November 13, 2010, 9:18 am
By NICHOLAS KRISTOF
Congratulations to Aung San Suu Kyi on her release from house arrest. She should be president, but at least she’s finally free. And her release is also a reminder that even the odious Burmese regime, one of the most oppressive in the world today, cares a little bit about its international image.
Pressure would also be much more effective if China weren’t protecting and supporting the Burmese junta, partly so that it can gain an outlet to the Indian Ocean and access to listening posts and quasi-bases there to squeeze India. China’s role in Burma has been disgraceful, and one lesson is the need to put pressure not only on the Burmese regime but also on Beijing.
But it’s also time to rethink strategy. Suu Kyi is a brilliant mind and great leader, and I hope she’ll rethink her support for sanctions on Burma. Within the Burmese exile community (nobody except the regime uses the word Myanmar), there’s a split on this issue, although most line up with Suu Kyi in favor of sanctions.
I think that’s a mistake. Maybe sanctions were a worthwhile experiment at the beginning, but they have failed. They haven’t caused the collapse of the regime, which seems as strong as ever. But the sanctions have increased the suffering of the Burmese people. Tens of thousands of young Burmese women have lost their jobs in the garment industry, and some of them probably ended up being trafficked to brothels in Thailand and Malaysia.
More broadly, one of the lessons of history is that broad sanctions rarely work. They make regimes more isolated and give them excuses for their economic failings, when in fact it’s usually international contact that brings about change. Our sanctions on Cuba, for example, have probably helped keep Castro in power, and sanctions have done nothing to hurt North Korea.
I’d be in favor of narrowly targeted sanctions on officials, but broad sanctions have failed. Suu Kyi is her people’s real leader, and I hope she leads the Burmese democracy community to a reconsideration of sanctions.