Integrity Legal

1st February 2011

In recent postings on this web log the administration has posted news and information pertaining to the ongoing situation in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (also referred to as Burma). In a recent report, it was noted that the Burmese government was discussing the idea of setting up a stock exchange. Meanwhile, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has informally called for an end to the American (as well as international) sanctions being imposed upon Myanmar. To quote directly from a recent posting on the Voice of America’s official website:

The United States is among a handful of countries that have imposed targeted economic sanctions on those most responsible for denying democracy and disregarding human rights in Burma. As the time approaches for the parliaments to convene, some of Burma’s neighbors have called on the West to lift sanctions. They say U.S. policy hampers important areas of trade, prevents investment and technology from helping to develop Burma’s hard-pressed ethnic regions, and hurts the Burmese people.

The United States is deeply concerned about the plight of ordinary citizens of Burma. But it is the regime that is responsible for the country’s dire economic situation. The record is clear on how the military regime has mismanaged the economy, institutionalized corruption and plundered valuable national resources for private gain.

Our two nations have been in talks about improving relations since 2009 and we will continue to engage the government on our mutual concerns. Until the government undertakes fundamental change in Burma, including releasing the more than 2,100 political prisoners and beginning a meaningful and time-bound dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic minorities, U.S. sanctions will remain in place.

The issue of Human Rights in Burma is not intended to be the topic of this posting as this blogger sincerely does not feel qualified to address such issues. Exploitation, murder, and human rights abuses in Burma (Myanmar) are all issues which should concern anyone living in modern times, but there is a rather strong argument in favor of lifting sanctions such as these as there are those who would argue that these sanctions fail in their objective and may actually worsen the plight of the common people who are sometimes more adversely impacted by such measures than are those at whom the sanctions were originally aimed. In a piece written on this issue by Leon T. Hadar entitled U.S. Sanctions Against Burma: A Failure on All Fronts these issues were more eloquently elaborated:

The U.S. policy of imposing unilateral trade and investment sanctions against Burma has proven to be a failure on all fronts. By forcing U.S. firms to disengage from Burma, that policy has harmed American economic interests and done nothing to improve the living conditions or human rights of the people of Burma.

Sanctions have denied Burmese citizens the benefits of increased investment by American multinational companies–investment that brings technoloygy, better working conditions, and Western ideas.[sic]

State and local sanctions against Burma have compounded the problem caused by federal sanctions and raised troubling constitutional questions.

Unilateral sanctions have alienated our allies in the region and strengthened the hand of China but achieved none of the stated foreign policy aims. If Washington had allowed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take the lead in setting policy toward Burma, the United States could have enjoyed a “win-win” situation–better relations with our allies and more influence over the regime in Rangoon.

As an alternative to the failed policy of sanctions, the United States should allow U.S. companies to freely trade with and investment in Burma. A pro-business approach to engagement would more effectively promote political, civil, and economic freedom around the world. Congress should enact legislation requiring a full accounting of the cost of sanctions and explicit justification on national security grounds before they can be imposed.

It has always been this blogger’s personal opinion that the Burmese sanctions were neither well promulgated nor well executed as the imposition of sanctions has resulted in a situation in which the people at the lowest echelons of Burmese society are not able to enjoy the technological and monetary benefits that come with increased investment and the increased economic activity springing therefrom. The policy reasons underlying the sanctions against Burma would seem to originate in a belief that such sanctions will result in better conditions for the dispossessed currently living in Burma. Although this is pure speculation, it would seem that there is at least some room for reasonable people to disagree about the effects of the Burmese sanctions. Hopefully increased dialogue on this issue will result in new strategies which can be implemented to the benefit of the Burmese people and those seeking investment opportunities in Southeast Asia.

For related information please see: US Visa Myanmar.


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