Reorienting Strategies towards Burma/Myanmar (2008)

Bernt Berger

Reorienting Strategies towards Burma/Myanmar, EU-ISS Opinion Paper, May 2008. Link

Burma/Myanmar’s military leadership has repeatedly disconcerted the international community. The US and Europe in particular are confronted with the difficult task of finding an effective way to deal with the regime. The EU needs to consider alternative models to the policy it has hitherto pursued of taking decisions in reaction to specific events as they occur in the country. In this context, the strategies of neighbouring Asian countries, and particularly China, merit closer scrutiny. This analysis will put forward some suggestions on how progress in this matter might be achieved.

In view of the repressive nature of the regime and recurring humanitarian crises in Burma/Myanmar, worldwide indignation about the unscrupulous State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – the ruling military junta – is justifiably intense. The military, having already provoked an international outcry when it brutally cracked down on demonstrations in September 2007, has now added insult to injury by having denied foreign aid personnel access to the country after cyclone ‘Nargis’ hit the Southern (Irrawaddy) delta region in early May 2008. The central question is how to deal with a military regime that puts the preservation of its power and security above the well-being of its own citizens.

The use of trade embargos to marginalise the military has been of limited effectiveness in that it has mainly impacted on the civilian population and arguably helped the junta to consolidate its power. However, ideas regarding alternative strategies that go beyond direct sanctions are thin on the ground. Most importantly, in dealing with Burma/Myanmar a long-term and proactive agenda is needed – even at times when the country is not making headlines. The attitudes and approaches of other Asian countries towards Burma/Myanmar differ greatly and are less reactive than those of European countries – a factor that needs to be taken into account when elaborating any future strategy.

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