Maung Shwe – Anti-sanction: What and Where

          All links related to the sanctions should be considered when a person studies about the US sanctions on Burma. This attempt will able to make own conclusion and decide how I should stand on this matter. In order to do so, area of the study related to the US sanctions to Burma should be started from national interest of the US followed by the US’s policy on Burma based on its national interest, and instruments used in implementation the policy. 

National Interest of the US

In a summary term, independence, democracy and human rights, security and safety, fulfillment of basic needs, maintaining strong economic power, high quality of living with healthy environment, and cooperation with international community are the most important interest of people in the United States and in other word, these are national interest of the US and all the US government have responsibility to protect and promote the national interest. For this reason, the national interest plays at pivotal role in setting foreign policies of the US.

 The US’s perspective on Burma

Regarding crisis in Burma, the US’s perspective is based on its national interest and it can be divided into two levels, national and regional. At national level, the US governments look Burma as a country where: its economy turned down to earth and people become the poorest of the world after Burmese military seized state power in 1962; attempt initiated by students to reform the country was demolished by military in 1988; Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, National League for Democracy (NLD), became leading opposition party in Burma and obtained landslide victory in 1990 general election but the result is never recognized and even the junta detained MP-elects and opposition leaders including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; and cracked down peaceful demonstration of Buddhist monks derived from general economic crisis superimposed by suddenly raised of fuel price.

          As regional level, the US governments look the following problems related to Burma as threats to regional peace, tranquility and stability, such as narcotic and illicit drugs related crimes including production and trading; communicable diseases especially HIV/AIDS; and long-term tensions and fighting with arms between Burmese military and ethnic communities at border area.


The US’s Burma Policy and Objectives

When the US governments set its policy on Burma, the government’s perspectives mentioned above play as a key role in setting the policy objectives and overall policy goals. Overall U.S. policy goals include the establishment of constitutional democracy, respect for human rights and religious freedom, the repatriation of refugees with monitoring by UNHCR, the return home of internally displaced persons (IDPs), cooperation in fighting terrorism, regional stability, a full accounting of missing U.S. servicemen from World War II, combating HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, eliminating trafficking in persons, ending forced labor, and increased cooperation in eradicating the production and trafficking of illicit drugs.

          Specific U.S. policy objectives in Burma are: the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo, Hkun Htun Oo and all political prisoners; the start of a credible, inclusive national reconciliation process; the lifting of restrictions on UN agencies and NGOs providing humanitarian assistance; and the granting of access to the country for UN representatives.


Sanction ‘A Policy Instrument’

The next step after establishment of a policy is to find appropriate policy instrument(s) in order to implement the policy to accomplish its stated goals and objectives. In general, there are five common types of policy instrument:

  • policy through advocacy – educating or persuading, using information available to government;
  • policy through network – cultivating and leveraging relationships within and across government and with external partnership bodies to develop and implement desired goals and behaviours
  • policy through money – using spending and taxing powers to shape activity beyond government
  • policy through direct government action – delivering services through public agencies
  • policy through law – legislation, regulation and official authority

When looking at the US sanctions to Burma, it can be seen as a policy instrument under ‘policy through Law’ category and it is also one of the US government’s different policy instruments applies to achieve its Burma policy’s stated goals and objectives.

 The US Government and Sanction Instrument

Sanction instrument is not new one for the US and it has been used in implementation of the US’s foreign policies for long time, for example, the US imposed sanctions on axis countries during WWII. In 1960s and 70s, the US imposed unilateral and multilateral sanctions with its alliance on Soviet Union, members of Warsaw Pact, China and Cuba. The sanctions reached certain extant of its objectives. Regarding the achievement of sanction instrument, some academics made comments that the US’s leading role and power both politically and economically among its alliance is factor of success.

          However, a failed story of application of sanction instrument was seen in 1982, during the President Regan’s era. It was happened in Poland after the communist government declared Marshall Law and acted intense repression on movements of Solidarity Trade Union. Based on the act of communist Poland Government, the US imposed sanctions to the country. But the US alliance strongly against the US sanction and because of the responses from its alliance, the President Regan finally decided to withdraw its unilateral sanction.

          After the failed story of the US sanction, many academics analyzed the event and concluded that the US government had fallen its ability and capability to impose unilateral sanction and this is due to two factors: firstly, the US’s financial institutions and banks’ transnational coverage reach beyond the scope of the US government’s laws and orders, and secondly, the US’s economically leading position was fallen among its alliance. In addition to the analysis, some questions were appeared in area of law that how much the US transnational corporations, which are cooperating and jointly implementing with other governments, should follow to what extent to the laws made within the US.

          From that time, application of sanction instrument in the US foreign policies was significantly fallen up to end of the Cold War. In the Post-Cold War era, widely use of the sanction instrument was seen again. The US added clauses in new law which can take serious actions on American transnational corporations as criminals and have ability to make economic sanctions to foreign organizations. Since after modification the laws, the US’s power and scope to impose unilateral sanctions were increased dramatically. In the present days, the US government now imposes various sanctions to various governments around the world such as Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Lybia, and Western Balkan region, Terrorists and terrorist organizations, and trading of Diamonds, Uranium and weapons of massive destruction.


The US Government and its Burmese Sanctions Programme

Success story of application of sanction instrument on South African government and its racial segregation policy in 1980s and 90s makes driving forces to use the instrument to Burmese military government. Acts of the regime – intense repression on opposition parties, without respect to human rights and humanitarian values, detaining opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for long-term – are very similar to the inhumane acts of South African government on indigenous people including the National Hero ‘Nelson Mandela’ who serviced 27 years in prison. From political and economic to sport sanctions to the South African government by the United Nations, Governments around the world and international organizations make to end up the South African government’s Apartheid policy which was begun since colonial time and become official policy of the country in 1948.

          The visible successful result of the sanction instrument was well recognized among Burmese pro-democracy activists and the situation lead them to organize campaigns and advocate governments around the world to make sanctions to Burmese military regime. The campaigns were able to make withdrawal of over forty corporations from Burma, including many apparel companies and several oil companies, such as Arco, Unocal and Texaco.

          The US senator Mitch McConnell’s proposal in 1995 to impose sanctions comprehensively on the Burmese military regime was a great move and initiative to the US government’s Burmese Sanction Programme. Situation in which the military regime’s inhumane responses on opposition leader in 1996-97 and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s request to international community to impose various sanctions on the regime are strong additional driving forces to the US government to impose sanctions to Burma.

          Burmese Sanctions Programme was started in 1997 after the US President signed on Executive Order (E.O) 13047 by using presidential authority of Foreign Operation, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act and International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The US Congress enacted Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act using given authority from the Act, the President signed on E.O 13310 in July 2003 and E.O 13448 in October 2007, E.O 13464 in April 2008. In July 2008, the US Congress endorsed Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act. The US government’s Department of Treasury prepared Burmese Sanctions Regulation (BSR) and its branch, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) manages the Burmese Sanctions Programme.

          The United States maintained extensive sanctions on Burma. These measures include an arms embargo, bans on new investment and imports, an asset freeze, and a prohibition on the export of financial services to Burma and the provision of financial assistance to the military regime. The Department of State maintained visa restrictions on SPDC members; government ministers and other senior Burmese Government officials; military officers above the rank of colonel; all officials of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA); civil servants above the rank of Director General; and managers of state-owned enterprises. The visa restrictions covered the immediate family members for all the categories of individuals listed above. Sanctions under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act prohibit funding exchange visits to the United States by individuals affiliated with the Government, including public school teachers.

Critiques on the US Sanctions to Burmese Military Regime

Critiques on the sanctions had been seen since the beginning of the sanction programme and some critics oppose the programme through out up to date. The prominent academics among regular opponents on the sanction programme are Professor Robert Taylor, John Badgley, David Steinberg and Helen James. All of the critiques including theirs can be analysed and divided the findings into three areas – firstly, sanction is not an appropriate instrument and will be counter-productive, secondly, sanctions affect on national interest of the US, and thirdly, US need to review the sanction.

          In the first area “sanction is not an appropriate instrument and will be counter-productive”, critics highlight differences between international sanctions to South African government and Burmese junta and because of this differences, Burmese Sanction programme cannot attain success like South African programme.


Significant points in their critiques are:

  • In South African scenario, powerful governments, global and regional organizations, neighbour countries fully cooperated and well united in the sanctions programme. But in Burmese scenario, because of different perspectives and policy based on different national interest, international cooperation in Burmese sanctions programme is different from South African scenario.
  • Export sector has little role in GDP of Burma under the junta and for that reason, some critics point out that the US government sanction to prohibit imports from Burma to US will not be effective and this approach cannot make significant pressure on the junta to change their attitudes and practices.
  • In Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) sector, investment of American Business is comparatively very small amount in Burma and for that reason, some critics indicate that the US sanction to ban on American business’s new investments and imports to Burma will not be effective, and the junta can make substitution at the place of US business by China and ASEAN countries.
  • Eventually, leaders of the regime and their families can get world standard health care and banking services from Singapore. Previously, they used to take the services from western world. This availability provides chances to the junta to overcome the US sanction to prohibit export of American Business firms’ financial services to Burma and the provision of financial assistance to the military regime.

Among the critiques against the sanction, some points were seen as conflict of ideas. For example, while all critiques above point out that the US’s economic sanctions to Burmese military regime cannot be effective one; some critiques state that because of the sanctions, the junta faced a great deal of difficulties. In Professor Robert Taylor’s article – “Myanmar’s Political Future: Is Waiting for the Perfect the Enemy of Doing the Possible? – the author states that because of facing difficulties due to economic sanctions to Burma, the regime conducted forced labour in the country’s infrastructure development and requested forced donations from business firms. In a presentation of David Steinberg, economic sanctions caused closing down of garment industry in Burma and made unemployment of the factory workers, almost all are female and their unemployment make further counter-productive consequences such as increasing problems in human trafficking and sex trade.

          In the second area, critiques about the sanctions’ backfired to national interest of the US are as follows:

  • The US sanctions push the junta more close to China and create better opportunities for China. China, a state at second seat after the US in term of fossil fuel utilization in the world, gets chance to exploit Burma’s geographical location and natural gas resources for its fuel security because of the US sanctions to Burma. As examples, the critics pointed out that China get chance to bring oil and natural gas from Middle East through Burma by pipeline instead of carrying those by shipping through the Strait of Malacca, use of Burma’s Coco Island for its naval functions, and make agreement to sell natural gas from Burma’s Western offshore fields to China.
  • Burma is accepted by all government of India as a country does not threaten national security of India. But new emergence of India-Burma relationship is appeared based on the changing circumference between China and Burma.
  • Burmese military’s prospect to be strongest manpower in Southeast Asia if Vietnam completes its military manpower reduction programme.

Above all points indicate that the US’s national interest and foreign policy for Southeast Asia such as regional stability and security are being affected and it is related to the US sanctions to Burma.

          Basic concept in the critiques is that Burmese military government has willingness to make close cooperation with the US but because of the US sanction, Burma-US relationship was broken down and the sanctions make Burma more close to China. Because of the broken down relationship, the US did not get chances to participate effectively in Burma’s growing narcotic and illicit drug problems and HIV/AIDS problem. This loss of chance for the US makes backfire to US and affect on its national interest and finally, the critics said the US sanctions to Burma make counter-productive for the US.

          In the third area, critiques about needs to review the US sanctions to Burma programme, some critics point out that:

  • from geopolitical perspective, Burma is located at pivotal position in Asia’s balance of power and existing US’s policy implementation on Burma is not representative for the US’s war on terror;
  • existing US policy on restoration of democracy in Burma focus too much on NLD and exclude role of military. It actually makes lack of chance for the US to deal with military officials who want reforms and to cultivate Burmese military to be pro-western.
  • existing US policy on Burma just focus on 1990 election result and lack of focus the situations beyond 1990 such as transformation of civilian administration and performance of government departments and services, maintaining peace, stability and relationship with cease-fire groups and other ethnic armed forces at border.

          Among the critics, ideas of David Steinberg and Helen James are looked as very supportive to the junta’s ideology. For example, in the articles – David Steinberg’s “Burma/Myanmar: A Guide for the Perplexed?” and Helen James’ “King Solomon’s Judgement” – they suggest world leaders and governments should accept the junta’s seven-step roadmap as a realistic and practical way. They also said that keeping opposition groups at forefront of policy and expecting perfect democracy in Burma are miscalculation and true change agent will be in military. Based on these points, the authors advocate governments to review their policies to Burma.


Review on the Critiques

Policy and policy instrument should be reviewed separately and if the US sanctions to Burma is truly not an appropriate policy instrument, responsibilities of Burmese pro-democracy activists will be to find better and more appropriate policy instrument(s), and apply themselves also and suggest Obama’s government with facts and figures. Pro-sanction and anti-sanction is not a great issue among pro-democracy activists and should not dispute and affect on relationship among them.

          If the US government does not change overall goal and immediate objective of its policy on Burma and if the goals and objectives are still in line with Burmese pro-democracy activists, success of the US policy on Burma will be the same as and success of the activists. Based on this consideration, policy goal and objective are more important than the instrument, sanctions to Burma, and Burmese pro-democracy activists should emphasize more on the policy contents, goal and objectives of the US government.

          Readers of the article can see idea of conflict in the critiques even in same perspective. Readers need to think and ask some questions to David Steinberg and Robert Taylor that if problems in the junta era such as sex trade, forced labour, unemployment rate, human trafficking, and illegal immigrants at border areas are due to sanctions, “will the problems disappear when sanctions are withdrawal?” In reality, the following are root-causes of the problems created by the junta itself: repressive administration, monopolised economy, unbalanced government budget with more than 50% allocation of total government budget at defence sector, and severe corruption at all level of administration. Although the existing sanctions to Burma are withdrawed, the problems will still be with Burma and have to more worsen day after day under management of the military regime.

          The work, reviewing the US policy on Burma, measuring effectiveness of the policy and appropriateness of the policy instrument is own responsibility of the US citizens and its academics for seek of their national interest. In addition, criticising advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits of government interventions is lovely practice of a democratic system. Lessons learned from the scenario are Burmese have to do for seek of national interest of Burma. Burmese pro-democracy activists and organizations have to review own policy’s goals, objectives and implementations and make constructive proposals, and also have to explore more on the junta’s attempts making long-live of militarism and authoritative system, and monopolising the country’s economy.

          There is no right and wrong if Obama regime reset their Burma policy’s goals and objectives after completion of their policy review process. Policy will be different if national interest is different. It is natural phenomenon. If the US policy on Burma has changed after policy review, works of Burmese pro-democracy activists are to identify upcoming strategic challenges to them and possible impacts of the policy changes on pro-democracy activists’ interventions. Based on the findings, Burmese organizations will need to do necessary arrangement on existing strategies and interventions.


Anti-sanction campaigns and set target to NLD

At the present days in Burma, the regime becomes a social layer living above the laws and people are under. But the sanctions make the regime to live under the sanctions’ rules and regulations. It is very strong psychological attack to the regime and really painful for them. Furthermore, the sanctions are serious reminder to the military regime that they are unconstitutional and non-legitimate government and holding state power by military. For this reason, the junta lists people and organizations as enemy who stand for sanctions, and prepares and implements anti-sanction campaign since the beginning of the sanctions.

          We are now closer to 2010 General Election that is promised by the junta. The junta notices that if NLD takes part in the election, there will be silent both sides, in-country and exile opposition groups, criticizing 2008 National Constitution and demanding 1990 election result. Based on this reason, the junta wants NLD to take part in election and at the same time, the junta does not want to see landslide victory of NLD again. So that today strategy of the junta is to shape NLD as a figure without strength and as part of the strategy, the junta organizes anti-sanctions campaign and makes attacks to NLD. 

In the anti-sanction campaign, the junta criticizes today problems in Burma are due to the sanctions. Articles and papers of David Steinberg and Robert Taylor became very useful tools for the junta. By referencing the articles, the junta got a chance to hide its inhumane acts, such as intense repression, monopolized economy, over expenses of military in government budget, wrong policy and severe corruption, and names sanctions cause forced labour problems, human trafficking, internal displaced people and refugees at borders, and ineffective disease control measures.

          Secondly, the junta makes a link between the sanctions and NLD and put all above problems on NLD’s shoulder. The junta said that all the problems related to sanctions are due to NLD because of its support to sanctions. The junta’s media propagate NLD is main responsible body for the problems although the junta has. The junta officials organize former NLD members and persuade them by giving economic opportunities to criticize NLD for its continuing support to sanctions. The junta not only pushes them to criticize NLD also support them to organize a party to take part in election parallel to NLD.


Thirdly, the junta creates a political space for Burmese fellows of David Steinberg, Robert Taylor and Helen James whose ideas are generally to collaborate and cooperate with the regime. Although the Burmese fellows can use various state-own and private media to propagate their ideas and concepts, they can not get supports from people because the distressed people will name them as opportunists and self-seekers. It is also a condition the junta wants to see. The junta has to create a parliament in which representatives of Commander-in-Chief will be seen as well united and consolidated 25% group and People’s Representatives as disorganized and very diverse 75% group.



This article presents about background of the sanctions programme such as why the US government makes sanctions programme on Burmese military regime, and critiques for and against the programme including suggestions to make reviews. After clarification of the background, this article introduces how the junta took points against sanctions and prepare propaganda programme, anti-sanctions campaign, and how the junta use the campaign to attack NLD. The whole article will provide clear message to readers that what the directions and objectives of the junta’s anti-sanctions campaigns are. It is to diminish NLD’s image and identity and at the same time to hide failures of the regime in 20 year administration. The ultimate aim is to successfully manage 2010 general election for maximum benefits of the junta.

          In conclusion, I would like to suggest Burmese pro-democracy activists and organizations not to follow consciously or unconsciously in the waves of the junta’s psychological warfare and to grasp the point that the junta is common enemy in our attempts to restore democracy in Burma. For the restoration of democracy in Burma, we all should accept diverse perspective and at the same time we must cooperate and coordinate strongly and firmly among ourselves. The most important work for today is to review organizational strategies and find true strengths if the organization relies too much on foreign governments’ supports. If I only get a chance to say a single word, I would like to say “to be proactive.


23 April 2009