Myanmar and Southeast Asia
By Kevin E. Richards (Ret. Col.) , U.S. Army War College
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor
In a recent lecture at the U.S. Army War College, retired Colonel Kevin Richards discussed U.S. interests in Myanmar and Southeast Asia. He began by recognizing that there is a serious movement toward democracy in Myanmar, a country (formally known as Burma) that has been ruled by Generals and the military for more than 50 years. The "defining moment" that triggered this movement, he said, was Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and the government's inability to help its own people. Along with the tragedy of the cyclone which resulted in the death of more than 100,000 people, the dissident movement, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has focused the world's attention on Myanmar's repressive regime and its terrible human rights record.
Myanmar's importance to the United States derives from its strategic location. It is nearby the two emerging giants of AsiaChina and India and sits astride the commercial trade routes between the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East-Persian Gulf region. It has untapped natural resources and lies close to the vital chokepoint of the Malacca Strait.
Richards noted that former Secretary of State Clinton visited Myanmar in December 2011, and President Obama visited the country in November 2012. Myanmar is also a member of ASEAN.
Richards noted that the move toward democracy will be slow and may not be successful. The 2008 constitution of Myanmar reserves 25% of Parliamentary seats to the military, and the Generals still have emergency powers. The hope for the future is that the current regime will commit to democracy and economic development. Richards believes that the United States can assist that process by getting the relevant federal agencies (USAID, State, Intelligence, FBI, etc) involved at the ground level.
This approach is bound to revive the debate between realists and interventionists on the wisdom of the United States trying to remake other countries in its own image.