Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rangoon

The Ongoing Korean War

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

Read Less

Allies Be Wary

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

Read Less

Laura, the Burmese Need You

Yesterday, diplomats from 51 nations, led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, held a one-day donor conference in Rangoon, the former capital of Burma. On Friday, the country’s junta said it would accept foreign assistance for desperate victims of Cyclone Nargis. About 78,000 Burmese have died according to official estimates. Another 56,000 are missing. Up to 2.4 million people need emergency aid. Previously, the nation’s generals had refused international help.

The conference began just hours after the expiration of a five-year detention order on Aung San Suu Kyi, the dissident leader who won the last elections, which were held in 1990. She never took office and has been under house arrest for more than 12 of the last 18 years. She is now kept inside her home, and there is no sign she will be released.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s house, interestingly enough, sits on the other side of a lake from the hotel where the conference was held. Even though the participants could see her home, the subject of her detention did not come up during the gathering. “I feel also very much concerned and troubled by not being able to address completely this issue,” said Ban Ki-moon, referring to Suu Kyi’s detention. Completely, Mr. Secretary-General? You did not raise the issue at all when you met the junta’s leader, Senior General Than Shwe.

The tragedy in Burma is not that Nargis struck–even all-powerful generals cannot physically move their nation to a more hospitable location. The tragedy is that so many people died because the generals not only insisted on keeping their society closed but also hindered internal relief efforts and hoarded aid.

It is certainly right for the international community to help the Burmese and it is probably correct not to condition aid on the release of any individual. Yet not to have said anything at all, especially in a public forum, is going too far in the other direction. For all the good the conference did, it nonetheless helped legitimize Burma’s political system, the source of so much misery.

Not everyone is so silent, however. Laura Bush has spoken out passionately on the issue of Burma. So here’s a suggestion for Mr. Ban. Until he finds his voice, perhaps he should let the First Lady take over the UN’s Burmese portfolio. After all, she knows what the real issue is.

Yesterday, diplomats from 51 nations, led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, held a one-day donor conference in Rangoon, the former capital of Burma. On Friday, the country’s junta said it would accept foreign assistance for desperate victims of Cyclone Nargis. About 78,000 Burmese have died according to official estimates. Another 56,000 are missing. Up to 2.4 million people need emergency aid. Previously, the nation’s generals had refused international help.

The conference began just hours after the expiration of a five-year detention order on Aung San Suu Kyi, the dissident leader who won the last elections, which were held in 1990. She never took office and has been under house arrest for more than 12 of the last 18 years. She is now kept inside her home, and there is no sign she will be released.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s house, interestingly enough, sits on the other side of a lake from the hotel where the conference was held. Even though the participants could see her home, the subject of her detention did not come up during the gathering. “I feel also very much concerned and troubled by not being able to address completely this issue,” said Ban Ki-moon, referring to Suu Kyi’s detention. Completely, Mr. Secretary-General? You did not raise the issue at all when you met the junta’s leader, Senior General Than Shwe.

The tragedy in Burma is not that Nargis struck–even all-powerful generals cannot physically move their nation to a more hospitable location. The tragedy is that so many people died because the generals not only insisted on keeping their society closed but also hindered internal relief efforts and hoarded aid.

It is certainly right for the international community to help the Burmese and it is probably correct not to condition aid on the release of any individual. Yet not to have said anything at all, especially in a public forum, is going too far in the other direction. For all the good the conference did, it nonetheless helped legitimize Burma’s political system, the source of so much misery.

Not everyone is so silent, however. Laura Bush has spoken out passionately on the issue of Burma. So here’s a suggestion for Mr. Ban. Until he finds his voice, perhaps he should let the First Lady take over the UN’s Burmese portfolio. After all, she knows what the real issue is.

Read Less

Bomb Rangoon — With Aid

While the death toll in Burma rises, its government continues to block foreign aid shipments, and Western governments fret about what to do, some outspoken voices across the pond are offering up some useful ideas. British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has come up with a novel proposal to the crisis in Burma: air-drop supplies to civilians with or without the consent of their government. “The case for unilateral delivery of aid by the international community will only grow stronger,” as the death toll grows, he said yesterday. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates all but rules out American aid drops, telling reporters that he “cannot imagine us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government.” It’s good to know that the spirit of Tony Blair still exist in British politics, if not within the higher ranks of his own party.

Writing in yesterday’s Times of London, David Aaronovitch goes for the Full Monty, so to speak, and says that the only justifiable objection to military intervention is whether or not it is feasible:

How often do we need it proved? The issue isn’t whether we have the right to intervene – because the consequences of vicious dictatorships usually catch up with us in time – but whether or not, practically, we can. Everything else is a polite conversation in a sunny church.

Nick Cohen, another liberal hawk, echoes the call. If the arguments of these men are not morally pure enough for the Left, a coalition of domestic opposition groups in Burma released a statement explicitly calling for international intervention:

To save thousands of lives before it’s too late, we would like to urge the United Nations and foreign governments to intervene in Burma immediately to provide humanitarian and relief assistance directly to the people of Burma, without waiting for the permission of the military junta.

With the United States stretched thin in both Iraq and Afghanistan, intervention in Burma ought to be left to the British (they could put to use soldiers they withdrew from Basra last year). Not only are the British better equipped to deal with this crisis, but Burma is a former British territorial possession, and so the Brits probably have a better understanding of the lay of the land. The moral and legal case for military intervention is airtight. The question is whether or not Great Britain could ever pull it off.

While the death toll in Burma rises, its government continues to block foreign aid shipments, and Western governments fret about what to do, some outspoken voices across the pond are offering up some useful ideas. British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has come up with a novel proposal to the crisis in Burma: air-drop supplies to civilians with or without the consent of their government. “The case for unilateral delivery of aid by the international community will only grow stronger,” as the death toll grows, he said yesterday. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates all but rules out American aid drops, telling reporters that he “cannot imagine us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government.” It’s good to know that the spirit of Tony Blair still exist in British politics, if not within the higher ranks of his own party.

Writing in yesterday’s Times of London, David Aaronovitch goes for the Full Monty, so to speak, and says that the only justifiable objection to military intervention is whether or not it is feasible:

How often do we need it proved? The issue isn’t whether we have the right to intervene – because the consequences of vicious dictatorships usually catch up with us in time – but whether or not, practically, we can. Everything else is a polite conversation in a sunny church.

Nick Cohen, another liberal hawk, echoes the call. If the arguments of these men are not morally pure enough for the Left, a coalition of domestic opposition groups in Burma released a statement explicitly calling for international intervention:

To save thousands of lives before it’s too late, we would like to urge the United Nations and foreign governments to intervene in Burma immediately to provide humanitarian and relief assistance directly to the people of Burma, without waiting for the permission of the military junta.

With the United States stretched thin in both Iraq and Afghanistan, intervention in Burma ought to be left to the British (they could put to use soldiers they withdrew from Basra last year). Not only are the British better equipped to deal with this crisis, but Burma is a former British territorial possession, and so the Brits probably have a better understanding of the lay of the land. The moral and legal case for military intervention is airtight. The question is whether or not Great Britain could ever pull it off.

Read Less

Gunboat Diplomacy for Burma?

Instead of launching a multinational intervention in Burma, as Gordon half-seriously suggested last week, why not, as Steve Sesser suggested eighteen years ago in the New York Times, exercise a bit of good old-fashioned American gunboat diplomacy?

In reporting on the 1988 revolt, I came to understand that the smallest gesture of U.S. military support–perhaps nothing more than a couple of battleships off the Burmese coast and a few warplanes over its skies–could have won the day for the Burmese people. Even today, with the army deeply split, merely the threat of American intervention might alone be enough to bring down the dictatorship.

The American origins of “gunboat diplomacy” date back to the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, when he dispatched the Great White Fleet around the world to show off American naval prowess. It was a tactic used to effect Roosevelt’s assertion of multination American interests in Latin America. Not only would the United States oppose European intervention in the Western hemisphere, Roosevelt declared America’s own, sole right to intervene (militarily, if need be) in the domestic affairs of Latin American nations should they be unable to maintain order or pay off debts owed to the United States.

“Walk softly and carry a big stick” is the saying associated with this form of military positioning. Why not dispatch a few aircraft carriers and battle ships within striking range of Rangoon to send a message?

Instead of launching a multinational intervention in Burma, as Gordon half-seriously suggested last week, why not, as Steve Sesser suggested eighteen years ago in the New York Times, exercise a bit of good old-fashioned American gunboat diplomacy?

In reporting on the 1988 revolt, I came to understand that the smallest gesture of U.S. military support–perhaps nothing more than a couple of battleships off the Burmese coast and a few warplanes over its skies–could have won the day for the Burmese people. Even today, with the army deeply split, merely the threat of American intervention might alone be enough to bring down the dictatorship.

The American origins of “gunboat diplomacy” date back to the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, when he dispatched the Great White Fleet around the world to show off American naval prowess. It was a tactic used to effect Roosevelt’s assertion of multination American interests in Latin America. Not only would the United States oppose European intervention in the Western hemisphere, Roosevelt declared America’s own, sole right to intervene (militarily, if need be) in the domestic affairs of Latin American nations should they be unable to maintain order or pay off debts owed to the United States.

“Walk softly and carry a big stick” is the saying associated with this form of military positioning. Why not dispatch a few aircraft carriers and battle ships within striking range of Rangoon to send a message?

Read Less

Time to Invade Burma?

Today, the United Nations World Food Program suspended the shipment of relief supplies to Burma, also known as Myanmar. The country had been ravaged by Cyclone Nargis on Saturday.

The suspension was prompted by the Burmese junta’s seizure of supplies that the agency had already sent. “All of the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated,” said the UN’s Paul Risley. “For the time being, we have no choice but to end further efforts to bring critical needed food aid into Myanmar at this time.”

Previously, the government blocked almost all disaster assistance offered by the international community, including the United States. According to official statistics, almost 23,000 have died. Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Rangoon, says the toll may have already exceeded 100,000.

The UN says the flights will resume tomorrow, but we do not know whether they will in fact be allowed to land. Yet at this moment we are sure of this: Burmese are dying only because their government, which insists on handling disaster assistance itself, has proven utterly incapable of doing so. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, has therefore raised the possibility that the United Nations invoke its “responsibility to protect” and deliver aid to Burmese citizens without their government’s permission. Such an action would save lives, but it probably would trigger conflict with the militant regime. So the issue arises: Is the world willing to invade Burma?

Invade? The international community cannot “protect” the Burmese people from a military government without employing military means. The United Nations, of course, is not prepared to use force. So Burmese by the tens of thousands will perish.

Of course, there are good reasons not to start a war against the junta this week. There are, for instance, tens of millions of other people who urgently need to be shielded from the tyrants who threaten their lives, and we cannot forcibly help all of them now. Yet even if the international community had the capability to do so, I doubt it is ready for dozens of simultaneous “interventions.” It’s not ready for even one. How do I know that? The United States undertook an obligation to protect the people of Iraq from the murderous Saddam Hussein. And we can see what the rest of the world now thinks of that.

Today, the United Nations World Food Program suspended the shipment of relief supplies to Burma, also known as Myanmar. The country had been ravaged by Cyclone Nargis on Saturday.

The suspension was prompted by the Burmese junta’s seizure of supplies that the agency had already sent. “All of the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated,” said the UN’s Paul Risley. “For the time being, we have no choice but to end further efforts to bring critical needed food aid into Myanmar at this time.”

Previously, the government blocked almost all disaster assistance offered by the international community, including the United States. According to official statistics, almost 23,000 have died. Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Rangoon, says the toll may have already exceeded 100,000.

The UN says the flights will resume tomorrow, but we do not know whether they will in fact be allowed to land. Yet at this moment we are sure of this: Burmese are dying only because their government, which insists on handling disaster assistance itself, has proven utterly incapable of doing so. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, has therefore raised the possibility that the United Nations invoke its “responsibility to protect” and deliver aid to Burmese citizens without their government’s permission. Such an action would save lives, but it probably would trigger conflict with the militant regime. So the issue arises: Is the world willing to invade Burma?

Invade? The international community cannot “protect” the Burmese people from a military government without employing military means. The United Nations, of course, is not prepared to use force. So Burmese by the tens of thousands will perish.

Of course, there are good reasons not to start a war against the junta this week. There are, for instance, tens of millions of other people who urgently need to be shielded from the tyrants who threaten their lives, and we cannot forcibly help all of them now. Yet even if the international community had the capability to do so, I doubt it is ready for dozens of simultaneous “interventions.” It’s not ready for even one. How do I know that? The United States undertook an obligation to protect the people of Iraq from the murderous Saddam Hussein. And we can see what the rest of the world now thinks of that.

Read Less

Don’t Give Up on Democracy

Gideon Rachman has a good column in the Financial Times in which he argues against the fashionable impulse to ditch democracy promotion simply because President Bush is in favor of it. Rachman, hardly a firebreathing pro-democracy evangelist, says (rightly, in my view) that the problem with Bush’s democracy agenda has not been that it is too radical but that Bush has been too hesitant to back up his soaring words with appropriate actions.
But that doesn’t mean that the goal of spreading democracy should be abandoned by the U.S. or its allies. As Rachman writes:

Historical events usually throw up people who will push for political freedom at crucial moments. When such people emerge—whether they are Chinese students in Tiananmen Square, Burmese monks in Rangoon, Nelson Mandela in South Africa or Ayman Nour in Egypt—they deserve the strong support of the outside world.

Gideon Rachman has a good column in the Financial Times in which he argues against the fashionable impulse to ditch democracy promotion simply because President Bush is in favor of it. Rachman, hardly a firebreathing pro-democracy evangelist, says (rightly, in my view) that the problem with Bush’s democracy agenda has not been that it is too radical but that Bush has been too hesitant to back up his soaring words with appropriate actions.
But that doesn’t mean that the goal of spreading democracy should be abandoned by the U.S. or its allies. As Rachman writes:

Historical events usually throw up people who will push for political freedom at crucial moments. When such people emerge—whether they are Chinese students in Tiananmen Square, Burmese monks in Rangoon, Nelson Mandela in South Africa or Ayman Nour in Egypt—they deserve the strong support of the outside world.

Read Less

South Africa’s Gall

Yesterday on contentions, Gordon Chang called for the United Nations Security Council to vote on a sanctions resolution against the Burmese military junta led by General Than Shwe. “It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions,” he declared.

There are several countries that have such “gall,” though one of them might come as a surprise: South Africa. Back in January, the United States introduced a fairly innocuous resolution urging the Burmese junta to release political prisoners, enact democratic reforms, and halt violent attacks on ethnic minorities. South Africa, which had just assumed a temporary seat on the Council in January, joined human rights luminaries of China and Russia in siding against the Western democracies. How could the African National Congress-led government of South Africa oppose such a measure? This is a government that, during the apartheid years, called for similar international sanctions against the white-led regime, which was less repressive than the Burmese junta.

In response to a parliamentary question on the South African Security Council vote filed by a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance, the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs replied:

The adoption of this resolution would have set a precedent for the work of the Council, because any member of the Council could bring any country for consideration, even though it might not pose a threat to regional and international peace and security.

Read More

Yesterday on contentions, Gordon Chang called for the United Nations Security Council to vote on a sanctions resolution against the Burmese military junta led by General Than Shwe. “It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions,” he declared.

There are several countries that have such “gall,” though one of them might come as a surprise: South Africa. Back in January, the United States introduced a fairly innocuous resolution urging the Burmese junta to release political prisoners, enact democratic reforms, and halt violent attacks on ethnic minorities. South Africa, which had just assumed a temporary seat on the Council in January, joined human rights luminaries of China and Russia in siding against the Western democracies. How could the African National Congress-led government of South Africa oppose such a measure? This is a government that, during the apartheid years, called for similar international sanctions against the white-led regime, which was less repressive than the Burmese junta.

In response to a parliamentary question on the South African Security Council vote filed by a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance, the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs replied:

The adoption of this resolution would have set a precedent for the work of the Council, because any member of the Council could bring any country for consideration, even though it might not pose a threat to regional and international peace and security.

How is it that South African apartheid threatened “regional and international peace and security,” but the daily atrocities of the Burmese junta do not? The bizarre position of the South Africans is the product of much forward-thinking analysis on the part of the African National Congress, which has ruled the single-party-dominated democracy since 1994. South Africa has long opposed international and even regional efforts to stave off the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, telling the world that the situation is one for the Zimbabwean people to deal with themselves. This is an abject impossibility, considering that one side to the dispute is a crazed tyrant who has no desire to negotiate any of his power away, and who controls the army, police force, and the distribution of scarce food supplies.

The African National Congress looks north to Zimbabwe in horror at what might become of its own political power in South Africa. No, South Africa is not about to become the nightmare situation for whites that Zimbabwe has become. Rather, the ANC sees that an upstart opposition—consisting of trade unionists, ethnic minorities, civil society activists, and white farmers—successfully challenged Zimbabwe’s legendary liberation hero in a series of democratic polls (only to be thwarted by physical intimidation and murder). The ANC worries, understandably, what precedent would be set if a liberation movement-cum-political party were thrown out of power in Zimbabwe, and what would happen if a similar fate were to befall them. It is for this reason that the African National Congress government allows Zimbabwe to fester, never approaching what can be the country’s only viable political solution: regime change.

Peter Vale, the Nelson Mandela Professor of Politics at South Africa’s Rhodes University, traveled to Burma over a decade ago at the behest of a Scandinavian government, in order to provide advice to opposition groups based upon the South African anti-apartheid experience. “Was SA’s experience instructive elsewhere?” he asks. This is what he reports:

But the high hopes that the African National Congress had promised for this country’s foreign policy had been largely muted. The cunning insertion of the 19th-century idea of “national interest” into the foreign policy agenda had emptied all high-sounding words of their content. In their place, a new procedural discourse purported to link SA to the “real world”—this held that the legal clause always carried greater weight than the liberation cause. . . .
It was both difficult and painful to explain this to the Burmese. Their understandings of this country glowed in the hype around the ending of apartheid and were embellished by Nelson Mandela’s commanding international standing. Surely, I was repeatedly asked, SA would do something that would both secure the release of Aung San Sui Kyi—who had been under house arrest for six years—and get conversations going between her and the junta.

Chang wants to know if any country has “the gall” to oppose sanctions on the miserable junta in Rangoon. South Africa, or, more precisely, the African National Congress, does.

Read Less

Bush’s “Nothingburger”

Yesterday, just moments after President Bush finished his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Bill Kristol called the speech a “nothingburger.” The Weekly Standard editor, appearing on the Fox News Channel, was complaining that the Commander-in-Chief had said virtually nothing about Iran at a time when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was lounging in the audience and Iranians were helping to kill Americans in Iraq.

The President’s silence on Iran was indeed troubling. But he nonetheless delivered an important message. “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma,” the President declared. He announced that the United States would tighten economic sanctions, expand a visa ban, and continue to support humanitarian groups. He called on the U.N. and its member nations to help the Burmese people “reclaim their freedom” and put an end to a “nineteen-year reign of fear.”

Read More

Yesterday, just moments after President Bush finished his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Bill Kristol called the speech a “nothingburger.” The Weekly Standard editor, appearing on the Fox News Channel, was complaining that the Commander-in-Chief had said virtually nothing about Iran at a time when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was lounging in the audience and Iranians were helping to kill Americans in Iraq.

The President’s silence on Iran was indeed troubling. But he nonetheless delivered an important message. “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma,” the President declared. He announced that the United States would tighten economic sanctions, expand a visa ban, and continue to support humanitarian groups. He called on the U.N. and its member nations to help the Burmese people “reclaim their freedom” and put an end to a “nineteen-year reign of fear.”

Bush’s words came at a critical moment. Hours after he left the podium in New York, government security forces in the capital of Rangoon, now known as Yangon, fired on protesters. At least five of them died. The generals ordered the crackdown after Beijing, apparently, gave them the green light to use force. They had been unable to quell more than a month of street demonstrations across the country. This week there have been protests numbering 100,000 in the capital. (In 1988, the junta killed an estimated 3,000 citizens participating in similar protests.)

The Rangoon generals, who have caused a long-term economic downturn, could not maintain themselves without material and diplomatic support from their neighbors. China has been their primary backer. This January, for instance, Beijing vetoed a U.S.-sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution on Burma, and in May the Chinese regime refused to join ASEAN in urging the generals to release Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy advocate who was imprisoned immediately after her party won national elections in 1990.

The U.N. and Asian regional organizations have been hamstrung by Beijing—and to a lesser extent by Moscow and New Delhi. As a result, the generals in Rangoon have been able to maintain their repressive regime in the face of dissent at home and withering criticism abroad. Now it is up to the United States, the power of last resort in the international system, to provide the support for democratic change in Burma. So did President Bush serve up a nothingburger yesterday? Nothing could be further from the truth.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.