Burma and Nuclear Weapons

A month ago, Burma was back in the news, with U.S. Senator James Webb, Chairman of the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, abruptly postponing his June 3 visit there -- this after learning of a report about Burma's nuclear ambitions. How is President Obama dealing with this not-so-new revelation?

When the Foreign Ministry of Burma claims that anti-government groups in collusion with the media launched the allegations of a nuclear weapons program, and states that "Burma, which is a developing nation, lacks adequate infrastructure, technology and finance to develop nuclear weapons," an informed individual knows that such statements are not to be trusted. In fact, James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly in May 2009 opined that the story about Burmese nuclear armament had to be believed.

Burma has one of the worst records for human rights abuse in the world. In her well-researched book entitled Finding George Orwell in Burma, author Emma Larkin writes how an entire nation of some 50 million people is oppressed by the Military Intelligence spies and their informers. Books, magazines, movies, and music are controlled by a strict censorship board. Invasive government propaganda is churned out daily. George Orwell spent five years in Burma, and his 1984 nightmare visions are played out in this country with terrifying and punishing certainty.

Under the country's 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, providing foreigners with any information that the regime finds objectionable is punishable by a seven-year prison sentence. Furthermore, foreign writers and journalists are denied entry to Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi, human rights activist and leader of Burma's National League for Democracy, has been in and out of house arrest for years. Although her party won an overwhelming victory in May 1990, democracy has been viciously trampled, and the sheer brutality of the regime is breathtaking. 

Unlike North Korea, though, there is an existing democratic movement that is anxious to work with the international community and establish a legitimate democratic government. How will the President of the United States do this? Given his lackluster performance in assisting recent Iranian students' democratic marches, what can we expect of him with regard to Burma?

Cultural genocide is endemic in Burma. The Thai people still remember the total annihilation by the Burmese of the Siamese capital, which took place in 1774! Yet Thailand's own officials have not looked for common policy options to counter the more recent Burmese move. The Burmese government practices a policy of "Burmanization" in ethnic areas. For example, the Shans are the largest ethnic group in Burma after the Burmese themselves, but in Shan State, the Shan language is no longer taught in schools. Shan place names have been Burmanized. A key symbol of Shan heritage, an old palace, was destroyed by the government. This is reminiscent of one of the moves of the Taliban, when they destroyed ancient Buddhist statues. Thus, Burma having nuclear capability opens up the door for trade with Islamic terrorists to gain access to this power. But with current American leadership clearly having no desire to maintain military and space superiority, America is losing its deterrent impact. 

Too many nations have an ostrich-like approach that if the problem is not in their immediate backyard, they can wait to deal with it. That is exactly what despots like Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-il, and the Burmese faceless leaders depend upon. Too many countries do not wish to comprehend the terrifying consequences of the "Burmese Way to Socialism," where in Burma's last "election" back in 1990, as many as twenty ethnically based political parties contested the polls. In addition, the military has enriched itself through timber and natural gas deals. Anyone suggesting alternative ways to run the country languishes under house arrest on corruption charges. Thus, the iron grip of the country's rulers remains intact. Does this upset our 44th president, who appears to have decidedly socialist leanings himself? 

Clearly, other Asian countries are quite concerned about the implications of a Burmese nuclear power, but if there is not a concerted effort to share information, make meaningful actions to halt the program, and have a leadership in America that is not feeble about showing legitimate force, we have a most dangerous and terrifying situation on our hands.

As Kelley Currie of the Wall Street Journal has written, "Kim Jong Il's nuclear program serves as a powerful deterrent to any serious effort to rid the North Korean people of their parasitic ruler, just as he hoped it would. ... Kim has become steadily more repressive and obstreperous the closer he gets to his nuclear goals." 

The more you tolerate a bully, the stronger and more empowered he becomes. Does our current president understand this basic playground rule, or will the world pay a huge price for American inaction?

Eileen can be reached at middlemarch18@gmail.com.
A month ago, Burma was back in the news, with U.S. Senator James Webb, Chairman of the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, abruptly postponing his June 3 visit there -- this after learning of a report about Burma's nuclear ambitions. How is President Obama dealing with this not-so-new revelation?

When the Foreign Ministry of Burma claims that anti-government groups in collusion with the media launched the allegations of a nuclear weapons program, and states that "Burma, which is a developing nation, lacks adequate infrastructure, technology and finance to develop nuclear weapons," an informed individual knows that such statements are not to be trusted. In fact, James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly in May 2009 opined that the story about Burmese nuclear armament had to be believed.

Burma has one of the worst records for human rights abuse in the world. In her well-researched book entitled Finding George Orwell in Burma, author Emma Larkin writes how an entire nation of some 50 million people is oppressed by the Military Intelligence spies and their informers. Books, magazines, movies, and music are controlled by a strict censorship board. Invasive government propaganda is churned out daily. George Orwell spent five years in Burma, and his 1984 nightmare visions are played out in this country with terrifying and punishing certainty.

Under the country's 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, providing foreigners with any information that the regime finds objectionable is punishable by a seven-year prison sentence. Furthermore, foreign writers and journalists are denied entry to Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi, human rights activist and leader of Burma's National League for Democracy, has been in and out of house arrest for years. Although her party won an overwhelming victory in May 1990, democracy has been viciously trampled, and the sheer brutality of the regime is breathtaking. 

Unlike North Korea, though, there is an existing democratic movement that is anxious to work with the international community and establish a legitimate democratic government. How will the President of the United States do this? Given his lackluster performance in assisting recent Iranian students' democratic marches, what can we expect of him with regard to Burma?

Cultural genocide is endemic in Burma. The Thai people still remember the total annihilation by the Burmese of the Siamese capital, which took place in 1774! Yet Thailand's own officials have not looked for common policy options to counter the more recent Burmese move. The Burmese government practices a policy of "Burmanization" in ethnic areas. For example, the Shans are the largest ethnic group in Burma after the Burmese themselves, but in Shan State, the Shan language is no longer taught in schools. Shan place names have been Burmanized. A key symbol of Shan heritage, an old palace, was destroyed by the government. This is reminiscent of one of the moves of the Taliban, when they destroyed ancient Buddhist statues. Thus, Burma having nuclear capability opens up the door for trade with Islamic terrorists to gain access to this power. But with current American leadership clearly having no desire to maintain military and space superiority, America is losing its deterrent impact. 

Too many nations have an ostrich-like approach that if the problem is not in their immediate backyard, they can wait to deal with it. That is exactly what despots like Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-il, and the Burmese faceless leaders depend upon. Too many countries do not wish to comprehend the terrifying consequences of the "Burmese Way to Socialism," where in Burma's last "election" back in 1990, as many as twenty ethnically based political parties contested the polls. In addition, the military has enriched itself through timber and natural gas deals. Anyone suggesting alternative ways to run the country languishes under house arrest on corruption charges. Thus, the iron grip of the country's rulers remains intact. Does this upset our 44th president, who appears to have decidedly socialist leanings himself? 

Clearly, other Asian countries are quite concerned about the implications of a Burmese nuclear power, but if there is not a concerted effort to share information, make meaningful actions to halt the program, and have a leadership in America that is not feeble about showing legitimate force, we have a most dangerous and terrifying situation on our hands.

As Kelley Currie of the Wall Street Journal has written, "Kim Jong Il's nuclear program serves as a powerful deterrent to any serious effort to rid the North Korean people of their parasitic ruler, just as he hoped it would. ... Kim has become steadily more repressive and obstreperous the closer he gets to his nuclear goals." 

The more you tolerate a bully, the stronger and more empowered he becomes. Does our current president understand this basic playground rule, or will the world pay a huge price for American inaction?

Eileen can be reached at middlemarch18@gmail.com.

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