circumstances are disingenuous in the extreme. They interfere and intervene all the time, on the side of the dictators and against the legitimate rights and aspirations of the people.

In the first case mentioned above, ASEAN’s policy of non-interference, one situation that demands evaluation is the group’s actions toward what is arguably its most repressive member, Burma. The other members of ASEAN regularly state that they will not, and do not, interfere in the internal affairs of Burma, but is this really the case?

The people of Burma have a great desire for democracy, and this was legitimately certified through the elections in 1990, when the various parties that comprised the pro-democracy movement won by a landside. However, the election results were not implemented. Instead, the dictatorship reacted with great violence and repression, extending even to acts of genocide against certain ethnic groups. In this case, then, the only ethical position for foreign parties, be they nations, multinational businesses, non-governmental and supranational organizations, and also members of the general public, is to act on behalf of the Burmese people, to relieve their suffering and to see that democracy is installed. Any such acts are in no way interference, since they align perfectly with the wishes of the people. On the other hand, anything that props up the dictatorship and allows it to perpetuate its repression clearly constitutes interference.

With this as a measure, then, it is obvious that the non-interference policy of the member states of ASEAN in the internal affairs of Burma is actually a shield to hide interference and intervention of the worst kind. An excellent example of this is the behavior of Thailand, its foreign policy under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and also the actions of its businesses including the commercial interests of its political and military leaders.

The basic Thai policy towards Burma is one of constructive engagement, or, more precisely, economic colonialism. (In earlier incarnations such colonialism occurred from West to East and North to South. Now it is happening within what is referred to as the “developing” world.)

The Thai public has great antipathy for Burma, because of the conquest their nation experienced, which antipathy is reinforced in classrooms and popular movies. Many Thais view the current situation in Burma as long-overdue just desserts. More deeply, though, the Thai leaders are following a predatory economic policy.

The longer Burma remains a dictatorship, and its economy suffers, the more time there will be for the Thai economy to grow and prosper. Subsequently, if and when democracy is established in their neighbor, the Thais will be well positioned to capitalize on this.

Of course, it is not as if they are willing to wait. Thai businesses are already engaged in trade with the Burmese generals, in many economic sectors, particularly consumer products and natural resources, including for the latter timber, minerals and gems, oil and gas, marine products, narcotics, and even “sexual resources,” through the importation of sexual slaves. Through this the Thai businesses are perpetuating (1) the exploitation of Burmese workers, who enjoy no labor rights and who regularly must slave away in factory sweatshops and on forced labor projects such as roads and even tourist hotels, and (2) the destruction of natural habitat. Burma’s natural environment, in particular, is being raped as quickly as possible. It is being converted into hard currency, with no thought given to the future generations of Burmese who are going to have to live in it, much less to the rights of other species.

As part of this, many Thai leaders have already established lucrative business dealings with the dictatorship, in all such areas. One recent example is Thaksin’s entry into Burma’s communications sector. He obviously hopes to establish a foothold in the country such that he can eventually achieve the monopolies he now holds in Thailand. It is therefore no surprise that all such individuals are dead set against the establishment of democracy in Burma, because of the threat this would pose to their investments and plans.

Thaksin reportedly signed his communications deal with the son of Khin Nyunt. To the extent that Thaksin’s own son (and other children) is the proxy holder of his personal investments, so the same can be inferred for Khin Nyunt and his son. This transaction, then, when viewed properly, is between the Thai Prime Minister and the head of Burmese Military Intelligence. Furthermore, MI is responsible for the torture of Burmese political prisoners. It is difficult to imagine interference greater than this, that a foreign leader would work with such an individual and through this lend him legitimacy and financial support.

Thai policy has significant carry-on effects, including on border conflict and the cross-border flow of such things as narcotics and timber, and refugees. In general these effects can be summarized as follows: The Thai leaders are ignoring or acting in direct opposition to Thai national interests to support their own commercial ventures.

Thailand wants peace. It is, after all, a leading tourist destination, and tourists are averse to war zones. However, its border with Burma is continually the site of conflict and has actually been declared an emergency area subject to martial law, although this is not publicized, certainly to tourists. Furthermore, Thailand has a great need to stem the flow of narcotics from Burma, which drugs are having many insidious effects on Thai society. Similarly, Thailand has no desire to serve as the perpetual home for hundreds of thousands of refugees, both those in the camps along the border and also the economic refugees that have spread throughout the nation.

One might argue that Thailand is powerless to deal with such concerns, but this is not true. The Thai military, with the strong backing it receives from its primary ally, the United States, is significantly more capable than Burma’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw. It could, if it wanted, enforce peace along the border, including by backing the ethnic groups that reside there – the Mon, Karen, Karenni and Shan – such that they regain their own sovereign rights over their own historical homelands. This would effectively eliminate the cycle of conflict that spills into Thailand, as well as the flow of drugs, the presence and continual influx of refugees, and also the trade in timber, women, etc.

The question is: why doesn’t Thailand do this? Why doesn’t it act to protect its national interests?

The answer, as we have seen, is that it doesn’t serve the commercial interests of the Thai leaders. Khin Nyunt is the SPDC patron of the Wa, the ethnic group that is the major source of drugs from Burma. Thaksin will never attack the business interests of his commercial partner. If he did, his own dealings in the country would be finished.

In addition, the turbulence along the border enables the Thai government to divert attention from its own policy towards the refugees and more generally towards the border groups. This policy has two aspects:

First, Thailand exploits the economic refugees for minimal compensation and with no provision for their labor and human rights. (This is another aspect of its economic colonialism.) Indeed, working conditions for Burmese laborers in Thailand are in many cases no better than they are for workers in Burma. In some cases they have actually been killed simply for demanding to be paid, for work already completed, and the Thai authorities have done nothing to bring the murderers to justice. Further, the Thai authorities themselves have committed or participated in atrocities against the refugees, including theft, rape, and the sale of men into forced labor and women into sexual bondage.

More deeply, the country enforces an apartheid regime against its own ethnic groups. These groups have been resident in Thailand for centuries, but they are denied citizenship because they are not “Real Thai.” Similarly, in some cases refugee camps have existed for so long that thousands of children have been born on the Thai side of the border. These children, under Thai law, have the right to Thai citizenship, but this has been denied. In effect, Thai policy dooms such groups to statelessness.

Thai leaders in general, and Thaksin in particular, must be very careful for they may someday be held accountable for crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court has now been established, with jurisdiction for such crimes committed after July 1, 2002. To the extent that Thailand deports refugees into Burma, where they suffer and die at the hands of the SPDC in internment camps and through relocation, forced labor and accompanying crimes including rape and murder, the Thai leaders will be culpable for the commission of these crimes. (Such actions would be analogous to the Vichy regime of France sending Jews to Nazi death camps.) For Thaksin what this means is – his great wealth notwithstanding – he will not be able to leave the country to travel around the world, including to Europe and the US, for shopping, to visit his children, etc., since he will be subject to arrest. His ambit of movement will be restricted to other, for the most part regional, autocracies. This also holds for any other Thai leaders for which such culpability – aiding and abetting the SPDC – can be demonstrated.

Thai policy towards its own ethnic groups, and the actions of Thai officials against refugees, can also be viewed as crimes against humanity, and they too may someday be the subject of trial in the ICC – or in Thailand itself if and when the nation becomes truly democratic, with a functioning rule of law.

Unfortunately, the policy and behavior of Thailand, its extraordinary level of interference against the democratic aspirations of the people of Burma, is not the exception. It is mirrored by the other ASEAN states, most notably Malaysia and Singapore. This raises the question, why is this policy, which is disguised as non-interference, so pervasive?

The obvious answer is that Burma provides similar economic opportunities for the businesses, and leaders, of all such nations. For example, this extends to the business interests in Burma of UN Special Envoy Razali Ismail, which interests unquestionably undermine his ability to serve as an objective arbitrator. (He should recuse himself.) More deeply, though, two other factors are at work.

The first is simply that the member states of ASEAN do not want a local, functioning democracy. They interfered on the side of Indonesia against East Timor’s fight for independence, but even though such independence was won it has yet to cause them much concern. East Timor is remote and has only a small population. Democracy in Burma would be a much greater threat. ASEAN, when combined with China, is the largest remaining block of authoritarian rule in the world. It perpetuates the old Asian order of class and gender inequality, and ubiquitous corruption and environmental destruction. The leaders of the dictatorial states in the group have much to fear from further democratic developments in their neighborhood. If Burma developed into a well-functioning democracy, this would create a stark contrast with their own repression and autocracy. This in turn would undercut their power, by fueling opposition from pro-democracy groups within their own nations. In addition, it would likely spell the end of the ASEAN policies of non-interference and constructive engagement (if not of ASEAN itself), since the people and leaders of a newly democratic Burma, having suffered under these policies for decades, would refuse to follow them.

The second and larger issue is the threat that a free Burma would pose to China’s regional hegemony. China basically runs Southeast Asia. Most of the political and business leaders in the region are ethnic Chinese, and they have aligned themselves very closely with Beijing. They never oppose the “People’s Republic.” Indeed, they regularly interfere on its behalf, such as against the democratic aspirations of the Taiwanese people, not to mention of the Chinese themselves. The Chinese dictatorship will do everything in its power to prevent Burma from becoming a democracy, since this will immediately increase the pressure on it regarding Tibet and also for the Chinese people.

Turning, then, to China, we can see that its communist leaders systematically interfere in the affairs of others. China is in fact a serial-interferer. It fancies itself a superpower, and its leaders believe that power grants right. Therefore, since it has great power, it also has the right to impose itself on the rest of the world. Through this it is emulating the US and the former Soviet Union, not realizing that this is both a flawed ethic and an outdated approach. Power does not imply or infer right, and, we do not need or want superpowers. Our goal is a global community of equals, ethical equals.

China’s interference is clearest in Tibet, which it violently annexed. As mentioned, it also interferes on a regular basis in the affairs of Taiwan and around Asia. In addition, using as leverage the size of its population, i.e., its market potential, it is attempting to interfere around the world. And, in this regard, it has succeeded. It forced the US and Europe to accede to its demands, for entry into the WTO and to be granted the 2008 Olympics, and also to overlook its many other transgressions, such as its repression of its own people and the transfer of advanced armaments to other dictatorial nations, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Of course, through doing such things it is merely emulating the US, which, along with the Soviet Union, set the precedent for interference and intervention, not as a means to accomplish a just end, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who were fighting for their inalienable rights, but instead for selfish motives – to compete with each other and to preserve and expand their own power. The US has interfered in one nation after another, particularly since WWII, when it became a superpower. A few of the most notable nations where it stood side-by-side with dictators, in many cases actually helped install them, include Iran, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Chile, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa during the time of apartheid, and currently with Israel in its repression of the Palestinians.

Now, having said all this, having described the various ways in which certain nations interfere in the affairs of others, when they should not, this leaves open the question of when, if ever, they should. Also, in those cases where action is called for, the determination must be made: what form should it take?

Interference and intervention – positive interference and intervention – is appropriate to support the democratic desires of a repressed people and also to stand against the internal policies of a nation that have negative extra-national consequences. For instance, this is regularly the case with environmental issues, since environmental crimes committed in one nation regularly have effects that extend beyond its borders (such as through watercourses, in the atmosphere, etc.). Indeed, since the planet’s entire natural environment constitutes a single ecology, where all habitats and systems have underlying interdependencies, it is the legitimate right of all the people and governments of the world to stand against crimes against nature that are committed in any nation, even if such crimes appear to have only local effects.

When it becomes clear that any such nation, i.e., its government or businesses, is engaged in such unethical behavior, the other nations of the world – their governments and people – must do what is right and stand against it. There are many possible responses, of which the first is sanctions. We must sanction unethical behavior. Not to do so, to accept the existence of wrongs, is itself unethical.

In the case of a political dictatorship, the leaders of democratic states should impose the following sanctions. For government to government relations:

- There should be no formal relations. The ambassador should be recalled, and the dictatorship’s ambassador expelled.
- There should be protest of the dictatorship’s membership in any and all international groupings, starting with the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, including efforts to have such memberships invalidated. The government should also not participate in any international forums to which representatives of the dictatorship have been invited.
- Visits from officials of the dictatorship should be banned, including from members of their families.
- All domestic investment accounts in the name of such officials or family members should be frozen, and subsequently transferred to the nation’s new government once the dictatorship is defeated.
- There should be no other forms of cooperation, including allowing the transfer of arms, high technology, the provision of military training services, etc. Also, this requires oversight to ensure that such transfers do not occur through intermediaries.
- And, the government should confer with the leaders of other nations and advise that they implement similar measures.

Democratic governments must also educate their own citizens and impose limits on the behavior of domestic institutions, particularly corporations:

- The public should be advised not to visit the dictatorships, for tourism or any other reason (perhaps excepting to visit relatives), because of the funding and legitimacy that this confers. Outright travel bans, though, such as the US has in place for Cuba, should not be used, since everyone should have the right to go and see for themselves. Members of the public must make their own determination if such a visit is ethically acceptable.
- Such freedom should not extend to businesses, though. Companies should be banned from investing in the country, and forced to suspend or divest current operations. In addition, trade with the country should be shut down.
- The government may also want to ban other exchanges, such as for sports.

Lastly, the general public itself should implement its own consumer sanction, by boycotting any goods made in the dictatorship that enter the country in defiance of the trade ban or that are available in other countries that do not have such a ban.

All of this may seem a bit extreme, but it is the only ethical position. This is not to say, though, that there are not differences between the remaining dictatorships such that variations in the imposition of sanctions against them are appropriate. For example, all of the above are definitely called for against Burma, which is run by a gang of mass-murderers, but is this also the case for China, and even the US?

In Burma, the military junta and its cronies control all economic sectors. Any trade with the nation therefore directly assists them and through this both rewards their behavior and makes their power more entrenched. There is no possibility to engage ordinary Burmese without providing this support. On the other hand, China and the US have less centralized economies such that one can purchase their goods without necessarily rewarding a state-controlled enterprise.

Another argument, though, is that people get the government that they deserve, and that the people of Burma, if only in a small way, and also the people of China and the US, are complicit in the actions of their leaders. Under this view, a consumer boycott of all goods from the latter two nations, and other stronger measures, such as the governmental sanctions just described, may also be appropriate. All the people of the world should consider boycotting Chinese goods, as a protest against China’s many forms of dictatorship, interference and environmental destruction, and also American goods, to protest the US’s regular support of political dictatorship and also its many environmental crimes.

We do not require that much trade, anyway. Trade itself is a form of interference, and, the various cultures of the world are fully capable of satisfying their own needs. Trade is one of the primary conduits through which dictatorial ideas are disseminated, foremost the dictatorship of the modern “developed” world over the traditional “undeveloped.” Indeed, it is not only trade: many governmental aid programs are also a type of interference.

Another distinction that is never or rarely made is that of economic versus social development. Aid programs are appropriate in the case of (1) natural disasters (including those caused by people, i.e., environmental destruction); (2) human crises – to save lives – such as the crises that result from war and dictatorial oppression; and also more generally (3) for basic humanitarian purposes, in other words, to assist social development. Much aid that is granted, though, is for economic development, and it comes with many strings attached, from debt, when the aid takes the form of loans, to the aforementioned cultural baggage. (All nations should be urbanized and industrialized, and everyone should wear Nike, eat McDonalds and drink Pepsi, and watch television and American movies.)

The only aid in the third category that is appropriate, though, is for social development, which raises the question: what do societies need to develop? Such needs, where outside assistance may be helpful, are actually quite few and include: education (including of the proper design and functioning of democratic political systems, and environmental and family planning education); health care; a sufficient supply of nutritious food and clean water; and other basic social infrastructure. In any case, the people themselves should develop and provide as much of this as they can, to ensure that (1) they do it – that they solve their own problems and through this learn the skill of problem solving and also reap the satisfaction of meeting their own needs (versus suffer the loss of self-esteem that comes from relying on others); and (2) that it is consistent with – that it represents positive growth in – their own cultural traditions.

The type of aid that is normally offered, though, lacks such grass roots involvement and cultural continuity. Instead, it tramples local conventions and creates corrupt, non-democratic hierarchies. (The latter occurs because “top-down” aid must be channeled through existing social hierarchies that, if they are not already corrupt and abusive of their power, are presented with irresistible temptations therefor.)

It is worth noting that the best action in many of the situations where foreign aid is under consideration, even though it may be frustrating to the people who want to help, is to do nothing. Providing aid in situations where people should actually receive none regularly constitutes cultural interference, if not cultural imperialism.

To return to sanctions, they work, but they are also typically insufficient to instigate change. Sanctions are a defense, a type of medicine, to prevent deterioration in the patient. For successful treatment more offensive measures, in the form of rebellion and outside intervention (see below), are regularly required.

Sanctions also have limited effects because in many cases they are not uniform. For instance, the US has enacted investment sanctions against Burma, but only for new investments. It has not required disinvestment for American companies that are already active in the country. This has created a loophole for the US oil company Unocal, which generates a massive cash flow for the Burmese generals (which cash is then used to buy weapons to further repress the Burmese people). Similarly, while the US has enacted limited economic sanctions, Burma’s neighbors have imposed none and, as we have seen, are actually looking to develop as many investment and trade opportunities as they can. (Witness Petronas of Malaysia’s recent purchase of the Burmese operations of Premier Oil of the UK.)

More deeply, sanctions are insufficient to bring about change because they represent pressure only from the outside. For a dictatorship to fold, there must also be resistance from within. This therefore leads us from the world of positive interference to actual intervention, including military.

It is ridiculous to believe that murderous dictatorships can be compelled to leave only through passive measures. If history demonstrates one thing, it is that such regimes must be forced from power. However, history also makes clear that any such steps are fraught with danger, and not only in the actual conflict. To the extent that those who fight oppression use the same tactics as their oppressors, first, they degrade the ethical justification for their action, and secondly, they greatly increase the chances that they will turn into dictators themselves: one repressive regime will merely supplant another.

This also provides another perspective on sanctions. The goal of sanctions is to isolate the dictatorship, to deprive it of its external sources of support. This in turn gives the people a more level playing field, and hence better prospects for their rebellion.

Even still, the dictatorship’s power may be so great that there is no possibility of success. It is in these cases that foreign intervention may be considered. Also, as with sanctions, such intervention can take many forms. Foreign governments may provide training, food and supplies, and weaponry. In severe cases, such as when great crimes are in progress, actual armed forces may need to be committed as well. This in turn could extend from air support, to destroy the dictatorship’s military installations, to the insertion of special forces for selected missions, through to supplying a large force to engage in major battles.

All manner of issues must be considered before any such support is given, the most important of which is that intervention is only appropriate in those few cases where it is clear that one side is right and the other is wrong. It is unethical to assist one side in a long-standing conflict where both sides are in the wrong. The various aspects of an “ethical war” (which seems an oxymoron but is not) include that it may only be fought in self-defense, or in support of those who are acting in self-defense, and that it must not involve non-combatants or the use of torture (that prisoners are treated well), and further that associated environmental damage must be minimized to the greatest extent possible. Regarding non-combatants, there should be no landmines or terrorism or use of child soldiers, since civilians and children are by definition non-combatants.

It is a complex equation, determining if and when force is justified, and what form it should take, but one thing is clear: it cannot be arbitrary, based on political whim and without consideration of all the possible consequences. A look at a number of conflict situations around the world, including those in which the US military is currently involved, reveals many of the factors that must be taken into account.

Regarding the Taleban and al Queida, the US has the right to defend itself from attack. As mentioned, self-defense is the one incontrovertible circumstance where violence is justified. But then the question becomes, what type of situation demands self-defense? The attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, and the clear possibility of additional attacks, certainly met this standard. However, it is also essential to recognize that options other than violence, if only over the long-term, may be available as well. The attacks against America were due in part to the clash of two dictatorial systems: extreme Islam, and unregulated and destructive global commerce, of which America is the leading proponent. America must drop its support for the latter and instead oppose it, including through opening up to the world. It should not be an isolationist bully but rather a willing and equal partner – not more than equal – in a global effort to assist human society to solve the wrenching problems it and nature now face, including from overpopulation, the consequences of the application of technology for the most part only as a means to earn profits, and the spread of other negative influences.

The US is also intimately involved in the conflict in Palestine, through its extensive aid to Israel (which is of course another reason behind the 9/11 attacks). This is a situation where the US is clearly acting unethically. Both sides in the Palestine/Israel conflict use the most heinous tactics. The US should not support one over the other. Instead, it should demand that both sides end their tit-for-tat terrorism. And, it should end all aid to Israel (foremost military, and also to Egypt), and also call for the country to return to its pre-1967 borders, to shut down the West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements, and to recognize the Palestine state.

Columbia is a similar situation. Both the government and the rebels are in the wrong. They are both responsible for war crimes, and neither will negotiate in good faith for peace. Again, the US should not pick sides. Also, it must be recognized that the civil war in Columbia is nothing new. It has dogged the nation’s entire history. The Republic of Greater Columbia, which included Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador, was founded in 1819. The first President was Simon Bolivar and the first Vice President was Francisco Santander. They in turn founded what became the Conservative and Liberal parties, favoring among other things centralized versus decentralized control, respectively. The history of the nation has been punctuated by a series of extremely violent conflicts between these two parties.

The US, by allowing itself to be drawn into the war, using the supply of drugs as a pretext, has chosen one side where both sides are in the wrong, since they both use unethical means to attempt to achieve their desired end; and also, ironically, where both sides are in the right, since they both have legitimate interests that must be satisfied. This is a situation where the two sides themselves must resolve their differences. Outside intervention is inappropriate. There is no possibility that the US support, which in this case is for the Conservatives, will lead to a successful, long-term resolution of the conflict.

Furthermore, under no circumstances should US armed forces be used to defend US corporate interests, such as the interests of Occidental Petroleum. The US defense of Occidental’s oil operations is directly contributing to the extermination of Columbian indigenous communities.

Another example is the Philippines, which is a situation where U.S. intervention is justified, although not without risk. The Philippines public has every right to be concerned about US involvement, given the support the US extended in the past to Dictator Marcos. However, the Philippines government is now a functioning democracy, and it is faced with the difficult task of governing a nation of great cultural diversity – where many groups have competing interests. One of these groups, the Abu Sayyaf, which promotes itself under the guise of Muslim nationalism, is actually a gang of murderous thieves. The government has asked for U.S. assistance, but by way of training only, and this request appears to have the support of a large percentage of the nation’s population (who are sick of Abu Sayyaf’s crimes). The most apparent risk in this situation is, since the fight is not easy, that over time the US will be called upon to expand its role. Such “mission creep” led to America’s involvement in Vietnam, and it remains perhaps the most profound risk in any conflict in which it becomes involved. US assistance to the Philippines should never extend beyond training, and this should be for a fixed duration only. As in Columbia, the government and the people of the Philippines will have to solve their own problems.

The current situation with Iraq, where the US under President Bush seems intent on going to war, is another case to consider. Iraq under Dictator Hussein has committed the worst crimes imaginable. He should be opposed at a minimum with all of the sanctions previously described. But, is it appropriate to use military intervention to bring about his defeat? Certainly the world would be a better place without him, and also Iraq. However, the US under Bush cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

There are so many reasons for this. For one, following 9/11 Bush attacked the Taliban by forming an alliance with Pakistan’s military dictatorship, which is itself a major sponsor of terrorism, including of the Taleban. This is why bin Laden and his associates have not yet been brought to justice. And, the same result could occur with Iraq. This would leave two unstable nations in the region, both in need of long-term assistance and both with their leaders on the run. But, because of the contacts and funding that these individuals have, they would remain extremely dangerous threats. (Alternatively, Bush may believe that he can get Hussein, and that this will divert attention from his failure to capture bin Laden, and also his failure to address America’s many domestic problems.)

In any case, intervention in Iraq should not be unilateral. Further, if multilateral support is not available, one must question why this is the case. And, as was just suggested, Iraq cannot be viewed in isolation, distinct from other regional and even global trends. Any action there would be futile if it were not part of a broader plan whereby the community of democratic nations positions itself properly relative to the Islamic dictatorships in the Middle East and elsewhere that practice repression and support Jihad.

It is also essential to note that the modern, now long post-Vietnam US military, certainly under Bush, wants to fight. It needs regular practice; it wants the rest of the world to fear it; and it also needs conflict to justify its funding. And, through all of this it is ensuring that the world remains insecure, so it can continue to pursue its “business.”

Because of this the people of America, and of the world, must greet with the greatest skepticism any plans by the US to engage in conflict, in particular unilaterally.

In addition, it is not only the US military with which we must be concerned. The purpose of the military – any military – has rarely been limited to defense. Indeed, the leader of an army derives little satisfaction from waiting around to be attacked. People attracted to the military want to fight, and if they perceive that there are others who can be defeated, their inclination is to take the fight to them and then take everything that they possess as their reward. For these reasons, and for much of history, governments, i.e., militaries, have engaged in armed robbery, which is otherwise known as “conquest.” And, the results of this, their legacies of imperialism and colonialism, are with us to this day.

Also, through this we can see that war cannot be used to end war – for all time. The ending of war as a social phenomenon will only be achieved when it is renounced by all societies worldwide, when we finally learn as a species that peace is the better option.

Moving on to Burma, this is a desperate situation because of the crimes that are now underway (including ethnic cleansing and the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war) and because it seems unlikely that the Burmese people can defeat the dictatorship on their own. The military junta, with all its regional allies, is simply too strong. The people therefore need support from the democratic community through the strongest of sanctions, and arguably through intervention with at a minimum the training and supply of resistance forces. In addition, Burma is unique because on the world stage it does not constitute a critical geopolitical concern. Were the democracies of the world to liberate Burma, and save its people and its extraordinary cultural and natural diversity, this would be an honest, altruistic act. And, it would fly in the face of local geopolitics, not to confront the Thais, and not to act only to boost trade with and appease China. (The people of the world should consider boycotting Thailand as a tourist destination because of the support its government gives to the Burmese dictatorship.)

However, it is notable that while the US has at least some investment sanctions against Burma, other democracies, including the nations of the EU, and Australia, South Korea and Japan, have none. Such nations (in particular France) have the regular habit of criticizing American policies, but as their own actions, or lack thereof, demonstrate, they also are hypocrites when it comes to standing up for what is right.

Lastly, for China, it appears that the entire democratic world has ceded defeat. China is apparently too big and powerful to oppose. Or perhaps the situation is simply that there is a lot of money to be made. It is easy to overlook murder and destruction when there is money on the table.

When pro-democracy demonstrators marched in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989, and were then slaughtered by the dictators, it was clear who was right and who was wrong. Similarly, it is clear in Tibet, and also in Taiwan, who is right and who is wrong. One hopes that the people of the world will someday stand against Chinese repression, and through doing so force their political leaders to act responsibly as well.

In summary, there are no simple solutions to these grievous social problems. The pacifist approach, where you stand in front of a murderer with a gun and hope he doesn’t pull the trigger, is in many cases naïve. Similarly, the militarist approach, where you reach for your gun wherever you don’t get your way, is doomed to failure. The only alternative is to discriminate, to confront each situation as a new and unique challenge, and to consider such issues as: who are we supporting and why; were we asked to help or not; are we confronting the underlying problem or only treating its surface manifestations; is the involvement unilateral or as part of a coalition; should we intervene militarily or not; if we do will we be engaged in combat or will our involvement be limited to training; what are the risks in the conflict including that it will escalate, and in what possible ways; and, as an overall judgment based on all of these factors, is such involvement ethical or not?

In any case, our response should be proportionate to the repression and destruction that the people and nature are experiencing, not to the power of those who are responsible.

In addition, we must understand that denial and inaction is not an option. The people who preach noninterference are basically saying that if you walk down a street and see a man raping a girl, that you should not do anything because it is not your business. In effect, it is only the business of the rapist and his victim.

This is absurd. The only valid response is to help combat wrongs wherever you see them. It is our business. When people say that they don’t want to interfere, what they really mean is that they are on the side of the oppressor, if not actively involved with them.

Also, there are no guarantees. When one intervenes there is no assurance that the intervention will be successful. However, the fact that this risk exists does not excuse the attempt.

Ultimately, what underlies all of the above is that our form of social organization, the idea of nations, sovereignty and national rights, is flawed. The problems that exist around the world are everyone’s responsibility. Only when we change our organization from a network of global states, that exist to compete with and dominate each other, to a global community of cultures that cooperate together and compromise, will the need for intervention ever cease.

© Roland O. Watson 2001-3