Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


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.

These include:

- Serious internal divisions, beginning with and deriving from the purge of Military Intelligence.
- 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 businessmen.

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 butterfly’s 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 – to act.

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 Win’s 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 world’s 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.