Thursday, November 5, 2009

A perestroika for Burma?

Senior US State Department official Kurt Campbell is presently on a diplomatic mission to Burma.  In Rangoon Campbell met with Aung San Suu Kyi.  This initiative follows Jim Webb's rescue mission Burma in July.   A WSJ article (h/t New Mandala) by Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist well-acquainted with Burma, explores why previous diplomatic liaisons have failed.  His article concludes:
"...There are no Young Turks lurking in the wings.

Still, Burma's only hope for the future is that some officers, young or old, will change their minds. Until that happens, nothing is likely to change. And emissaries sent by the U.S. or any other Western power are likely to end up being as frustrated as Mr. Richardson was 14 years ago."
There appears to be much agreement that a successful reformers in Myanmar will most likely have to  emerge from within the ranks of the military.   As one disident told me in 2007:
There are three military groups: army, navy and air force. Some army officers, some navy officers, some air force officers, don’t want to accept the ideas of the General Than Shwe.

But we secretly join them, from the riflemen to the general. Whoever we can contact....
How do you bring senior Myanmar military officers to your side?   That is the question.

Thant Myint-U  told a US Senate committee hearing that it is not easy have any influence on the officers when your country's policy is not to interact with them. Conversely, he said that increased contacts could open receptive officers and technocrats to change.

One advantage, of course, to pursuing more contacts with the regime is that this process may be advanced in the light of day.   No need to pursue dangerous secret liaisons if ordinary contacts could occur on an open,  regular basis.

In this regard, I believe it is important to consider the extent to which the foreign exposure of high-ranking Soviets such Gorbachev and Aleksandr Yakovlev laid the foundation for perestroika.
Photo: by Jotman shows Kurt Campbell escaping a Senate hearing.

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