After the Obama administration announced a new policy of "engagement" with odious military regimes last year, Burma went back to relative obscurity. Engagement yielded the predictable result (nothing), and other issues -- namely various manifestations of uncouth behavior emanating from Beijing - took over as the spangliest thing on the Asian landscape in recent months. But while attention was focused elsewhere, Burma's malignant generals have steadily worked to establish themselves as an ever greater threat to regional peace and stability, and an even heavier blight on the Burmese people.
This week, Defense Industry Daily announced that the junta has inked a deal with the Russians to purchase a new tranche of MiG-29 fighter planes. The Russians reportedly beat out the Chinese, Burma's primary political patron and big brother in the fraternity of dictatorships. DID also noted that the Burmese are cooperating with the Russians on building a nuclear power plant -- an odd choice for a country awash in petroleum. Additionally, Australia's Lowy Institute recently published a report by noted Burmese military expert Andrew Selth about the junta's pursuit of Scud-type short-range ballistic missiles.
Now, what does a military regime whose primary security threat consists of a series of low-intensity ethnic conflicts along its periphery want with all this heavy-duty hardware? Selth claims the wackadoodle Burmese regime fears that the U.S. plans a land invasion in cooperation with neighboring Thailand, and that it is purchasing the SRBMs and such to ward off this attack. Trying to ascribe a rationale to this bunch of power-crazed lunatics is difficult, but the results of the regime's seemingly endless shopping spree of high-end weaponry is clear: It aims to increase insecurity in an important part of the world, where the U.S. has significant strategic and economic interests; to perpetuate the rapacious, predatory regime that leads the world in human rights abuses and corruption; and to continue the long-suffering of the Burmese people, whose country already sits at the bottom of nearly every indicator of societal health, prosperity, and freedom.
So how has the Obama administration countered the junta? Well, last week in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Kurt Campbell was asked about engagement with Senior Dictator Than Shwe and his merry band of murderers and rapists, he called it a "mixed bag." Let's look in that "mixed bag:" More torture, more repression, more political chicanery, more deprivation of the citizenry so the regime's leaders can live in splendid isolation in their Disneyesque capital, more weapons, more cooperation with the North Koreans, more attacks on ethnic minorities, and - oh, wait, here at the bottom - more injustice in the form of a Burmese-American about to be sentenced to prison by a kangaroo court for working with the democracy movement. I'll get back to you when I find something good in here...
Later, Campbell told reporters: "We have had some follow-on direct interactions... with Burmese authorities, and I think we're going to be looking at a subsequent set of discussions in the near future."
New year, same old policy of engagement.