US shifts policy on Myanmar

Published on November 26, 2008

By Nehginpao Kipgen


The Brunei Times – November 26, 2008


IN AN apparent shift from the policy of traditional sanctions, the US Congress created a post for policy chief for Myanmar to increase pressure on the military junta.

In response to this unprecedented action, the White House announced the nomination of Michael Green for the post on November 10. Whether this manoeuvre brings vigour to the Myanmar’s democratic movement is a question remains to be seen.

Green, who has served as a senior director for Asian Affairs under the Bush administration, should have noticed the quandary over the Myanmar’s political imbroglio, especially the futility of conflicting approaches by the international community.

According to this legislation, the policy chief will consult with the governments of China, India, Thailand and Japan, members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), and the European Union to coordinate international strategy.

Years of sanctions after sanctions, this is a new birth in the American policy toward Myanmar. Sanctions, however, still remain the popular way of punishing the rogue regimes and governments around the world.

When it comes to Myanmar, sanctions have little impact on the military regime due to engagements by neighbouring countries, notably China, India and members of Asean.

A solution to Myanmar’s problems greatly lies in two possible ways: Popular Uprising and Intervention. Popular uprising have been tasted twice in 1988 and in 2007. Both events were brutally crushed by the military with force.

The word intervention can be engagement or sanction. There is no doubt about the US sanctions hurting the military generals and also the general public. Had there been a coordinated international approach, Burma could have been different today.

It must be difficult for the US government to abandon its traditional policy of isolating the Myanmar’s generals and start engaging with them. But they have to realise that sanction alone is not effective in resolving Myanmar’s crisis when there is engagement on the other end. While sanctions are in place, the new envoy can start initiating a “carrot and stick” policy by working together with key international players. The one similar to the North Korean six-party talk model should be given emphasis on Myanmar.

The six-party talks involving the United States, European Union, Asean, China, India, and Burma should be initiated. In the beginning, the military generals and some other countries might resist the proposal, but we need to remember that the North Korean talk was also initially not supported by all parties.

The hard work of the US in North Korea is now paid off with North Korea being removed from the State Department’s list of terrorists, and in return, North Korea promised to shut down and dismantle its nuclear facilities.

It was not only the sticks that worked but also the carrots. The US offered energy and food assistances to the North Korean leadership. A similar initiative could convince Myanmar’s military generals to come to the negotiating table.

Now that the UN Secretary General is heavily involved in the process, the US can garner stronger support from the international community. Without such move from the US, Ban Ki-moon’s “Group of Friends of the Secretary General on Myanmar” will yield little. The most effective UN intervention would happen when the Security Council decides to take action. This scenario is bleak with China and Russia vetoing the move, and likely to do again if Burma issue comes up in the Council’s agenda.

The creation of US special envoy and policy chief for Myanmar is a widely welcome move. With this new position coming into place, the US should start moving beyond imposing sanctions.

Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum ( and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).

The Brunei Times