POLICY ON BURMA:
MORE STICK, LESS CARROT
By Roland Watson
July 27, 2009
has been in the news a lot in the last month or two:
- The regime arrested Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and her long-delayed trial is about to conclude.
- United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a fruitless visit to Burma's dictator, Than Shwe, in an effort to win her release.
- As part of its plan to control the ethnic resistance armies, both ceasefire and non-ceasefire, the Junta forced its Karen proxy army, the DKBA, to launch a rainy season offensive against the Karen National Union.
- And, a North Korean cargo ship was dispatched to Burma, reportedly with a load of missiles, but after being shadowed by the United States Navy it reversed course and returned home.
Each one of these events is complex in its own right, and requires careful analysis to reach a proper understanding. Moreover, they are the most important elements of the larger picture of the struggle for freedom in Burma. They reveal the plan of the SPDC to stay in power, the actions of its allies and cronies in support of this, and the evolving policy of other nations, and the United Nations, which supposedly support the democratic aspirations of the Burmese.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
With only thirteen days to go before her illegal six year detention was potentially to end (not that anyone seriously expected this, and which detention followed the unsuccessful assassination attempt against her at the 2003 Depayin Massacre), Daw Suu was charged with violating her house arrest because her SPDC guards let in a visitor. (You have to hand it to Than Shwe, to dream up such a ludicrous charge.) Now, following Kangaroo Court proceedings, she is likely to be sentenced to formal imprisonment.
What is most revealing about this incident is the lack of influence on the Junta by the international community, including the U.N., U.S. and E.U. For the first, Ban Ki-moon did fulfill the request of the 680,000 people who signed the petition by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners of Burma, calling for him to travel to the country and secure Daw Suu's release. But, he left empty-handed. The reason for this is that he is still following the basic policy, set by his predecessor Kofi Annan, that the U.N. Secretariat is powerless the belief that all U.N. power lies with the member states, most importantly the members of the Security Council. Even more, he has been unwilling to criticize the SPDC (and he certainly has this right, if not the obligation to do so), by openly rejecting its Roadmap, by calling for an end to its attacks on Burma's ethnic nationalities, etc. As Burma activists have come to recognize, the U.N. is useless, for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that the Secretary General views it - his own organization - this way.
For the U.S. and Europe, the lack of action is based on their desire to secure business opportunities in China. Burma is China's colony (like Tibet, East Turkestan, and Laos), so hands off. This position is underlined for the U.S. by Chinese extortion over its huge purchases of U.S. treasury bonds (currently over $800 billion). "Oppose us and we will stop buying your bonds and funding your deficit, and the United States Government will go bankrupt!"
Indeed, one can make the case that Than Shwe should also make large-scale purchases of U.S. bonds, using the proceeds of his energy sales to Chevron, Total, Daewoo, China and India. This would give him additional insurance against a U.S. intervention, even though pragmatically there is no such risk. When George Bush was President, the U.S. was preoccupied with Iraq, but there was still the chance that he would intervene. Even with the China card Than Shwe couldn't completely discount the possibility that he would act. Bush was a nut; you simply couldn't predict what he would do. (It was last summer, during Bush's final year, that unmanned drones were spotted by the Burma Army.) Obama, though, is rational, and - internationally - out of his depth. Than Shwe clearly understands that the threat from the U.S. has evaporated, hence the arrest of Daw Suu.
The only other high profile source of pressure for her release (we pro-democracy advocates are not "high-profile") has been from celebrities. God bless the celebrities. What would we do without them?
Celebrity "activists" are the masters of "forgettable campaigns." The AAPPB signature campaign was significant and powerful, even if Ban Ki-moon's personal weakness reduced its impact. The Not On Our Watch's "64wordsforSuu," or U2's ridiculous Daw Suu mask idea, while they did attract a tiny amount of press attention, were essentially worthless. Celebrities really only care about themselves. That's why they support "easy activism": non-controversial causes such as cancer, or imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winners. However, even for such causes they never make strong stands or commitments. The only outcome of their so-called activism is that they get a boost in their personal reputations, because "they care."
The Karen struggle
The SPDC has been attacking Daw Suu, and also the Karen National Union. This is not a coincidence. The two are the greatest risks to Than Shwe. Daw Suu has the power to instigate a popular uprising, and even though some parties, such as the Irrawaddy, would have us believe that the Karen are defeated, they are actually still a powerful military force, particularly in alliance with the other non-ceasefire groups, and also since the SPDC's situation with the large ceasefire groups is so tenuous. With the U.S. under control, and Thailand, surprisingly - since the Democrats are in power - also supportive, this was a good opportunity for Than Shwe to attack on both fronts.
For those who witnessed it, and this includes both SPDC spies and Thai intelligence agents, the KNU's 60th anniversary event must have caused alarm. Some 6,000 Karen came out for what was a combined Karen fair/memorial. If they could have emptied Mae La Refugee Camp, it would have been 50,000 people. It was clear even to the casual onlooker that the Karen people fully support the KNU and that the struggle is far from over.
The SPDC ordered the corrupt, drug-dealing leaders of the DKBA to attack the KNLA's 7th Brigade (the site of the anniversary). The Karen resistance withdrew, and the area is now a no mans land. The DKBA are afraid to occupy the empty camps. (They suffered over 100 KIA and 220 injuries in June alone.) And, it is now undeniable that the DKBA are traitors to the Karen cause, with the result that they are suffering large-scale defections.
Dictator Watch has said for years that the simplest solution to the Burma problem (other than a Predator drone strike against Than Shwe) is to offer inducements to desert to Burma Army soldiers and their ethnic allies such as the DKBA. With a little incentive, thousands and thousands of troops would be happy to flee. The floor would collapse under the SPDC generals, and this would cause disputes and then a coup by officers who are secret pro-democracy sympathizers. Burma would be free.
We couldn't get any money for a surrender initiative from the Bush Administration. It is also doubtful that Obama will help. Maybe we can ask the celebrities. They are billionaires. It wouldn't cost them that much: pennies in proportion to their total wealth. Plus, soliciting surrenders is a non-violent tactic. Perhaps some of the celebrities from the following list, the "pro-Burma celebrities," can be prevailed upon to become real activists.
George Clooney, Sec. Madeleine Albright, Wes Anderson, Drew Barrymore, David Beckham, Bono, Matthew Broderick, Sandra Bullock, James Carville, Michael Chabon, Daniel Craig, John Cusack, Matt Damon, Robert De Niro, Dave Eggers, Jake Gyllenhaal, Vaclav Havel, Helen Hunt, Anjelica Huston, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Ashton Kutcher, Norman Lear, Madonna, Mary Matalin, Sen. John & Cindy McCain, Rose McGowan, Orhan Pamuk, Sarah Jessica Parker, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Robert Rodriguez, Meg Ryan, Liev Schreiber, George Soros, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Watts, Prof. Elie Wiesel, Owen Wilson.
Does anybody have the ability to get an answer to an email sent to Not On Our Watch?
The Kang Nam 1
Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, and also President Obama, said that the return of the Kang Nam 1 to North Korea was proof that the sanctions on the North worked. In this case they were referring to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, which denies the North the right to sell arms to other countries, and which was passed following the atomic bomb test in May and the launching of a variety of ballistic missiles. Yet even with these sanctions North Korea continues to pursue both programs. Regarding the Kang Nam 1, the U.S. is trumpeting a small success, while the overall threat becomes even more severe, at great risk to America, its allies, and the rest of the world. There is no plan in place, none whatsoever, that will actually prevent North Korea from developing nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.
To understand the Kang Nam incident, it is essential to track the actual series of events. The incident began when a South Korea television network (YTN) reported information from a South Korean intelligence source, which info in turn originated from U.S. intelligence, that the ship had a cargo of missiles, meaning ballistic missiles, and that it was being tracked by a U.S. Navy destroyer and was destined for Burma. While the following is speculation, subsequent events imply that South Korean intelligence was not authorized by the U.S. to disclose this information.
After the news was released, YTN made a series of retractions. The ship was not carrying missiles; rather, its cargo was small arms. Then, perhaps the shipment was not even weapons at all. However, the U.S. Navy continued to follow the Kang Nam. The obvious explanation is that U.S. intelligence complained to their South Korean counterparts: "Why did you leak the intel? Now we are on the spot. We have to do something. We can't allow the ship to reach its destination." (Previous voyages of the Kang Nam 1, a known weapons carrier, had terminated at Rangoon.)
An extraordinary behind the scenes diplomatic negotiation clearly then began, and which was refereed by China. While the ship was en-route, military envoys from the U.S.; the heir apparent of the North Korean regime; Thailand's Prime Minister (any ballistic missiles acquired by Burma are targeted at Thailand); and officials of Burma's junta all made trips to China.
Then the ship turned around.
This "solution" meant that the U.S. did not have to board the Kang Nam, as called for by Senator John McCain; or direct it to a nearby port, most likely Singapore; or report it to the Security Council. The cargo was allowed to remain unconfirmed, and, significantly, the Burma link was completely dropped. (Also, when the story changed to "a cargo of small arms," as if this were a good thing, no one publicly expressed displeasure that such a cargo would be delivered to the SPDC, for use against the people of Burma.)
The Kang Nam incident speaks volumes about the Obama Administration's dearth of ideas on nuclear proliferation (we haven't yet mentioned Iran), and its lack of real concern for Burma.
The only positive outcome of the turnaround, other than that the SPDC didn't get more missiles, is the effect of its disruption on the traffickers themselves. The SPDC and North Korea are traffickers, in weapons, narcotics and people. They are gangsters. This was a deal between two different mafias, and it collapsed. Gangsters, such as the Columbian and Mexican drug cartels, do not like to see their shipments stopped. They get upset when they are. People get killed.
A major arms deal between the SPDC and North Korea failed. We don't know the terms of the deal, including what was being bartered or paid by the SPDC for the missiles, if such barter or payment had already occurred, and whatever else the Kang Nam might have had (nuclear components, perhaps even enrichment centrifuges?). In any case, there is likely to be significant fallout from the event, to resolve the transaction, and also to resume other deals that were agreed upon when SPDC General Shwe Mann visited the North.
Furthermore, Junta Foreign Minister Nyan Win's pledge to Japanese officials to comply with Resolution 1874 (not to do nuclear and missile business with North Korea) is a bald-faced lie. Secretary of State Clintons comment that the pledge was a positive development, was naïve.
United States policy
The United States policy on Burma is already weak. Now President Obama and Secretary Clinton seem determined to make it even weaker.
If the U.S. wants to free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, it should do it!!! The Administration should not just plaintively complain, again and again. This makes the United States appear pathetic, but it is actually a great power. It would be a simple task to free Daw Suu: just take out the SPDC with drone-launched Hellfire missiles and at the same time helicopter in special forces to the prisons where she and the other political prisoners are held. One well-planned operation could free her, and the country, in a weekend, and the fifty million people of Burma would be eternally grateful.
To hell with the Junta's patron, the Communist Party of China!!! Take a stand for Burma on principle, not geopolitical "reality"!
Similarly with the Karen, the United States has been accepting tens of thousands of Karen refugees. (The 50,000th refugee has now left the border camps in Thailand, although this includes some individuals from other ethnic groups.) This resettlement program actually helps the SPDC. The United States is completing the final stage of the Junta's plan to depopulate Karen State of Karen people. The SPDC drives the Karen from their villages to Thailand, and then the U.S. sends them to the other side of the world.
We shouldn't forget the Junta's bluster that in the future the only Karen will be in a museum in Rangoon. The update to this is: "or America."
Instead of spending millions of dollars to resettle refugees, the U.S. should give the money to the ethnic resistance groups to fight the SPDC. The refugees do not want to come to America. They want to go home. Help them do this!
A little noticed recent event illustrates the complexity - and immorality - of American policy: The United States sent forty tons of weapons to Somalia. Why on earth would it do such a thing: Somalia has no functioning government? The reason is that Somalia has al-Qaeda. Pity poor Burma, if only the country had al-Qaeda terrorists, it would get all the help it needs. Burma has terrorists, of course, the SPDC, but they are not the types of terrorists that Washington cares about.
Lastly, the U.S. should be be open and honest about the nuclear proliferation threat facing the world, including the SPDC's role therein. We are continuing our call for the State Department to publish the long-delayed Report on Military and Intelligence Aid to Burma, as required by Section 10 of the Tom Lantos JADE Act, and also to appoint the Special Envoy for Burma as required by Section 7.
The JADE Act further originally called for tax provisions that would have forced Chevron to divest from the Yadana pipeline, but these provisions were removed at the behest of California Senator Dianne Feinstein. In their place Section 15 expresses Congress' meaningless and impotent "concern" about the at least $500 million that the pipeline gives the SPDC annually, and requests that Chevron withdraw voluntarily.
If you have not read the actual law, please visit the following link. (The JADE Act is potentially much more significant that the just renewed Burma Freedom and Democracy Act.) Section Ten is then given in its entirety.
"SEC. 10. REPORT ON MILITARY AND INTELLIGENCE AID TO BURMA.
(a) In General- Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate a report containing a list of countries, companies, and other entities that provide military or intelligence aid to the SPDC and describing such military or intelligence aid provided by each such country, company, and other entity.
(b) Military or Intelligence Aid Defined- For the purpose of this section, the term `military or intelligence aid' means, with respect to the SPDC--
(1) the provision of weapons, weapons parts, military vehicles, or military aircraft;
(2) the provision of military or intelligence training, including advice and assistance on subject matter expert exchanges;
(3) the provision of weapons of mass destruction and related materials, capabilities, and technology, including nuclear, chemical, or dual-use capabilities;
(4) conducting joint military exercises;
(5) the provision of naval support, including ship development and naval construction;
(6) the provision of technical support, including computer and software development and installations, networks, and infrastructure development and construction; or
(7) the construction or expansion of airfields, including radar and anti-aircraft systems.
(c) Form- The report required under subsection (a) shall be submitted in unclassified form but may include a classified annex and the unclassified form shall be placed on the Department of State's website."
After we first publicized the report's delay, a journalist asked in a State Department press briefing, in general terms, if the government was obliged to follow the terms of the JADE Act. The spokesperson offered a similarly imprecise and bureaucratic response. It is unfortunate that the question was not specific to Section 10. Also, some people have speculated that perhaps the Act has not been funded. (Laws, even when passed, must receive a budget to be implemented, which is contained in another law - an appropriations bill.) But the JADE Act in part amends the Burma Freedom and Democracy Act, which surely is funded. Also, how much can preparation of the report cost?
In any event, we have evidence that the report was prepared on schedule. It just has not been publicly disclosed.
Burma is a key player in the nuclear proliferation nexus involving North Korea, Iran, Russia and China. In part because the report has yet to be made public, this status is not being given anywhere near the attention that it deserves.
We have previously revealed many aspects of the SPDC's program, including its production of yellowcake uranium. Another aspect of the overall proliferation picture is that it is known that Iran has used up the bulk supplies (six hundred tons) of yellowcake that it purchased from South Africa in the 1970s. Iran is now running 5,000 centrifuges, with another 2,000 set to come online. Its program requires a lot of yellowcake. A logical source for this is Burma, and for which we and others have some confirmation.
(As with North Korea, the Administration has no plan to prevent Iran's Islamic theocracy from obtaining atomic bombs.)
Similarly, we have anecdotal word that the SPDC has begun its own enrichment program. It was disclosed earlier this month in a Security Council sanctions on North Korea enforcement announcement (by the U.S.) that the Junta has a business relationship with Nomchongang Trading, a North Korean company that has acquired Japanese-made centrifuge components.
These are only a few of the different pieces of the proliferation puzzle, of which we have no doubt that United States Intelligence is well informed, and which information should be disclosed in the Section 10 Report.
The Obama Administration is stonewalling. We do not understand why revealing all aspects of the nuclear threat, as John F. Kennedy did when the Soviet Union based nuclear-armed ballistic missiles in Cuba, is not the right thing to do.
The nuclear and missile threat from Burma is the best reason to discuss the country in the Security Council, and in a way that China and Russia would find difficult to sustain their vetoes on Council action. It is also a legitimate rationale for an intervention in Burma.
As a final note, to the people of Burma: If the United States continues its posturing but fails to act, when your country is free - and some day Burma will be free - you should never forget that for all the strong words, America was not really your friend.
Secretary Clinton was recently in Thailand. She made some seemingly strong comments, including that the U.S. is concerned about the North Korea-Burma nuclear connection. The U.S. has only become worried because it has been forced to appear worried. Dictator Watch and others have revealed the nuclear plot for years, but the Kang Nam incident, and mistake (the leak), forced the Administration to acknowledge the problem. Such public concern, though, does not mean that the U.S. will act.
Secretary Clinton also called on Asean to expel Burma if Daw Suu is imprisoned, but this is asking others to act.
Hillary Clinton follows Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Madeleine Albright: a more than ten year record of public concern by the United States for Burma, but with no accompanying decisive action.