By any measure, the people of Burmahave suffered dreadfully from the effects of cyclone Nargis over the past weeks. Whilst this in itself is cause enough for humanitarian concern, the extent by which their suffering has been prolonged, multiplied and ignored by the military junta which rules that country is cause for outright condemnation. Words alone however, will not feed, sooth, assist or support those people of the Irrawaddy Delta whose lives have been blighted by a combination of natural disaster and unnatural malign indifference by their unelected government.
In mid May, David Cameron, the leader of the opposition in the United Kingdom, suggested that the military regime was committing a crime against humanity by not allowing aid into the country. Since then, whilst some foreign assistance has made its way to those in need, the Generals which rule from their secluded haven far from reality have postured, delayed and demanded that foreign aid be delivered to the regime for onwards distribution. Direct access by aid agencies has been prevented and the regime’s mouthpiece; “The New Light of Myanmar” has suggested that foreign aid is unnecessary because the people can survive by eating frogs.
So, in the face of such an abomination, the question is; what should the developed world (both East and West) do to about Burma? What are the options?
- Do nothing. Despotic regimes have a track record of failure and history is littered with the ghosts of dead tyrants. It’s unfortunately also filled with the ghosts of their victims.
- UN resolution/peacekeeping intervention. Burma, you’ll recall, is a member of the UN. Given what’s happening on the ground in that country, this fact alone should be an embarrassment for the organisation. Russia and China would likely veto any resolution anyway, in a repeat performance of the farce which has hamstrung the organisation since its founding.
- Military intervention outside of the UN. Given that Burma and its junta is hardly of prime strategic importance and has not been identified as a threat to anyone other than it’s own people, its difficult to imagine any “coalition of the willing” arising with no other aim than delivery of democracy and human rights.
- Economic sanctions. The country is already a basket case and such sanctions are likely to have no other effect but increase the people’s suffering.
- UN led intensive diplomacy. Given the regime seems to have a single aim; retain power at all costs, it’s questionable what levers diplomacy could pull. The junta seems either oblivious or indifferent to its “most hated regime” status on the world stage.
- Country led intensive diplomacy. Chinais the local superpower, but its doubtful that nation has progressed far enough along the development road to care to flex its muscle over Burma.
- Covert assistance to opposition. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since winning a general election in 1990, but with the regime entrenched and empowered and the people cowed, popular uprising seems some way off.
There’s no easy or obvious response to the question posed, other than the intuitive feeling that we, as a civilisation in the 21st century, should have the combined will, intent and resources to put an end to the systematic abuse of human beings by a government whose raison d'être is maintenance of power and privilege for themselves.
But then perhaps you have a different view?
Please tell me.