Burma Turning to Forced-Labor for Reconstruction

  • #1
russ_watters
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I really think they have gotten to the point where the UN should start seriously considering action. I can't imagine it would be very difficult to take this government down.
The military junta has declared the emergency relief phase of the disaster over and announced reconstruction has begun, ordering able-bodied cyclone survivors to work details, according to aid workers and delta residents.

In the nearby town of Bogalay, where 120 refugees were crammed into the Sankyaung monastery, filled with the sound of rattling coughs and wailing children, the abbot said some survivors had been ordered to construction sites by soldiers.

"Some of the survivors were sent to Ma-ubin last week to build roads now that reconstruction has started," said the monk, Kawvida, adding he'd heard they were being paid a day wage of about 1,000 kyats — or $1. "They have told me that they are being exploited by some generals."

He said survivors were given picks and ordered to break up large boulders into pieces of rock for road construction.
http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2008-05-28-cyclone-survivors-victimized_N.htm
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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There is no oil in Burma.
 
  • #3
russ_watters
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There is no oil in Burma.
And you can't drive there from Western Europe.

Yes, I'm aware that the way international politics works today, that's not a realistic possibility. Some day, that will need to change. Every time some natural or man-made disaster happens and kills a few hundred thousand people, the international community looks back and says 'we shouldn't have let that happen - and we won't, ever again', but they always do.
 
  • #4
quadraphonics
I really think they have gotten to the point where the UN should start seriously considering action. I can't imagine it would be very difficult to take this government down.

In material terms, no, it would not be (although reconstructing the country afterwards is a different story). What would take a lot of doing, however, would be persuding China not to veto any resolution authorizing the use of force against the Burmese junta. I frankly can't imagine how anyone could ever get Beijing to allow such a thing.
 
  • #5
i think direct military action or anything with considerable cost would be used to unseat the junta.

there's really nothing to be gained from getting rid of the burmese government, nothing to fear from not getting rid of them. nothing much at least.
 
  • #6
Art
I doubt a full scale invasion would be required, just a few well aimed cruise missiles with the promise of more if they don't allow the relief in. I'd think the surviving ruling junta would be open to softening their stance on foreign aid workers if the price of non-compliance was having to spend the rest of their lives in an underground, hardened military bunker .:biggrin:

IMO given their public comments France might be the ones to lead such an attack. As for how to initiate such an action; simple really, move one of the warships carrying aid towards Burma and wait for the Burmese to attack her.
 
  • #7
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Um, where exactly does it say in the UN charter (especially Article VII) where the UN can use force on a sovereign country because it doesn't like how it is handling a purely internal matter?

Also, how does one get this past China (and to a lesser degree, Russia), who not only supports to Burmese junta, but also badly wants to avoid the precedent of having UN troops on their doorstep because of an internal human rights violation.

Oh, and there most certainly is oil in Burma.
 
  • #8
quadraphonics
Um, where exactly does it say in the UN charter (especially Article VII) where the UN can use force on a sovereign country because it doesn't like how it is handling a purely internal matter?

Not an expert on the details of the UN charter, but hadn't everyone agreed that the UN would take whatever steps were necessary to prevent another Rwanda? Not that they've necessarily done so since then, but I had the impression that was more a matter of political will than constitutional mandate. Anyway, the first sentence in Article VII explicitly delegates complete authority to the Security Council to determine the existance of threats to the peace, etc., so it seems entirely at their discretion.

Also, how does one get this past China (and to a lesser degree, Russia), who not only supports to Burmese junta, but also badly wants to avoid the precedent of having UN troops on their doorstep because of an internal human rights violation.

Exactly, China will veto any resolution authorizing anything more severe than a harshly-worded letter to Burma. It is simply not possible that the Security Council would ever authorize such a thing.
 
  • #9
russ_watters
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I doubt a full scale invasion would be required, just a few well aimed cruise missiles with the promise of more if they don't allow the relief in. I'd think the surviving ruling junta would be open to softening their stance on foreign aid workers if the price of non-compliance was having to spend the rest of their lives in an underground, hardened military bunker .:biggrin:
That's along the lines of what I was thinking, though we don't even really need to shoot first. A friendly letter could be enough:

---------------------

To whom it may concern:
We are going to deliver aid directly to your people in need. If you could be so kind as to stay out of our way, that would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
The UN

P.S. - Our aid workers will have military escorts to ensure their protection, who will do what is necessary to ensure that protection.
 
  • #10
quadraphonics
To whom it may concern:
We are going to deliver aid directly to your people in need. If you could be so kind as to stay out of our way, that would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
The UN

P.S. - Our aid workers will have military escorts to ensure their protection, who will do what is necessary to ensure that protection.

Yeah, just look at how well that worked in Somalia. Oh, wait...
 
  • #11
drankin
At what point do we force our will upon foreign governments? We are doing so in Iraq and that doesn't seem very popular. I can understand if Burma doesn't trust the West in helping out then leaving because it doesn't seem that we ever leave once we are there.
 
  • #12
quadraphonics
At what point do we force our will upon foreign governments?

Well, the usual standard has been when they threaten us in some way. But that's the wrong question, unless by "we" and "our" you are referring to "every single person in the world except for the Burmese junta."

We are doing so in Iraq and that doesn't seem very popular.

Geopolitics is not a popularity contest, although I'd add that the comparison to Iraq is so inapt as to not merit discussion.

I can understand if Burma doesn't trust the West in helping out then leaving because it doesn't seem that we ever leave once we are there.

Right, just look at all those Western spies that remained after the aid to Iran in the Bam quake, or the tsunami areas, or any of the million other examples of Western organizations/countries showing up, giving out aid, and then leaving. If Iran can accept help from The Great Satan after a natural disaster, I don't see why Burma can't do the same. Unless, of course, the issue is not fear of Western governments at all, but the loss of internal legitimacy that would result from admitting that the situation is beyond their control, American imperialism or no.
 
  • #13
drankin
Well, the usual standard has been when they threaten us in some way. But that's the wrong question, unless by "we" and "our" you are referring to "every single person in the world except for the Burmese junta."



Geopolitics is not a popularity contest, although I'd add that the comparison to Iraq is so inapt as to not merit discussion.



Right, just look at all those Western spies that remained after the aid to Iran in the Bam quake, or the tsunami areas, or any of the million other examples of Western organizations/countries showing up, giving out aid, and then leaving. If Iran can accept help from The Great Satan after a natural disaster, I don't see why Burma can't do the same. Unless, of course, the issue is not fear of Western governments at all, but the loss of internal legitimacy that would result from admitting that the situation is beyond their control, American imperialism or no.

Well, we (the West, the U.S. in particular) aren't being threatened by the Burmese. So, we don't have the right to force aid against the will of the Burmese gov't.

Iraq is an example of occupying for one purpose and remaining for another, since you didn't get that. Not that we would but why should the junta believe otherwise?

I don't think spying is what they are worried about more than indefinate occupation.
 
  • #14
quadraphonics
Well, we (the West, the U.S. in particular) aren't being threatened by the Burmese. So, we don't have the right to force aid against the will of the Burmese gov't.

What if the Burmese government does not represent the will of the Burmese people? What if "we" means the entire international community, some of whom *are* threatened by both the Burmese government, and the deteriorating conditions there? After all, it's UN action that is being discussed here, not some American-led coalition of the willing.

Iraq is an example of occupying for one purpose and remaining for another, since you didn't get that.

I don't agree with either that assertion or the implicit idea that it's relevant to Burma.

Not that we would but why should the junta believe otherwise?

For any of the reasons I cited in my last post (i.e., the long list of humanitarian assistance projects that didn't entail a residual American presence). Why would the junta believe that humanitarian intervention is a pretense for permanent American occupation? The only time anything close to that was attempted was in Somalia, and we all know how that went.

I don't think spying is what they are worried about more than indefinate occupation.

What they're worried about is staying in power. Why would America want to depose the Burmese regime, and why would America think that doing so under the auspices of a humanitarian assistance mission would be at all a good idea?
 
  • #15
drankin
What if the Burmese government does not represent the will of the Burmese people? What if "we" means the entire international community, some of whom *are* threatened by both the Burmese government, and the deteriorating conditions there? After all, it's UN action that is being discussed here, not some American-led coalition of the willing.

That's a lot of "what ifs". What is the difference between Burma and N Korea if only one has had a natural disaster. N Koreans are starving everyday, why doesn't the UN push to go in there and feed them? Do your what ifs apply to them?

I don't agree with either that assertion or the implicit idea that it's relevant to Burma.

-Shrug-

For any of the reasons I cited in my last post (i.e., the long list of humanitarian assistance projects that didn't entail a residual American presence). Why would the junta believe that humanitarian intervention is a pretense for permanent American occupation? The only time anything close to that was attempted was in Somalia, and we all know how that went.

You have a valid point except that I'm not the one that needs to be convinced.

What they're worried about is staying in power. Why would America want to depose the Burmese regime, and why would America think that doing so under the auspices of a humanitarian assistance mission would be at all a good idea?

Of course they are concerned about staying in power. Again, convincing the Burmese gov't is what is required. If military force is used, we may be looking at another Vietnam type situation.
 
  • #16
Art
After Rwanda the UN said 'never again' perhaps they should have added 'well, until the next time anyway':rolleyes:
 
  • #17
quadraphonics
What is the difference between Burma and N Korea

Not very much. Both are closed despotic states that survive in the shadow of the CCP. Although, North Korea has historically been less reticent about accepting aid.

N Koreans are starving everyday, why doesn't the UN push to go in there and feed them?

Same reason they don't go into Burma: Beijing will veto any resolution authorizing such actions.

Do your what ifs apply to them?

Yes, of course. I'd love to see Kim Jong Il drug through the streets tomorrow, and Koreans finally allowed to put their nation back together. But Kim would prefer to stay in power, and Beijing would prefer to keep a subordinate on the Korean peninsula, so there you go.

Of course they are concerned about staying in power. Again, convincing the Burmese gov't is what is required.

Actually, it's the Chinese government that needs to be convinced. The Burmese government's position is entirely dependent on Beijing's cooperation. As long as Beijing supports them, there's nothing anyone else can really do; the moment Beijing stops supporting them, they're done for.

If military force is used, we may be looking at another Vietnam type situation.

Not really. Nobody is trying to colonize Burma, and it's not as if the junta commands enough popular support to wage an extended insurgency. And, again, such an action would require Beijing to be on board, which would eliminate any sources of outside support. Again, the best parallel is probably Somalia.
 
  • #18
russ_watters
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Yeah, just look at how well that worked in Somalia. Oh, wait...
Burma isn't Somalia (we weren't just providing aid, we were fighting a war), but in any case, it would have worked fine in Somalia hd we equipped our troops properly.
 
  • #19
russ_watters
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At what point do we force our will upon foreign governments? We are doing so in Iraq and that doesn't seem very popular. I can understand if Burma doesn't trust the West in helping out then leaving because it doesn't seem that we ever leave once we are there.
I'm not so sure we should really care about how it "seems". The fact of the matter is, since WWII, the West has been deimperializing. That people perceive something different/wrong is not something I'm too concerned with. I'm concerned with reality.

Also, is "Burma" the government or the people? The few interviews I've heard of citizens, they aren't too thrilled with their dictatorship.
 
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  • #20
russ_watters
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Well, the usual standard has been when they threaten us in some way.
That isn't correct. The UN sent troops into Somalia and Rwanda (not enough in Rwanda) and NATO into Yugoslavia with no outside threat. Somalia started as purely a humanitarian relief effort, backed by force.
Geopolitics is not a popularity contest
Yes it is. It is no more evolved than a high school government election.
If Iran can accept help from The Great Satan after a natural disaster, I don't see why Burma can't do the same. Unless, of course, the issue is not fear of Western governments at all, but the loss of internal legitimacy that would result from admitting that the situation is beyond their control, American imperialism or no.
It's a little bit of everything for the Burmese government. You did forget one thing though: How can the US be legitimately portrayed as evil if the only food these people see has an American flag stamped on the wrapper and is handed out by a guy in an American military uniform? For xenophobic military dictatorships, it is very important that the people believe outsiders are bad.
 
  • #21
russ_watters
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Iraq is an example of occupying for one purpose and remaining for another, since you didn't get that. Not that we would but why should the junta believe otherwise?
The Iraq comparison is invalid, but the basic point - that the Junta would be worried about our motives - is true, if irrelevant. They are caught in several catch-22's, including the need to have their people believe the West is bad. The inability to help their people hurts their power, but then so does getting help from outsiders (in their perception). Then there's the catch-22 of not letting us in because they are closed society being what makes them an illegitimate government. If they let us in, they show that they are open and willing to be a part of the international community.

But as I said before: I don't care what an illegitimate government thinks. They don't have the right to sovereignty for no other reason (though there are other reasons...) than that they are unable to provide the necessary relief and have refused to allow others to help. We can force our way in there, do the humanitarian thing, then decide if its a good opportunity to take down the Burmese government while we're at it.
 
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  • #22
russ_watters
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That's a lot of "what ifs". What is the difference between Burma and N Korea if only one has had a natural disaster. N Koreans are starving everyday, why doesn't the UN push to go in there and feed them? Do your what ifs apply to them?
They do. Unfortunatly, there is the practical reality of N Korea having a large military. If we could easily depose Kim Il as well, I'd be in favor of it, but we can't. We can help Burma (whether we depose the government or not), so we should. That's the Moral Imperative: being capable of acting to fill a need creates a duty/obligation to fill that need.
You have a valid point except that I'm not the one that needs to be convinced.
Who does, the Junta? Why should we care about convincing them?
Of course they are concerned about staying in power. Again, convincing the Burmese gov't is what is required.
Why?
If military force is used, we may be looking at another Vietnam type situation.
Burma isn't Vietnam.
 
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  • #23
drankin
Russ, why does it take a natural disaster? Why don't we just go into every country that is run like Burma and help the people?

I don't really disagree with you.

But with China supporting Burma it could be messy.

Burma is very much like Vietnam, Russ. Similar vegetation, people, lifestyles, poverty... one would be hard pressed to know what jungle they were in between the two. Combat would be very similar if it came to it.
 
  • #24
russ_watters
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Russ, why does it take a natural disaster? Why don't we just go into every country that is run like Burma and help the people?
I'd generally be in favor of that.

What differentiates this case from that, though, is the immediate need of these people. We tend to act only when the need gets much, much worse (see: Somalia), which is understandable. You have to weigh the difficulty of the action against the intensity of the need to decide if you can/should do it.

That's why there is no excuse for not going into Rwanda. Those people were killing each other with machetes. I read estimates that we could have stopped it with something like 10,000 troops.
Burma is very much like Vietnam, Russ. Similar vegetation, people, lifestyles, poverty... one would be hard pressed to know what jungle they were in between the two. Combat would be very similar if it came to it.
I don't mean the climate or geography, I mean the country and the geopolitical situation. The Burmese Junta have nowhere near the foreign military support that the NVA had. In fact, I'd venture to say that the NVA had both a better equipped and more modern (in today's terms) military 40 years ago than Burma has today. Not to mention bigger: we killed twice as many soldiers in Vietnam as Burma has in their entire military.

Besides - we don't need to fight a Vietnam-type war to take down the Junta. We can just go in and get them. It is a different age of warfare for us -- but not for them.

I also realize that knocking the head off the government, then trying to rebuilt it would be messy (a la Iraq), so I'm not actually suggesting we go in there and try to nation-build, even if we decapitate the government.
 
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  • #25
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Burma (or Myanmar) has the longest currently running civil war in the world against the Karen in Eastern Burma - from 1948 to the present. The government has had a cease fire against the other major ethnic group, the Mon, that has conducted sporadic revolts against the government ever since it gained its independence.

Once again, you have a former British colony whose borders were arbitrarily set with little regard to the groups that live there. While the government keeps promising a more inclusive government, it never happens. The only way to hold the country together is by oppressing the major ethnic groups, the same as in most of the former European colonies in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Most Western countries won't even recognize them by their chosen name, Myanmar, which pretty much describes their relationship with the Western world. Several of the opposition groups inside Burma don't recognize the name change either. It's not surprising the government doesn't want any outside interference from the West. Calling the country Burma makes it look like the Western world would like to see the Karen, Mon, or some combined group throw out the ruling government.

It wouldn't take much to take down the government there, but the smartest thing would be to plan a break-up of the country into separate governments right off the bat. I'm beginning to think the idea of substituting a "friendlier" government in countries like this is pretty naive. The new government faces the same problems the old government did and can't stay in power without some pretty ruthless methods.
 
  • #26
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I also realize that knocking the head off the government, then trying to rebuilt it would be messy (a la Iraq), so I'm not actually suggesting we go in there and try to nation-build, even if we decapitate the government.

So your plan is for us to come in, decapitate the government, drop off some cans of food, feel good about being great humanitarians, and then keep our hands in our pockets while the inevitable civil war with the Karen and the Shan rages. Do I have this right?
 
  • #27
BobG
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So your plan is for us to come in, decapitate the government, drop off some cans of food, feel good about being great humanitarians, and then keep our hands in our pockets while the inevitable civil war with the Karen and the Shan rages. Do I have this right?

That's generally a bad idea. You solve an immediate humanitarian crisis, but create a longer lasting humanitarian crisis.

When it comes to the Shan and Karen, I'm not sure how much worse things can get, though. Besides, you already have civil wars between the Burmese government and these two groups (while we keep our hands in our pockets).

Decapitating the government would create a political civil war among the Burmese people (the ethnic group, not the nation). Political civil wars usually don't last as long as ethnic civil wars, but you'd still probably create a worse humanitarian crisis than you solved by providing humanitarian aid for the hurricane. Even worse is that you'd still have at least three ethnic civil wars occurring simultaneously with the political civil war.

It would be a mess.
 
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  • #28
quadraphonics
Burma isn't Somalia (we weren't just providing aid, we were fighting a war),

News to me. Last time I checked, operations there were intended to establish enough security to allow UN aid to effectively flow into the country. Call it a war or don't, but the point of the whole operation was to provide aid. If there was any political purpose beyond that, it was certainly never articulated to the public, which is why support for the operation evaporated with the first serious resistance (which is the reason for the failure, not technical aspects relating to equipment).
 
  • #29
quadraphonics
That isn't correct. The UN sent troops into Somalia and Rwanda (not enough in Rwanda) and NATO into Yugoslavia with no outside threat.

Yes, my whole point was that the threat rationale has been discarded in recent times. I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't selectively quote me.

Although you'd have a hard time convincing anyone that instability in the Balkans does not represent a wider threat to the peace of Europe, given the history of World War I. That particular region has been keeping diplomats awake at night for longer than anyone can remember.

Yes it is. It is no more evolved than a high school government election.

If you say so. I'm not sure what your high school was like, but the candidates at mine did not have armies or nuclear weapons.
 
  • #30
quadraphonics
Most Western countries won't even recognize them by their chosen name, Myanmar, which pretty much describes their relationship with the Western world.

By "they," are you referring to the Burmese junta, or the Burmese nation? Because the whole issue with their relationship with the West is exactly that the West does not recognize the legitimacy of the former's claim to represent the latter. The day they have a free and fair referendum on the name of the country, I'll be happy to go along with whatever they chose.

Several of the opposition groups inside Burma don't recognize the name change either.

Exactly.

Calling the country Burma makes it look like the Western world would like to see the Karen, Mon, or some combined group throw out the ruling government.

To the extent that the name "Burma" endorses the rule of any ethnic group, it endorses the rule of the Burmans, from whom the name "Burma" is derived, and who are the dominant ethnic group already in control of the country. That's not to say that Westerners wouldn't like to see the institutionalized repression of the minority groups in Burma cease, but that issue has nothing to do with the name issue.
 
  • #31
mheslep
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Um, where exactly does it say in the UN charter (especially Article VII) where the UN can use force on a sovereign country because it doesn't like how it is handling a purely internal matter?
...
Then UN can act if the genocide convention is triggered:

Article 8
Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide[i.e. use of force] or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3.
http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html

which is why genocide is such a hot potato word. It provides international justification for the use of force.
 
  • #32
drankin
Then UN can act if the genocide convention is triggered:


http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html

which is why genocide is such a hot potato word. It provides international justification for the use of force.

Technically you may be right but what are the chances that the UN would actually act on this considering the mess it could start? I don't see it happening.
 
  • #33
mheslep
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Pretty good chance is the US would agree to take the lead, otherwise zero.
 

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