Conflicts & War

Why sanctions failed to end military repression against Myanmar civilians

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, June 21 (EFE).- Even as the European Union on Monday discussed the possibility of imposing fresh sanctions against Myanmar, the military rulers continue stamping down any dissident voice amid spiraling violence that has left hundreds dead since the Feb.1 coup.

Many activists and countries have called for more sanctions against the military regime, but some experts say such measures are futile.

“Even small sanctions can have an impact on the country. The question is: Can they have an impact on the military,” Lee Jones, professor of international politics at the Queen Mary University of London, told EFE.

“The difficulty here is that the military controls many economic assets that are not linked to Western countries in any conceivable way and are highly insulated from Western sanctions,” Jones said in an email.

The professor is the author of a 2015 book, “Societies Under Siege: Exploring How International Economic Sanctions (Do Not) Work.”

In his book, Jones has discussed how similar sanctions had failed to change the policies of earlier military rulers in Myanmar (1988-2011).

“Nothing has really changed such that sanctions would be more successful today. That leaves either military attack – unlikely and undesirable – or diplomacy as the only tools left to the outside world,” the academician insisted.

Part of why western countries resort to using economic sanctions against dictatorial is that similar measures against South Africa in the 1980s, coupled with the protest movement and Nelson Mandela influence, were decisive in ending apartheid.

However, Myanmar has a better capacity to sustain itself in isolation, partly due to its trade with regional countries such as China, Russia, and India.

Lee warned that the sanctions would end up hurting the commoners.

“Certainly, external sanctions are likely to do more harm than good in Myanmar,” he said.

“The regime will be able to redistribute any costs from sanctions onto the wider population. It has decades of experience,” he said.

China, which had maintained good ties with the ousted civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and has denied having backed the coup, continues to oppose “unilateral sanctions.”

Russia has appeared to be the closest ally of the military junta and its leader Min Aung Hlaing who set off on an official visit to Moscow for an international meeting on security Sunday.

Journalist-author Peter Phopam believes that Myanmar holds little strategic importance for the United States, even though the latter was one of the backers of the democratic transition in 2011.

“America is much less powerful in the region. In a way, the generals are in a much more comfortable position than they were 10, 20 years ago. They are surrounded by powerful countries hostile to democracy,” said Phopam, who has written two books on Suu Kyi.

Nonprofits such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for “targeted sanctions” by the UN Security Council or nations against the interests of the Myanmar military that cause the least amount of damage to the rest of the population.

The rights groups have also advocated a weapons embargo against the junta.

The European Union, the US, and Canada have taken steps in this direction.

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