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The Role of Sanctions in Burma

5:24 PM, Oct 1, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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When people gripe about the U.S. sanctions regime now in place in Burma, they tend to point out the fact that sanctions have been in place for more than a decade but the junta remains in power -- ergo, the sanctions are a failure. But this kind of misses the point. Sanctions were never intended to promote regime chance, they were intended to make Burma a pariah state, and to deny the junta the international and domestic legitimacy it so desperately seeks. The fact that the junta still seeks such legitimacy is proof then that the sanctions have been successful on their own terms, and this despite the fact that the sanctions were only half-implemented until the Saffron Revolution when the Bush administration began to add names to the visa ban and add corporations to Treasury's black list.

It is in this context that Kelley Currie, a Bush administration State Department official whose work focused on Burma, writes in the Wall Street Journal's Asia edition today about a new play by Aung San Suu Kyi to keep the Obama administration honest and to put the junta on the defensive. Read the whole thing here, it is a very smart piece about the role that sanctions can play going forward. And it also includes this warning about the danger Jim Webb poses as he continues to meddle in the situation:

Even with these caveats, the Obama team runs the risk of sending a misleading message to the generals that they are being brought in from the cold, especially in light of Senator James Webb's recent trip to Burma and his recent statements. Mr. Webb seems to want the U.S. to emulate China's behavior in Burma and abandon principled support for the democracy movement to better check China's influence. He has expressed unqualified support for the junta's planned 2010 elections, which will institutionalize military rule, and has called for preemptive lifting of sanctions. There is a significant difference between that version of engagement and the kind Ms. Suu Kyi supports. She has already seemed to publicly rebuke the senator for putting words in her mouth about sanctions. Senator Webb's clumsy efforts could easily undercut the kind of sophisticated diplomacy that the Obama administration hopes to employ.

Again...read the whole thing.