New Frontiers in Foreign Policy

|

Hey, who says there are no new ideas in Washington?

For the second time in two months, President Bush announced sanctions against Myanmar to punish the military-run government and its backers for the recent violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

We already have sanctions, of course, and we've had them since 1997. If there is some logical reason to impose a new round now, I have no idea what it might be. If new sanctions are justified in October, why weren't they justified in September? And in every month since 1962? Sanctions have failed  to promote change for a decade so, yes, let's pile on more of them. Drug war logic!

In terms of practical effect, Bush may as well ban the import of unicorns. None of these sanctions touch Chevron, which is the only U.S. company with a significant investment in Burma. It is also the only company that might make sense to ban, since it constitutes a large part of the economy of resource extraction, whose gains are not broadly shared. But even if the Bush administration were to target the only American company that actually pumps money into Burma, unilateral sanctions wouldn't have any effect in the long term. Other economies will rush to fill the vaccuum, as they did in the 90s. If Chevron weren't there, someone else would be.

Multilateral sanctions are not quite so anodyne. If Thailand, China, and India suddenly stopped trading with Burma, the regime would feel hit, and hard. But it takes a significant leap of faith to believe that a poorer Than Shwe would give up and throw an inauguration party for Suu Kyi. Working in Rangoon, I didn't see a hi-tech regime intimidating people into silence with its vast wealth; the government operatives in our newsroom could barely operate a cell phone. It's not that expensive to scare a population into passivity, and the government might actually be more secure in an economy of total isolation.

More on Myanmar here

NEXT: FRC II: Ron Paul Comes Home

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Word of the day: anodyne

  2. Wow is that depressing.

    So what do we do?

    Hope the thugs let us trade with the people?

    OK. I hope the thugs let us trade with the Burmese people. It might even do some good.

  3. joe:

    Clintonian engagement has a better track record than sanctions or invasion so far. So I’m game.

    While we’re at it, let’s do that with Cuba and North Korea. Madison Avenue seems to kill far fewer people in its regime changes than Pennsylvania Avenue.

  4. Sandy:
    While we’re at it, let’s do that with Cuba and North Korea. Madison Avenue seems to kill far fewer people in its regime changes than Pennsylvania Avenue.

    Amen to that. Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter, to name two, had moralistically interventionist foreign policies that, in hindsight, were clearly not good for America.

  5. Jimmy Carter? Moralist, certainly, but interventionst?

  6. Brian Sorgatz,

    Well, in the case of Wilson, they weren’t good for anyone else.

  7. isnt this like, what politicians do when they dont want to do anything, but need to *say* they’re doing something?

    china is probably perfectly happy with the way things are. ergo, wave your hands and moan, but dont actually rock the boat.

  8. Kerry: Good post. Thanks. Down with the sanctions!

  9. Got to agree. If sanctions in Myanmar work as well as they did in Cuba, the Junta will be there for 45+ years. Sheesh.

  10. the government operatives in our newsroom could barely operate a cell phone.

    Heyyyy! I, too, can barely operate a cell phone. But that’s because I don’t own one. Besides – some are definitely more complicated than others.

  11. As frustrating as the Burmese situation is, Kerry’s analogy to the drug war is apt. Sanctions are the “don’t just stand there! Do something!” option. Trade might just open up some other options.

    The LA piece about China is good, but it omits one other reason why China might feel no reason to apply pressure – because they might like having a more brutal neighbor around to distract the world from their own egregious abuses.

  12. Jimmy Carter? Moralist, certainly, but interventionst?

    Under his watch, we actively (if covertly) intervened in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Indonesia. Those are just the ones I know of off the top of my head.

  13. isnt this like, what politicians do when they dont want to do anything, but need to *say* they’re doing something?

    Yes, this, and call for an African Union force.

  14. Sure, Les, but every president uses force while he’s in office. Carter would seem to be well towards the non-interventionist side of the scale, and it’s odd to see him singled out as an interventionist.

  15. In Burma, one effect of Western sanctions was to shut down the country’s textile exports during the late 1990s, forcing hundreds of thousands of people out of jobs. There is evidence that many of the women ended up in the sex trade, enough evidence that in 2003 the then State Department spokesman Richard Boucher acknowledged it but expressed the hope that over time sanctions would change Burma.

    Convergence.

  16. Oh, I agree. Though what we did during those years was horrific, it pales in comparison to what many other presidents oversaw in the 20th century.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.