Burma: Thinking about Sisyphus

30 Sep

the contest for apt sentiments:

Our hearts are with those who struggle in Burma because they must, because you will never be wholly owned as long as you continue to struggle. It’s easy for me to say that, though, isn’t it? Which is why writing this is hard; my awe of those who put their lives on the line is humbling. May we all have the courage of our convictions as those who struggle against the military dictatorship do.

And, here, I was going to stop. Discussing what is admirable, though, should not detract from criticizing what, as it were, is making Sisyphus push that rock up that hill. There’s a reason why Myanmar is a problem, and it’s not because any one country has not gotten tough, or not because of a dearth of sanctions laws, or lack of publicity. It’s because the world can never agree what needs to be done, and is more concerned for its own national concerns.

, justifiably:

Sanctions alone have never collapsed a tyranny. Usually it just results in misery for the people who already suffer under the oppressive tyrants, a dynamic which the UN tried to avoid in Iraq by establishing the Oil-for-Food program. That turned into a massive corruption scandal that wound up enriching the tyrant that sanctions supposedly targeted. Even without the corruption, the sanctions lost popularity in just a couple of years, with some nations arguing that they killed 5,000 Iraqi children a month. The world has almost as little tenacity for sanctions as they do for military action.

The notion that worldwide condemnation would change the direction of the military junta seems mostly naive.

In another post, he attacks :

This process enables people to change action for rhetoric. We do that often enough already. In the case of Burma, even the testimony of diplomats attesting to dozens dead in the streets hasn’t convinced China, Thailand, or India to cut off Burma and close down trade with them. Are we to believe that a strongly-worded letter from the State Department recapping what everyone already knows about the Burmese military dictatorship will exceed the power of those images?

Reliance on challenge documents just lets everyone off the hook. It seeks to embarrass governments that have no accountability to their people. Shame doesn’t work in that setting, and for those who think that is the ultimate in diplomatic offensives, it keeps other solutions off the table. That’s the harm.

Shame seeks to use group dynamics, to modify the behavior of a subgroup, in this case, the Burmese junta. Unfortunately, there are processes already at work, political and economic. Social psychological forces count for little at the global level. But, sanctions, are more a domestic palliative, for the governments giving them than for the junta receiving them, than a sharp tool, as Morrissey argues.

Again, Michael J.W. Sticking’s raises to advocate sanctions.

These are “techniques are modeled on the sanctions designed against North Korea,” sanctions which have been somewhat successful in terms of cutting off (Western) investment and other engagement with the Hermit Kingdom. But there is only so much the U.S. and Europe can do without Chinese and Indian support. As long as the totalitarians in Burma have China and India to prop up their regime, efforts to “speed their demise” may not be all that effective.

Still, it’s something — and something (Bosnia) is better than nothing (Rwanda). With military action not feasible, the crisis in Burma forces the U.S. and Europe to pursue other means, notably diplomacy (through the U.N.), tougher sanctions, pressure on China and India, and, presumably (hopefully), secret efforts in support of the protesters and their cause.

Sticking’s wants to use shame to persuade India and China to pressure Myanmar, as well as implementing sanctions against the junta itself. Firstly, the Burmese people need closer integration with global markets, not less. Sanctions both inflict pain, but, as in the case of the DPRK, actually empower a sadistic state apparatus to mismanage its state and economy without the scrutiny of markets. Doing just something takes a backseat to doing something in a coordinated way. The UN and all major players have to agree, and that has not happened. And, it never will.

is an example. Any reaction short of parking a destroyer in the Indian Ocean is just perfunctory, and no other player would join Japan. So, instead of an honest reaction, Tokyo will lodge complaints. Netizens will raise awareness of Myanmar’s plight with their invective, to a certain extent. There’s not enough journalist or oil deposits in the world the Burmese junta could kill or spike, to alienate every country in the world with sufficient sadism and ineptitude for the world to park its armed forces around the Burmese borders.

Another pet peeve is . Is it Myanmar, or Burma? I think it’s just childish not to use Myanmar, to spite the junta. But, there is the issue of comprehension. So, I’ve chosen to use ‘Myanmar’ as the name of the country and ‘Burmese’ for the majority ethnic group living in Myanmar. The other alternative sounds like a butchered pronunciation of ‘mayonnaise’.

As Yangon’s streets seemingly stand poised for more riots, and the UN envoy is doing the rounds of both the junta and the opposition, it’s good to recall, that his job is to manage conflict, not solve the crisis. There’s no certainty, that with all the good will and negotiations, both sides could hammer out a compromise. And, it’s equally unclear whether the opposition could rule Myanmar.

Of course, Burmese could just flee. That would incite instant global anger if thousands of immigrants hit foreign shores

Sisyphus might just be Burmese.

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