By Roland Watson
MILITARY INTERVENTION IN BURMA
The United States designated the United Wa State
Army a terrorist organization, because of its role as a supplier of narcotics.
This was revealed by Rand Beers, Assistant Secretary of State for drug and law
enforcement, and Francis Taylor, Ambassador-at-Large for counter-terrorism.
Priscilla Clapp, U.S. Charged'Affairs in Rangoon, then rescinded the designation, apologizing for the
' mistake.' (Once again, United States foreign policy speaks with one voice!) Kobsak Chutikul, deputy leader of
the Chart Pattana political party in Thailand, proposed that the U.S. should not rule out military intervention against the
Wa. The Bangkok Post quoted an unnamed diplomat as
saying that if the SPDC do not 'put the Wa out of the drug business, the
Americans will get directly involved.'
The Shan announced that the real terrorists are the SPDC themselves.
A coup attempt has been reported by the SPDC, involving Ne Win's family. Two
views on this are that the attempt was real,that it was in the process of being planned; and
that the announcement and subsequent roundup was manufactured by the leading
generals as a means to eliminate Ne Win's residual influence.
Prior to this the SPDC made major weapons purchases from China and Russia (using funding from western oil companies), for the
latter including SAM missile batteries to beef up its border defenses, and
MIG-29s. It has been reported that the SPDC's greatest fear is military
intervention from the U.S.
The Shan are right. The SPDC are the real terrorists:
- Through their repression they are terrorizing the people of Burma.
- They are also environmental terrorists, through their systematic destruction
of the natural environment of Burma, which, lying as it does at the end of the
Himalayan mountains, represents one of the greatest sources of biological
diversity on earth. They are terrorizing, and exterminating, this life.
- And, they have given sanctuary to Pakistani nuclear experts who are not only
sympathetic to the Taleban and al Queida
but may actually have assisted them in the materials acquisition and
technological training necessary for nuclear terrorism. The SPDC are harboring
a non-ignorable terrorist threat to the entire world.
All of this raises the question: should there be
foreign military intervention in Burma?
The use of force is justified in self-defense, and to assist others in their
own defense from attack, particularly if they request it. For the first, the
people of Burma have a legitimate right to defend themselves. They
have been, and are continually being, attacked by the SPDC. Further, they have
the right to request foreign assistance, as from the United States, the nations of the European Union, and Australia. They could ask these countries to intervene
militarily and defeat their oppressors. In addition, such nations have their
own legitimate grounds for responding favorably to such a request (or even for
acting without first being asked), which is to ensure their own defense from
nuclear attack. They are in fact obliged to counteract all potential sources of
such an attack, and this includes taking action against anyone who harbors the
Russia is also selling nuclear technology to the SPDC. One
wonders if the Pakistani experts will get access to this.
Another explanation for the coup announcement is that it was done to create a misdirection, an artificial barrier to just such an
intervention. This may hold with the dialogue with the NLD as well.
Should there be foreign military intervention in Burma? And, should the people of Burma themselves request such intervention? These are
complex questions, with many factors to consider, and risks. However, one thing
is clear. It is now forty years since Ne Win took power. It would be a tragedy
if the people of Burma witnessed his final defeat only through the complete
entrenchment of his successors. The saying goes: if you cut off the tail of a
snake, it will grow another. If you want to kill it, you have to cut off its
In summary, the argument for military intervention is as follows. There is a
bully, the SPDC; and its gang, the governments of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore (along with numerous multinational corporations); and
its big brother, China. The bully's victim is Burma: its people, cultures, and nature. The people must
stand up for themselves and fight, but they could use some help.
The argument against intervention is that peace and the transition to democracy
should be sought through negotiation, backed-up by strong foreign diplomacy and
activism, and also that the risks are too great to bear.
There would be many risks associated with military intervention, the first of
which is in the actual conflict. (The irony of an Allied force facing weapons
paid for by their own corporations would be hard to overstate.) Still, one can
argue that for the people of Burma a decisive confrontation now, even though it would
likely involve casualties, is better than perpetual repression. Also, the SPDC
would be a less than formidable opponent:
- The nation offers sea access. Allied forces could be moved to the area in a
matter of days.
- Even given the recent weapons shipments, the Burmese military is still poorly
armed and directed.
- Most importantly, the Burmese army, the Tatmadaw, would prove an easy if not
willing opponent. Unlike the Taleban and al Queida, they have no desire to fight. Countless soldiers
are actually young men and boys who have been press-ganged into service. It is
likely that at the initiation of the conflict they would throw down their arms,
or turn them against the generals. It is essential to note that in the 1990
elections, which the generals invalidated, the vast majority of the armed forces
voted for democracy.
The Burmese dictatorship, for all its supposed strength, is a house of cards
that the slightest foreign military intervention will blow down. Indeed, actual
combat many not even be required. As Teddy Roosevelt demonstrated almost one
hundred years ago, gunboat diplomacy may be sufficient, in this case to cause
the dictators to run and take exile in China.
As this suggests, a related issue with intervention is that it must be properly
focused. All the talk to-date has centered on drugs and the Wa.
Indeed, action against them is probably already being planned, perhaps as an
extension of the annual Cobra Gold military exercises. However, the drugs that
emanate from Burma are merely a symptom of a deeper problem. All of the
specific concerns about Burma, including ethnic cleansing, forced labor,
migrant labor, deforestation, the sex trade, AIDS, etc., reflect this problem,
which is of course the dictatorship itself. None of these concerns can ever be
addressed effectively without targeting the SPDC. Therefore, any intervention
directed solely at drugs (and justified on this basis), is doomed to failure.
More generally, there are the risks that are associated with any military
action, especially one involving the U.S. Indeed, how could anyone suggest such a thing? The U.S. military is unable to say no, to stay out of other
people's business, particularly in civil wars where both sides are in the wrong
(this is not the case in Burma); to escalation whenever and wherever it gets
involved; and to unimaginable funding and weapons programs. Hence, any such
involvement, or request for involvement, should be not for unilateral
assistance but instead for a multinational effort.
Then there are the risks, and issues, related to making such a request. Would
it be appropriate for the people of Burma to ask for help, and if so how should they do it?
This would require a major consensus-building effort, and there would
inevitably be disagreement. Many pro-democracy groups are committed to dialogue
and non-violence. In addition, there is the issue of pride: is it seemly to ask
As an example of the last, though, the government of the Philippines has requested U.S. assistance, in the form of military trainers, to help
it confront the Abu Sayyef. However, this has not
been without controversy, witness the recent visit of
foreign peace activists to the country. Also, such involvement already shows
signs of escalation. On the other hand, the intervention reportedly enjoys
great support among the general public, who have had enough of the Abu Sayyef's terrorism and crimes. (In such a situation, whose
voices should decide?)
Lastly, there is the question: if you ask, will they come? For America, it likes to present itself as the champion of
freedom and democracy, but is this real or is it a
misdirection in its own right? There is no other way to find out than to
ask. And, for America, there would be no better way to make its words real
than by relieving the suffering of some forty-eight million people.
Dictator Watch welcomes comments. Obviously, we believe the idea of military
intervention should be considered, if only to pressure the dictatorship and
force it to negotiate with sincerity. Indeed, were such an
intervention to occur, Burma would be free this year. The long wait would be at an
end, although great challenges, associated with building a new Burma, would be just beginning. However, this is not our
decision to make. It is up to the people of Burma. Their new democracy should start now. This is in fact
our real goal: to stimulate discussion and revive the democracy movement from
the morbidity into which it has lapsed.#