Should sanctions be lifted before Burma reforms?

Derek Tonkin

SANCTIONS are a potentially valuable tool but, unless they can be carefully targeted, their effects can be counterproductive. Burma is a case in point. The effectiveness of sanctions has been minimal because no country in the region agreed to support the West. Burma’s immediate neighbours, notably China and Thailand, have captured the market for the exploitation of Burma’s rich natural resources. Western influence has vanished. The Burmese military have been immune financially from sanctions because of the export of natural gas, timber and precious metals. But the people have suffered as prohibitions on trade, investment and development aid have hit the economy hard. Western sanctions never were very “smart”. The new reformist government wants to see an early end to sanctions so that urban and rural poverty can be addressed. The Burmese people urgently need Western support. They have suffered enough from sanctions.

Derek Tonkin is chair of Network Myanmar.

Julia Pettengill

AUNG San Suu Kyi’s participation in Burma’s parliamentary election represents an important step forward for political liberalisation. The ruling military clearly wants to ease international sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes against its officials. The EU is poised to reconsider its sanctions regime on 23 April, and has already lifted travel bans on over eighty Burmese officials, including the president. While liberalisation should be rewarded with easing punitive measures over time, democratisation could stall if the international community concedes the sanctions regime too early. The international community must tie the gradual removal of sanctions to continued and concrete steps towards democratisation. Burma remains an authoritarian state, and pro-democracy forces will be best supported if the international community stands firm on sanctions.

Julia Pettengill is research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society.