Roland Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. BURMA POLICY
THE CURTAIN PARTS
March 4, 2010
I have previously commented that nations regularly have multiple foreign
policies on any given issue: The policy that the leaders announce publicly, for
show, and the real policy that is kept secret behind closed diplomatic doors.
For example, for the United States and Burma, in the sixteen years that I have
been working on the cause there have been many different U.S. presidents, secretaries
of state, political secretaries, military attaches, and Burma desk officers. Throughout
this period, though, announced U.S. policy towards Burma has been constant, with
only minor changes and developments. The basic policy point has been a call for
Burma's military junta to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners,
and then to engage in a negotiated transition to democracy. This call has been
backed up by economic sanctions. After some ten years of documentation and advocacy,
the activist community also finally got the U.S. to acknowledge the atrocities
that the regime is committing against Burma's ethnic minorities. To-date, though,
the U.S. response has been limited to public recognition of the atrocities, without
a demand that they be ended, much less with the organization of the means to back
up such a demand, from pushing for war crimes prosecution, to a comprehensive
arms embargo, to the introduction of an international peacekeeping force.
year the new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, announced that U.S. Burma policy
would be changed, and move from confrontation based on sanctions to a willingness
to engage, accompanied by an offer to end the sanctions. The stated reason given
for the change was the plausible argument that since the prior policy had yet
to yield tangible results, e.g., the freeing of DASSK, it was time to try something
A rare event has now revealed what actually underlies the U.S. policy
shift. The dense curtain obscuring genuine U.S. motivations has been pulled aside.
This event is the publication of certain information in this week's Washington
Post article by John Pomfret, "U.S. increasingly wary as Burma deepens
military relationship with North Korea."
In the article, "a
senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because
of the sensitivity of the subject," said that "concerns about
the relationship -- which encompass the sale of small arms, missile components
and, most worryingly, possible nuclear-weapons-related technology -- helped prompt
the Obama administration last October to end the Bush-era policy of isolating
the military junta."Further, "senior U.S. officials have had
four meetings with their Burmese counterparts, with a fifth one expected soon.
'Our most decisive interactions have been around North Korea,' the official said.
'We've been very clear to Burma. We'll see over time if it's been heard.'"
United States Government, including from before Bush, talked strong on Burma,
but did little. The country wasn't a pressing issue; it didn't directly involve
important U.S. concerns. Instead, the U.S. yielded to Unocal - now Chevron, and
China (in return, one wonders, for what?).
This has now changed, because
of Burma's nuclear program and its links to North Korea, Russia and also China.
Secretary Clinton's statement was purposefully misleading. Indeed, when U.S. officials
meet the junta, DASSK and the upcoming election in Burma aren't even the top agenda
items. North Korea is.
Burma with an active nuclear program, guided by
North Korea, is a major threat to international security and peace. The U.S. can
no longer periodically issue comforting bromides, but otherwise ignore the country.
Instead, it has to pay attention, and be prepared to act.
It would be far
better if the United States, in keeping with President Obama's promise of real
change, chose to be open and forthright about this problem.