Contact: Roland Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
THE TIPPING POINT
March 19, 2005
Note: This is the third in a series of related statements. Please forward.
The military junta in Burma is now under great stress. Political dictatorship
is untenable and ultimately unsustainable in the modern world. For the SPDC, the
strains are beginning to show.
- Serious internal divisions, beginning with and deriving from the purge of Military
- A flawed National Convention, unacceptable to the international community, and
which has given the ethnic ceasefire groups in attendance a forum to express demands.
- Ill-considered treatment of the International Labor Organization, which has
the power to call for strong sanctions.
- Failure to fulfill promises and obligations to ASEAN, the United Nations, and
other state and multi-state parties.
- A failed economy, which is placing great stress on the people of Burma, and
which is attractive to only the most ruthless and profiteering of international
In other words, there has been a major series of disturbances to the equilibrium
of the SPDC, to its power structure and its ability to maintain absolute control.
We are close to the tipping point, to pushing the generals over the brink to where
they lose control and the phase transition to democracy is initiated.
Never before has it been clearer that talk is not enough. We must have action,
to tip the balance. Otherwise, the SPDC likely will adapt, reassert its control,
and regain its equilibrium.
Chaos theory says that a phase transition can be initiated by the smallest of
events. This is known as the Butterfly Effect, where the flapping of a single
butterflys wings can lead to changes in regional and even planetary weather
systems. In the Burma democracy movement, we are all effectively striving to be
the butterfly to conduct a single action that triggers the democratic transition.
To be practical, though, the more likely event is that different pro-democracy
groups will coordinate their actions to (1) create direct pressure on the SPDC
sufficient to cause it to break; or (2) create indirect pressure by influencing
other parties parties that have great power to motivate change in Burma
The key to democracy in Burma, to reaching the tipping point, lies with one of
the following five groups.
- The SPDC
- The People of Burma
- The United Nations
- The European Union
- The United States
1. For the first, it is conceivable that the SPDC will break of its own accord,
that Than Shwe and Maung Aye will shoot it out and self-destruct. Than Shwe is
ready to retire, but he cannot do this until he is certain that his chosen successors
will be secure. Otherwise, Maung Aye could purge him and his family, as occurred
to Ne Wins family (and Khin Nyunt), and which is the traditional fate of
the followers and families of deposed Burmese kings. Than Shwe fancies himself
a king, and in this regard his fate is likely to be the same.
However, we cannot rely on this to occur. We therefore should exploit the schism
at the top and also the general weakness of the Tatmadaw, including through appeals
to junior officers to rebel.
2. The people of Burma are intimidated. They risk imprisonment, and worse, if
they engage in political activities. Having said that, though, there is great
underlying tension everyone wants change and some groups are starting
to become more assertive (such as the authors of the recent democracy pamphlet
that was distributed in Rangoon). We on the outside have to find ways to directly
assist these groups, to help them escalate their resistance and once again take
to the streets.
The people of Burma came out in great numbers for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But, she
did not call for an uprising. One wonders why. Moreover, she is now being held
incommunicado. The SPDC clearly will not allow her this opportunity again, to
issue such a call.
This leaves the NLD in other hands, and for the moment it appears severely weakened.
The NLD without Daw Suu is a shadow of its former self, which fact the SPDC knows
well and which it has been exploiting. The people of Burma would rise up for Daw
Suu. The question is: will they also take to the streets without her, following
other, and new, leaders?
3. The United Nations, as described in the associated statement, is doing nothing.
It has no strategy for Burma. This is an obvious focal point for our efforts,
to convince Kofi Annan to act. And this, of course, is what we have been trying
to do for years. But Annan seems impervious to his failure on Burma, and more
importantly to the suffering of its people. His only approach has been to try
to engage the regime, and he refuses to admit that this will not work. He also
refuses to fire Special Envoy Razali Ismail. Annan needs to replace Razali, with
someone who would bring a singular determination to the position, including through
creating constant, public attention to the bloody tyranny that is being perpetrated
in Burma. (I would be happy to provide a resume.)
4. According to External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European
Union will also continue to promote engagement with the SPDC. This is remarkable.
Trying to talk to the SPDC is exactly the same, and as useful, as talking to a
wall! Where do people like Ferrero-Waldner and Annan come from? Is this the best
the international community can do for its senior diplomats: Yes, we have
an extremely challenging problem, and which is leading to great suffering, but
we will only try one tactic, which we also understand will never work.
Have they no imagination? Or courage?
Europe criticized the United States, rightly, for invading Iraq before clear evidence
of weapons of mass destruction was found. It said that every alternative should
have been explored before force was used. But now, for Burma, everything diplomatic
has been tried. Surely, consistency would demand that Europe be willing to back
stronger measures. The fact that it does not reveals its hypocrisy. Iraq was not
about WMDs and Burma is not about dialogue. Europe is not willing it does
not want to do anything! Burma is not in its backyard, so it simply does
not care. Life in the cafes of Paris and Frankfurt is nice. Why should the people
enjoying their cappuccino have to worry about brutality in some far-flung land.
They at least non-Jewish and non-Gypsy Europeans survived their
own Holocaust, thanks to the United States. But this does not mean they have an
obligation to help elsewhere.
As with the United Nations, we in the Burma democracy movement have been trying,
for years, to convince the E.U. to act. In the face of such denial, inconsistency
and intransigence, though, we can expect little support.
5. From the international community, then, this leaves only the United States.
Many people, particularly the bureaucrats in the U.N. and Europe, say that they
do not want the U.S. to be the worlds police officer. Granted. The burden
clearly should be shared. But if it is not, if the U.N. and Europe will not meet
their responsibilities, then perhaps we should ask the subjugated populations
of the world themselves, such as the Burmese, what they want. If the U.S. will
help them, should they say no?
The U.S. is already leading the way with sanctions, but we need it to do more.
There is now a public willingness, on the part of both Congress and the Administration,
to consider new and more aggressive options. But the U.S. is also preoccupied
with numerous other situations, including the severe threats of nuclear proliferation
in North Korea and Iran. We must convince it to pay attention to Burma.
We cannot permit Burma to be warehoused as a dictatorship, to allow the suffering
in the country to remain the status quo until democracy is the norm in the Middle
East and North Korea has been contained.
We need to pose the following question, again and again. Does the United States
truly want to establish democracy in Burma will it go the extra mile
or are the strong statements from Washington only words? We need the U.S. to back
up its words with action. To facilitate this, we need to organize, and then communicate
to Washington, as many ways as possible by which the U.S. can and should help,
including on the streets of Rangoon.