Friday, October 12, 2007

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Mainstream media outlets have already moved on from Burma. What is it now, to them, but a story of the past? What more, to them, is there to say?

Not much, not much at all, there are new and far more sensationalistic stories to tell, upon which to report. And for the mainstream media outlets of our sensation-driven society, what is important about the news is what is new.

This is a generalization, of course, and something of an exaggeration. The reporting continues, to a point, to a limited extent, to the extent that serious outlets like the BBC continue to focus on what is not an isolated but an ongoing story, one that requires out ongoing attention.

And there is news, activity, something upon which to report, a slap on the wrist, less than that, from the U.N.:

The UN Security Council has adopted a statement deploring Burma's military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The agreement came after China lifted its objections to a statement first drafted by the US, UK and France.

It represents the first time the 15-nation body has taken any formal action over Burma.

The move indicates a shift of position by China, which had previously used its veto to stop the council from criticising Burma's military junta.

The statement "strongly deplores the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators" in Burma and calls on the junta and all other parties "to work together toward a de-escalation of the situation and a peaceful solution".

It also calls for the early release of "all political prisoners and remaining detainees", urging the junta to prepare for a "genuine dialogue" with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The statement -- which, unlike a resolution, requires the consent of all 15 council members to be adopted -- was issued by Ghana's UN Ambassador Leslie Christian, the council's president.

A statement. Great. Ooooooooh. I'm sure the totalitarians are trembling in fear. Some comments:

-- A statement from the U.N. Security Council may be meaningful, but what effect will it have? Will deploring "the use of violence," however "strongly," stop Burma's brutal military junta from using violence, strongly? Will it persuade the junta to negotiate, to compromise, to engage in "genuine dialogue," to seek peace? Of course not. It should go without saying that diplomacy is a necessary and effective tool with respect to international affairs, but it often requires teeth to be effective in any real and substantive way. This is a statement without teeth.

-- Has China really shifted position, that is, taken a new and tougher line on Burma? Is it now on the side of the U.S., the U.K., France, and other western democracies? Of course not. China agreed to a statement without teeth, a statement that will have little to no effect, not to sanctions, not to international action of any kind. As I put it last week: "It is China, after all, that has been one of the leading supporters of the totalitarians, propping up their regime and profiting off their tyranny. Why would they agree to an international sanctions regime? Given how much they object to international interference in their own country -- what with their own atrocious human rights abuses -- and given how much they profit off tyranny around the world, in Africa as well as in Asia, it is in their interest to object to such pressure here."

-- Is this the best the U.N. can do? Maybe -- given China's veto, given Russia's veto, given the reluctance of India and Burma's other regional neighbours to do anything about what is happening in Burma, preferring to regard it as an internal matter, a domestic problem. Because of this, the U.S., the U.K., France, and their allies may need to act on their own, outside the U.N. -- multilaterally, that is, but without a formal stamp of approval from the U.N. I am a supporter of the U.N., in general, but it is not always the most effective vehicle for international action.

-- On India: Consider the utterly appalling fact that India is set to sign a significant port-development deal with the junta. Given its massive investment in Burma, why would India support tough measures directed against the junta?

-- On China: Same thing. Why would China support tough measures? Aside from its own massive investment in Burma, it is busy suppressing dissent at home.

-- This statement is a start, maybe, but not nearly enough. The problem is, there may not be anything more to come.

For more, see our previous posts on the situation in Burma here -- including a post on what can be done to liberate the people of that oppressed country. (Would enhanced sanctions work? Maybe, maybe not.)

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  • I need to see Gore and Carter gather together all the other surviving Nobel Peace Prize winners and travel to Burma Now.

    They need to demand to meet with fellow Noble Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. They need to remain in Burma as physical witnesses to the restoration of Democracy.

    What is the point of having the Nobel Peace Prize if any Military Junta can imprison any laureate anytime they want, as in the case of Aung San Suu Kyi and the monks of Burma?

    By Blogger New Orleans Ladder, at 12:55 PM  

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