Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Give and take

When it gets organized the international community can both give or take its support to or from any regime in the world and can either make of break it. This is what is happening with two regimes right now, Myanmar (Burma) that is being rescued from destitution and Iran that is being sanctioned to penury.

For the past 50 years Burma has been ruled by a military dictatorship that has exploited its riches and persecuted its people and driven the country to international isolation. The national elections in 1988 were won by Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the daughter of the assassinated former Burmese national leader. She became his heir apparent, but the military prevented her from attaining power and kept her under house arrest for 20 years. All along she has received the overt support of the western powers and the military leaders stopped short of killing her, although they did kill many of her supporters. Now, after about 10 years of secret negotiations, the military have transferred power to a "civilian" government that is dominated by the Army. But, they have also released Aung San from house arrest and allowed her to speak publicly and to join her party, The League for Freedom and Democracy. Also, she is going to stand in a local election soon that will allow her to represent her district in the national parliament. In exchange for this turn-around the international community has started to remove the sanctions that were applied by the UN and individual countries and Secty of State Hillary Clinton has visited Burma and promised to help Burma rejoin the community of nations and achieve economic improvements. Thus, sanctions can work and their removal can be a great attraction for wayward regimes and dictatorships to change their ways.

Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons for 10 years and has been the focus of European and American negotiations. But, even the European countries realized finally that this has all been a delaying tactic. In the face of Israeli threats to take military action against Iran unless the western powers get serious about "crippling" sanctions, the EU has finally announced that it will start an embargo on Iranian oil. Since currently 18% of their oil imports come from Iran this is a major step. However, Japan that imports 10% of its oil from Iran has asked to be exempt from this embargo. The sanctioning of Iran's oil exports and the banning of dealing with the Iranian National Bank will severely hit the already weak Iranian economy. The question is why would a relatively economically deprived country with large oil deposits want to spend so much money on developing nuclear weapons. The US has responded to Iranian saber rattling in the Persian Gulf and threats to close the Straits of Hormuz to oil exports by sending another aircraft carrier, the "Abraham Lincoln" into the Gulf. This is only because of the expansionist ideology of the Iranian Shia revolution currently led by PM Ahmedinejad. Although few think that these sanctions will actually deter Iran from continuing to develop nuclear weapons, nevertheless it may cause such economic suffering in Iran that it might trigger another uprising against the regime.

The power of the international community to influence events is great, but not unlimited. Dictatorships such as existed in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia were undeterred by external pressure because of their fanatical ideologies. We expect Iran will follow their example, but only time will tell.


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