Thursday, September 27, 2007

Norm Coleman should heed lessons from Burma

President George Bush addressed the situation in Myanmar ( aka Burma ) at the United Nations link : “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military junta has imposed a 19-year reign of fear. Basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and worship are severely restricted. Ethnic minorities are persecuted. Forced child labor, human trafficking, and rape are common. The regime is holding more than 1,000 political prisoners -- including Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was elected overwhelmingly by the Burmese people in 1990.
The ruling junta remains unyielding, yet the people's desire for freedom is unmistakable. This morning, I'm announcing a series of steps to help bring peaceful change to Burma. The United States will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers. We will impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members. We'll continue to support the efforts of humanitarian groups working to alleviate suffering in Burma. And I urge the United Nations and all nations to use their diplomatic and economic leverage to help the Burmese people reclaim their freedom.

The lessons are woefully apparent yet President Bush is still trying the same approach.

Following the August 1988 massacre of demonstrators, President George H. W. Bush suspended all arms sales and foreign assistance, except humanitarian aid, to Burma. In September, 1996 President Clinton barred U.S. assistance to Burma except for relief aid and anti-narcotic purposes and calling for a moratorium on new American private investment . link

Sanctions were the message.

Bush was right -- “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma" -- and some did try to force compliance … for example, Halliburton shareholders advanced an initiative after the Halliburton was involved in a 1997 Yadana pipeline project (NOTE : Halliburton’s CEO in 1997 was current US Vice-President Richard Cheney).
Halliburton’s response : “While the Board shares the Proponent's concern about human rights abuses in countries such as Myanmar, Halliburton has not engaged in, or condoned, such conduct. Thus, the requested report will serve only to increase administrative burdens and costs. Halliburton's Code of Business Conduct requires all employees and agents to practice honesty and integrity in every aspect of their dealings with other Halliburton employees, customers, suppliers and the public and to treat those persons with dignity and respect. As a company that operates in over 100 countries around the world, our customers, partners, suppliers and employees represent virtually every race or national origin and an associated multitude of religions, cultures, customs, political philosophies and languages.
We must, and do, respect this diversity and realize that neither the United States nor we can impose its values on the world. It is not our purpose to remake the world in the image of any particular political, moral or religious philosophy with which we are comfortable.
Rather, we hope to help improve the quality of life wherever we do business by serving as a developer of natural resources and infrastructures.
Regarding allegations of violations of human rights by the government of Myanmar, we believe that decisions as to the nature of such governments and their actions are better made by governmental authorities and international entities such as the United Nations as opposed to individual persons or companies. Where the United States government has mandated that United States companies refrain from commerce, we comply, often to the advantage of our international competitors. History has shown that single country, let alone corporate boycotts and sanctions, are ineffective, often injuring the economic interests of the boycotting entity.
We do not always agree with the policies or actions of governments in every place that we do business. Due to the long-term nature of our business and the inevitability of political and social change, however, it is neither prudent nor appropriate for Halliburton to establish its own country-by-country foreign policy.

Note : Emphasis added.

There’s the problem with sanctions … they don’t work. Halliburton’s response is similar to China which views the problems in Burma as “internal”. How can the US expect other countries to levy sanctions when US companies will not ?

While sanctions restricting foreign aid and investment may economically weaken a country, the reigning regime may retain, and even increase, its brute power. Dictators strengthen their control over reformers as contact with the outside world is restricted. Education and society advancements are restricted. The US is blamed for meddling and all difficulties that the people face. The only jobs are military jobs. The ruling power find “friendly partners” who will continue to provide what it wants ( Senator Coleman’s investigation of the Iraq Oil industry is an illustration).
The regime does not suffer … just the people.

This is not a rant on Cheney and Halliburton … but instead that sanctions don’t work. And that is why I address this commentary to Senator Coleman.

Senator Coleman sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. The committee has oversight over the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. government, including the State Department, USAID, and other agencies that implement international treaties, as well as legislation relating to U.S. foreign policy. That is the most important committee that Coleman is assigned.

Coleman has advocated sanctions against Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Laos, North Korea, and Syria … just to name a few.

As Baron de Montesquieu wrote in his 1748 work, The Spirit of the Laws, “Peace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling: and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities.”

It’s time for Senator Coleman to realize that sanctions do not work.
Nineteen years of US sanctions against Burma has not changed the regime.
Engaged diplomacy and trade is America’s best foreign policy.
Adhereing to his idealogy of sanctions actually hurts Minnesota businesses.

1 comment:

Free Burma! said...

Free Burma!
International Bloggers' Day for Burma on the 4th of October

International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.