Burma: The Next Nuclear Rogue?

Sep 24, 2010
Blog

Washington, Sep 24, 2010 - Over the past decade, while America has struggled with intractable conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, ominous long-term changes in the international landscape have evolved into an ugly new reality. Once we have freed ourselves from the mayhem of Iraq and Afghanistan, we may be shocked to find that our attention has been needed elsewhere. A number of so-called “brush-fire” wars may have serious long-term consequences, and North Korea’s and Iran’s uncompromising and unrelenting efforts to obtain nuclear weapons are coming to a crisis. It seems that while we have been focused elsewhere, they have been fixated on their goal. 

As the U.S. participates in the gathering of the United Nations General Assembly that opened yesterday morning, our feeble response to both North Korea and Iran has set a bad example — potentially resulting in a nuclear arsenal in the hands of one or both of these erratic and irrational regimes. A number of other unsavory characters also seek the clout, security, and respectful attention that nuclear weapons provide. There have been recent revelations, for example, that the Burmese junta, a government that is the worst of the worst, is engaged in a long-term endeavor to obtain nuclear capability. 

Over the past two decades, the Burmese military has turned a once-prosperous country with enormous potential into a poverty-stricken police state where the government literally enslaves its own people for manual labor. Village after village in Burma’s ethnic tribal areas has been burned and savaged by the junta’s forces, turning hundreds of thousands of Burmese into displaced persons. The more fortunate refugees have managed to flee across the Thai border in order to reach some semblance of safety. But even Thailand, with its long history of benevolence and charity toward refugees fleeing tyranny, is reaching its limits. 

The suffering of the people of this hidden corner of Asia knows no bounds. When a massive cyclone hit Burma in 2008, the military delayed Western aid from reaching devastated areas, with no concern for the suffering of their own people. The ruling generals are tyrannical, bloodthirsty, and without moral restraint. So how do nuclear weapons fit into this picture? Recent reports indicate that the regime is actively pursuing a nuclear program, with the help of North Korea. Such awesome new power in the hands of psychotic bullies who have no regard for human life would be a nightmare — not just for the suffering Burmese, but for all of humanity. Like North Korea’s nuclear program, Burma’s does not suggest that it’s time to cut a deal. It’s time for regime change. Such a goal does not require us to send troops, but it does require a commitment to an alternative, and it requires our attention. 

Thankfully, there is an alternative to the Burmese military establishment. Aung San Suu Kyi and her ethnic allies are democratic and give the West a viable and powerful option. They would already have succeeded in toppling their oppressors, except that China has supplied the junta with an arsenal of modern arms and other instruments of repression. There is a steep price for China’s assistance. Burma’s vast natural resources are being plundered, and China is being provided with strategic military positioning for its army and navy, which puts India in serious jeopardy. All of this is, of course, in keeping with China’s global game plan of adding to its own power by helping the world’s most rotten regimes, including North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and Venezuela, among others. 

America, stuck in quagmires of our own, has not made any serious effort to counter the Chinese-led coalition of despicable regimes. The State Department’s policy of engagement and patience has not resulted in domestic changes, while at the same time some of these countries have made great progress toward gaining nuclear-weapon capabilities. The suffering of their people continues even as they pour their money into nuclear-weapon development. Iran and Burma both have organized opposition movements, but while America may applaud them, our government has always stopped short of full and vigorous support. 

I recently returned from the Thai-Burmese border, where I consulted with members of the Burmese democracy movement. I was deeply impressed with not only their courage, but also their commitment to a decentralized, denuclearized, democratic Burma. The freedom-loving people of the region want to be our allies against an evil enemy, as they were in the fight against the Japanese in World War II. The American government has treated them as pariahs. 

A few Americans — missionaries, former members of the Special Forces, and a sprinkling of adventurers — are there on the border as volunteers. Reminiscent of the Flying Tigers before Pearl Harbor, though not as well equipped, this ragtag contingent of American idealists help as best they can, though often facing hostility from elements in our own government. They are doing what my father used to call “the Lord’s work” — literally as well as figuratively. 

Our government did not support brave anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, like Commander Massoud, until after we had been attacked on 9/11. Had we done so, the attack might not have happened. So there is a cost to a policy of ignoring those struggling against tyrannical and/or fanatical forces, as in Afghanistan — and in Burma. 

When America supports those brave souls fighting for their freedom against despicable tyrants, we are not only doing the right thing by them, we are invariably bolstering the safety of our own country. This is especially true in an era when proliferation of nuclear weapons is not just a theoretical threat. 

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This article can also be read at National Review Online.