January 21, 2007
Thanks to the vetoes of
China and Russia, the United Nations Security Council failed to approve a resolution
against the murderous military junta of Burma, the SPDC. Lest anyone doubt the
significance of this, three things are now clear.
China and Russia are the enemies of the people of Burma.
The United Nations, regarding its most important responsibility, is useless.
The International Community will not come to the rescue of Burma.
China, Russia, and the United States
In a 1999 article, Burma and Chaos, I wrote:
China has a critical vested interest in ensuring that democracy in Burma does not take hold, and there are many elements of this. Among the most important:
- Democracy in Burma would lead to great pressure on China to reverse its violent annexation - its colonial occupation - of Tibet. China will do everything in its power to fight such a precedent being established locally, to any extension in its area of direct influence of the global trend of dictatorships falling like dominoes.
- Such pressure would also be a huge challenge to the Chinese dictatorship itself, and a great boon to the efforts of Chinese democracy activists.
- It would have a significant effect on China's present and future access to the Indian Ocean.
In the last eight years, none of this has changed. The Chinese dictatorship continues to be freedoms enemy, not only in Burma, Tibet, Taiwan and China itself, but in many other countries as well. What has changed is that to the above list we can now add rape. It is in recent years that Chinas rape of Burmas natural environment has accelerated. And, as a rapist itself, it would hardly want to censure the SPDCs crime of rape, the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war against the women of Burmas ethnic nationalities.
All Burmese people must treat China accordingly. People inside Burma should at a minimum boycott Chinese merchants. People outside should protest, including by helping to organize a worldwide consumer boycott of made in China goods, the countrys support for the SPDC. (This should be one thing on which the different groups that comprise the pro-democracy movement can agree.)
The Russian veto was also predictable. Under Putin, Russias policy has returned to the era of the Soviet Union; it is virtually a reprise of the Cold War. The situation inside Burma between the U.S. and Russia and China is a variation on the Cold Wars many proxy wars, where the great powers maneuvered for advantage through smaller states.
There is a complicated geopolitical game of poker underway, between the U.S., China and Russia. Burma is just one chip in this game.
There are undoubtedly extensive behind-closed-doors negotiations, between the three powers, and over many issues. Pressure on Burma depends on what else is at stake and how the negotiations develop, including on Irans nuclear program, North Korea's nuclear program, the level of the Chinese yuan, Russian oil, and even Iraq.
In addition to all the other reasons why China and Russia support Than Shwe, it was always unlikely, after the U.S. secured their votes in the Security Council against Iran, that they would act against the SPDC as well.
The Bush Administration does in the last year or so finally seem to be "caring" about Burma, but it remains a low priority. Also, it was a mistake for the Administration to water down the resolution. The SPDC, through the spillover effects of its horrific repression, is a threat to international security and peace. As former Ambassador Bolton implied in some of his comments, the resolution outcome was not unexpected; what was important was to get China and Russia on record as being against freedom for Burma.
South Africas vote, on the face of it, was a surprise. However, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met South Africas President Thabo Mbeki in Capetown in June 2006. They signed a landmark economic cooperation agreement. Mbeki then visited Beijing in November and met Chinas Number One Dictator, Hu Jintao, in which meeting South Africas upcoming turn on the Security Council was discussed (and its Burma vote no doubt secured). Jintao in turn will be visiting South Africa in February. What this situation demonstrates is that the world is all about money now. Bribery, which comes in many different forms, is effective. Human rights have no value whatsoever.
United Nations Security Council
The Security Council is the core institution of the United Nations. It bears the responsibility for which the organization was first founded: to confront repression and aggression and to establish and maintain peace worldwide.
It is not fulfilling this responsibility. The main reason for this failure is that the permanent members are using their veto power to pursue perceived national interests. The U.S. vetoes against Council resolutions on Israel are simply the mirror image of the Chinese and Russian vetoes on Burma. (I do not mean to equate Israeli treatment of the Palestinians with the actions of the SPDC, nor to imply that all Security Council resolutions against Israel were justified.)
The situation in the Council is simple. It isnt about security; its about politics. And this extends to the General Assembly and also the Human Rights Council. When the U.N. was established following World War II, most nations in the world were united in the sense that they had just shared a traumatic experience, caused by megalomaniacs with an obsession for power, and that they did not want this to be repeated. In the last sixty years, though, this unity has evaporated, first through the Cold War, and then involving China (its 1959 annexation of Tibet), and subsequently in the Middle East.
The simplest solution to these types of problems is to eliminate the archaic veto power. However, as long as the United Nations includes dictatorships and serial human rights abusers, it will never function well. As I have written before, the only real solution positive change requires dramatic action is to shut it down and replace it with the Community of Democracies. To accomplish this, the U.S. should withdraw from the so-called United Nations and transfer its support to the Community.
Security Council and Burma
As this isnt likely to happen soon, Burma activists must continue to push for Security Council action. However, with the recent vetoes, such action has come to a stop. The only way to get the Council moving again on Burma is to document the type of threats that it cannot refuse to consider: nuclear proliferation and also terrorism.
I am convinced that United States intelligence efforts against North Korea, Iran, Russia and China would have uncovered links to Burma that would have also been investigated. But just because Intelligence knows about the SPDC's nuclear program does not mean that the information will be used publicly. It could easily be blocked by diplomats, by the State Department, or by the President's associates and advisors.
In its negotiations with China and Russia the U.S. is probably describing some of what it knows about this program (but likely not all, to protect its sources). But given Burmas low priority it is doubtful that the U.S. will make the information public, unless it has a clear reason relative to its positioning to China and Russia to do so.
We cannot rely on this to occur. We therefore need to document and verify the program to such an extent that its existence cannot be disputed.
Anyone inside Burma who is in a position to gather intelligence should do so. We need as many sources as possible.
The primary targets are Russia and North Korea, as they appear to be the leading suppliers of nuclear equipment and technical assistance. We need to collect as much information as possible about any and all Russian and North Korean activities involving Burma.
The other focus is geographical. There appear to be three main centers of activity for the program. For the first, in Magwe Division, reports have come from Natmauk, Taungdwingyi and Minhla. Anyone who has relatives in these areas, or who travels through them, is in a position to collect intelligence.
The second location centers around Maymyo, and southwest towards Kyaukse. The third includes Mogok, Thabeikkyin, and up the Irrawaddy River to Moehnyin. There are other possible intelligence targets as well, including all restricted areas and also ports, military bases, and the Rangoon and Mandalay airports and train stations. (We need to compile a list of all the restricted areas and military bases inside Burma, together with an analysis of their function.)
Every piece of information, such as news of North Korean technicians at a particular location, or officials traveling to or from Russia, will enable us to construct a fuller picture of the SPDCs program and of how it threatens international security and peace.
Further, for any specific intelligence that is collected, we need to evaluate its credibility, including of the source and also intermediate communication channels if they are used (e.g., to get the information out of Burma). It is essential to eliminate rumor and disinformation.
Lastly, as with all revolutionary activities, safety is crucial: Dont get caught!
The International Community versus the People of Burma
The news out of the United Nations is bad, but it is not without a significant silver lining. It clarifies, once and for all, that change in Burma must come from the people of the country. The strategy of the pro-democracy movement has been based on two core beliefs: first, that dialogue will work, that it is possible to talk to Than Shwe and negotiate a democratic transition; and secondly that foreign assistance will play a critical role in helping to free the country.
It is now clear it has actually been clear for years that these beliefs are false. Than Shwe refuses to talk; and the international community wont help, at least not in a significant way.
As an example of the latter, Asean persists in its unwillingness to pressure the junta, and the fact that it did not support the U.N. resolution was used by China as a justification for its veto.
The democracy movement has been in denial about a basic fact of social change: the defeat of a dictatorship requires revolution. Winning your freedom is hard, dangerous work, and there are no short cuts. The United States Revolution, for instance, required over five years of brutal war. The Continental Army lost many battles, and ultimate victory was regularly in doubt. The Army also received material assistance weapons and ammunition, and a naval blockade from France. Burma freedom fighters receive no such help.
The new campaigns by the 88 Generation Students are excellent, because they are helping to fuel a widespread political re-awakening inside Burma. But these campaigns are only a beginning. The revolutionary fervor of the people also needs to be re-ignited.
It is a disaster that the Fighting Peacock appears to have died. It has been months since the last report of the symbol being posted inside Burma. Do the people of the country, in homes and at tea shops, even still talk about it?
When the Fighting Peacock returns, the final fight for freedom will have begun.