Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


Recent events

The United States designated the United Wa State Army a terrorist organization, because of its role as a supplier of narcotics. This was revealed by Rand Beers, Assistant Secretary of State for drug and law enforcement, and Francis Taylor, Ambassador-at-Large for counter-terrorism.

Priscilla Clapp, U.S. Charge d’Affairs in Rangoon, then rescinded the designation, apologizing for the “mistake.” (Once again, United States foreign policy speaks with one voice!)

Kobsak Chutikul, deputy leader of the Chart Pattana political party in Thailand, proposed that the U.S. should not rule out military intervention against the Wa.

The Bangkok Post quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying that if the SPDC do not “put the Wa out of the drug business … the Americans will get directly involved.”

The Shan announced that the real terrorists are the SPDC themselves.

A coup attempt has been reported by the SPDC, involving Ne Win’s family. Two views on this are that the attempt was real – that it was in the process of being planned; and that the announcement and subsequent roundup was manufactured by the leading generals as a means to eliminate Ne Win’s residual influence.

Prior to this the SPDC made major weapons purchases from China and Russia (using funding from western oil companies), for the latter including SAM missile batteries to beef up its border defenses, and MIG-29s. It has been reported that the SPDC’s greatest fear is military intervention from the U.S.

The Shan are right. The SPDC are the real terrorists:

- Through their repression they are terrorizing the people of Burma.
- They are also environmental terrorists, through their systematic destruction of the natural environment of Burma, which, lying as it does at the end of the Himalayan mountains, represents one of the greatest sources of biological diversity on earth. They are terrorizing, and exterminating, this life.
- And, they have given sanctuary to Pakistani nuclear experts who are not only sympathetic to the Taleban and al Queida but may actually have assisted them in the materials acquisition and technological training necessary for nuclear terrorism. The SPDC are harboring a non-ignorable terrorist threat to the entire world.


All of this raises the question: should there be foreign military intervention in Burma?

The use of force is justified in self-defense, and to assist others in their own defense from attack, particularly if they request it. For the first, the people of Burma have a legitimate right to defend themselves. They have been – and are continually being – attacked by the SPDC. Further, they have the right to request foreign assistance, as from the United States, the nations of the European Union, and Australia. They could ask these countries to intervene militarily and defeat their oppressors. In addition, such nations have their own legitimate grounds for responding favorably to such a request (or even for acting without first being asked), which is to ensure their own defense from nuclear attack. They are in fact obliged to counteract all potential sources of such an attack, and this includes taking action against anyone who harbors the threat.

Russia is also selling nuclear technology to the SPDC. One wonders if the Pakistani experts will get access to this.

Another explanation for the coup announcement is that it was done to create a misdirection, an artificial barrier to just such an intervention. This may hold with the dialogue with the NLD as well.

Should there be foreign military intervention in Burma? And, should the people of Burma themselves request such intervention? These are complex questions, with many factors to consider, and risks. However, one thing is clear. It is now forty years since Ne Win took power. It would be a tragedy if the people of Burma witnessed his final defeat only through the complete entrenchment of his successors. The saying goes: if you cut off the tail of a snake, it will grow another. If you want to kill it, you have to cut off its head.

In summary, the argument for military intervention is as follows. There is a bully, the SPDC; and its gang, the governments of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore (along with numerous multinational corporations); and its big brother, China. The bully’s victim is Burma: its people, cultures, and nature. The people must stand up for themselves and fight, but they could use some help.

The argument against intervention is that peace and the transition to democracy should be sought through negotiation, backed-up by strong foreign diplomacy and activism, and also that the risks are too great to bear.


There would be many risks associated with military intervention, the first of which is in the actual conflict. (The irony of an Allied force facing weapons paid for by their own corporations would be hard to overstate.) Still, one can argue that for the people of Burma a decisive confrontation now, even though it would likely involve casualties, is better than perpetual repression. Also, the SPDC would be a less than formidable opponent:

- The nation offers sea access. Allied forces could be moved to the area in a matter of days.
- Even given the recent weapons shipments, the Burmese military is still poorly armed and directed.
- Most importantly, the Burmese army, the Tatmadaw, would prove an easy if not willing opponent. Unlike the Taleban and al Queida, they have no desire to fight. Countless soldiers are actually young men and boys who have been press-ganged into service. It is likely that at the initiation of the conflict they would throw down their arms, or turn them against the generals. It is essential to note that in the 1990 elections, which the generals invalidated, the vast majority of the armed forces voted for democracy.

The Burmese dictatorship, for all its supposed strength, is a house of cards that the slightest foreign military intervention will blow down. Indeed, actual combat many not even be required. As Teddy Roosevelt demonstrated almost one hundred years ago, gunboat diplomacy may be sufficient, in this case to cause the dictators to run and take exile in China.

As this suggests, a related issue with intervention is that it must be properly focused. All the talk to-date has centered on drugs and the Wa. Indeed, action against them is probably already being planned, perhaps as an extension of the annual Cobra Gold military exercises. However, the drugs that emanate from Burma are merely a symptom of a deeper problem. All of the specific concerns about Burma, including ethnic cleansing, forced labor, migrant labor, deforestation, the sex trade, AIDS, etc., reflect this problem, which is of course the dictatorship itself. None of these concerns can ever be addressed effectively without targeting the SPDC. Therefore, any intervention directed solely at drugs (and justified on this basis), is doomed to failure.

More generally, there are the risks that are associated with any military action, especially one involving the U.S. Indeed, how could anyone suggest such a thing? The U.S. military is unable to say no, to stay out of other people’s business, particularly in civil wars where both sides are in the wrong (this is not the case in Burma); to escalation whenever and wherever it gets involved; and to unimaginable funding and weapons programs. Hence, any such involvement, or request for involvement, should be not for unilateral assistance but instead for a multinational effort.

Then there are the risks, and issues, related to making such a request. Would it be appropriate for the people of Burma to ask for help, and if so how should they do it? This would require a major consensus-building effort, and there would inevitably be disagreement. Many pro-democracy groups are committed to dialogue and non-violence. In addition, there is the issue of pride: is it seemly to ask for help?

As an example of the last, though, the government of the Philippines has requested U.S. assistance, in the form of military trainers, to help it confront the Abu Sayyef. However, this has not been without controversy, witness the recent visit of foreign peace activists to the country. Also, such involvement already shows signs of escalation. On the other hand, the intervention reportedly enjoys great support among the general public, who have had enough of the Abu Sayyef’s terrorism and crimes. (In such a situation, whose voices should decide?)

Lastly, there is the question: if you ask, will they come? For America, it likes to present itself as the champion of freedom and democracy, but is this real or is it a misdirection in its own right? There is no other way to find out than to ask. And, for America, there would be no better way to make its words real than by relieving the suffering of some forty-eight million people.

Dictator Watch welcomes comments. Obviously, we believe the idea of military intervention should be considered, if only to pressure the dictatorship and force it to negotiate with sincerity. Indeed, were such an intervention to occur, Burma would be free this year. The long wait would be at an end, although great challenges, associated with building a new Burma, would be just beginning. However, this is not our decision to make. It is up to the people of Burma. Their new democracy should start now. This is in fact our real goal: to stimulate discussion and revive the democracy movement from the morbidity into which it has lapsed.