What should the US do to restore democracy to Burma?

Burma is being ruled by a junta, who recently attacked a motorcade of the elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, killing a number of her supporters. She was captured and imprisoned. In a Wall Street Journal article, Colin Powell called for various measures. (link requires registration)

I’m glad to see the US showing concern for human rights in Burma. The legislation sounds like a good idea to me.

Although the steps described in this article are a big improvement, I wonder whether they’re enough to change the government of Burma. Should the US (or the UN) do even more? If so, what additional steps should be considered?

OTOH, maybe the legislation is a bad idea. Many would say we’re not the world’s policeman. Maybe we should let the UN take the lead, and the US should merely fulfill its UN obligations.


Legislation is pretty mild, out of the general spectrum of actions that could be taken against Burma and Burmese officials. Even I have no problem with the legislation concept in terms of visa restrictions and the like for government officials. I generally have mixed feelings about economic sanctions, as IMO they are more likely to hurt the people who least deserve it; dictators generally have plenty of ways to get cash n spite of sanctions, as the recent history of Iraq demonstrates.

(And I must say I’m glad to see you expending some energy on a country outside the Middle East.)

All I can say is that 13 years after the elections were thrown and Aung San was first put under house arrest, I guess it’s a case of better late than never

I’m very happy to hear this. Though it’s slightly offensive to me, I think the approach is always going to be more carrot than stick (since Burma was accepted into ASEAN a few years ago, sanctions would be less than effective). Publicly leaning on Burma will also help to alleviate the perception of cynicism in current US foreign policy. Let’s hope they follow through effectively.

There’s an amusing saying in North Africa that “Any appointment [time] is good for three months.” Meaning of course, appointments are good for whenever you want to show up.

In the case of the Bush administration, I believe we can change this to “Any political event is good for 3 decades, if it fits our agenda at the moment.”


13 years of nonstop diplomatic efforts have been fruitless.

They have amassed huge stockpiles of WMD - trust me on that.

And they were the real perpretrators behind 9/11.

Our mighty coalition of the US and some guy named Fred will not be denied!

(Uh, BTW, do they happen to have oil? No? Well, then - nevermind!)

I thought that the jackasses ruining Burma were called SLORC…

I don’t much care for sanctions, for the reasons listed above- they hurt the people, not the gov’t, generally. Although, shutting off their access to foreign money may help, but a lot of the money in Burma comes from drug trafficking- poppies, esp.

I have always wanted to go to Burma, but didn’t when I was in the neighborhood because I didn’t want to give money to the gov’t. (Which is what I understand happens with tourism $$$).

If I remember correctly, there is an additional, unsurprising problem with Burma- the Burmese (majority ethnicity and also make up the gov’t) have oppressed the Mon, Karen, and Shan- ethnic minorities. Assuming the junta is removed, this place has Balkans written all over it.

The US should go to the U.N. and promote international pressure against Burma. Not immediate threats of violence. In the event of Elections, there should be U.N. observers to ensure a fair election.

A letter to the editor in today’s Globe says it well:

The Burmese junta – nasty thugs! –
Are dissing Aung Suu Kyi!
We’ll help her out, although it drags us
Into World War III!



They have plenty so bombs away!

I also have it from reliable sources that Sauron has again taken human form and is being sheltered by the junta while he breeds an army of indestructible orcs.

Time for an ass whuppin’ I say.

By the way, why does the OP say “restore” democracy to Burma? When did they ever have it before?

They have a theoretical democracy.

Exactly. Burma has never been a democracy, despite holding an election or two. It doesn’t count if the winners of the elections are imprisoned or executed rather than taking office.

Look, the US can only afford to invade and topple at most one odious dictatorship per year. Last year it was Afghanistan, this year it was Iraq. Burma will have to wait.

The truth is that there really is nothing we can do about Burma, short of military invasion, or hoping for some sort of popular uprising. Sanctions, UN resolutions, diplomatic pressure…all meaningless. The Burmese junta has no need for positive PR, they have minimal trade (outside of heroin). So we wait for a popular uprising. But we have no control over that uprising, and there is nothing suggesting such an uprising will ever take place. If such an uprising ever does take place it will be done by the Burmese.

So the answer to the question is: nothing we can do.

Oh, and I have no idea why you’d blame president Bush for not invading Burma 13 years ago. Because, you know, he was only elected in 2000. In case you forgot. Now, all sarcasm aside, which of you want us to invade Burma, and which of you don’t? OK, we invaded Iraq and we havn’t invaded Burma yet. Does that mean we should invade Burma, or that we shouldn’t invade Burma? In order to be consistent, the US must invade every hellhole of a country? Exactly how many invasions do you want? Burma, Congo, Liberia, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Zimbabwe…all could make the list. Would the invasion of Iraq be more justified if we invaded some of those countries? Of course not, the invasion of Iraq has to be justified on its own merits. Why does the fact that we haven’t invaded Burma mean that we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq? Maybe we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq, but what does Burma have to do with Iraq? Shouldn’t we be discussing what to do about Burma (ie, nothing) in this thread?

Just a nitpick, but the post-independance governments of Prime Minister U Nu ( 1948-1956, 1957-1958, 1960-1962 ) are generally considered to have been democratic. More or less, anyway. True one-party rule is usually dated from General Ne Win’s coup in 1962, which overthrew the government elected in 1960.

  • Tamerlane

Bush has already had two wars. I don’t think he’ll try to sell us on a third during this term. If Colin Powell’s talking tough about Burman, that doesn’t mean an invasion is imminent, it just means he wants to appear concerned, and maybe really is concerned. But he’s not the president.

The 2004 election will in essence be a referendum on Bush’s military policies. If he wins, and the Repubs still control Congress, then I guess he’ll do whatever the hell he wants. But I don’t think Burma would be high on the list – he certainly didn’t name it as part of the “Axis of Evil.” (In fact, I wonder if Bush, before he took office, even knew Burma existed.) Highest priorities would be North Korea, Iran and Cuba, not necessarily in that order.

Diplomatic pressure is fine, and public recognition of the Burmese government as Very Bad People is just dandy, but I think we should leave it at that. Humanitarian missions are, generally speaking, beyond the scope of what our military should be used for. As for the sanction? Meh. I’m fairly ambivalent about those - they have their pros and cons.


The US is Burma’s biggest export partner, we absorb 27% of their goods. If we could pressure India & China on the Burma issue then maybe economic screws could be used to pressure the Burmese government.

As far as sanctions, Even though they failed in Iraq i thought they worked in Lybia and Sudan.

Then again, burmas economy is $63 billion and hte US imports 27% of burmas $1.8 billion a year export business. so thats not too big of a hit they’d be taking.