Tuesday, September 29, 2009

U.S.-Myanmar Relations

Brian McCartan has a good piece up on the U.S. beginning to engage with Myanmar's leaders. I think this is a good thing. As I discussed in my Honduras piece yesterday, American foreign policy struggles with countries who simply refuse to cooperate. Myanmar is a primary example of this. The military junta has ruled with an iron fist for the last 20 years. It's unlikely to change soon, though when Than Shwe finally dies perhaps things will thaw. The U.S. and other nations have implemented widespread sanctions against the nation, something supported oddly enough by the tourist boycott that has existed for over a decade.

What has all this accomplished? Nothing.

Sanctions rarely work and are not generally an effective foreign policy tool. Certainly limited sanctions on arms and other such items make sense. But little else. The tourism boycott has done nothing at all to free Aung San Suu Kyi or to free up the Burmese people in any way. If anything, it's isolated them even more. The sanctions have only placed the Burmese people in greater poverty.

I'm certainly not confident that closer relations with the Myanmar junta will help bring any semblance of freedom to the nation's people or lead to free elections. But how can it possibly hurt? The junta's response to last year's typhoon was unconscionable and shows how uncaring they are. But more sanctions aren't an answer. Talking to them and engaging them can only help. Allowing tourism will bring information to the Burmese people and help get their stories out.

Considering all of this, it seems clear that the new U.S. stance toward Myanmar makes a lot of sense.