Saturday, May 27, 2006

Burma, Iraq, Democracy, Capitalism

I've been doing a little bit of research over the past few days into the current situation in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest by the ruling military junta. As I understand it, Suu Kyi is the closest that Burma has to a legitimate democratic leader, in that she won the last election with an 83% majority. The military, however, refused to recognise that result, and have kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for 10 of the last 16 years.

Given that this is profoundly undemocratic, it seems that other nations currently claiming an interest in the spread of democracy (the US and UK, in particular)should be taking an active part in negotiations, but the news of Suu Kyi's renewed house arrest is the only coverage I've seen Burma receive in the mainstream press this year. I've been looking into the differences between this situation and the situation in Iraq prior to the US-led invasion of 2003, for which the restoration of democracy was quoted as a justification, secondary to the presence of WMDs.

Essentially, it comes down to the fact that the military junta are not making any moves to threaten anyone outside their own borders, and Burma's lack of importance in world trade. Iraq had invaded both Iran and Kuwait under the governance of Saddam Hussein, and holds considerable oil reserves. Both have or had undemocratic governments and bad human rights records.

This is leading back to a conclusion that I'm approaching carefully, because it seems inflammatory: The leading political system of the Western World is not democracy, but capitalism.

I'm also working on a notion that capitalism is closely related to feudalism, but I'm going to have to come back to that one, as I don't have much to support it yet. I'm trying hard not to simply search for "capitalism is feudalism" and quote that, but to build up the argument myself.


At Saturday, May 27, 2006 7:26:00 p.m., Anonymous Tara said...

Hi Drew!

The question of why Burma receives so little attention is a good one - even those of us who've been involved with the issue don't really have an answer. Lack of economic incentive seems to be as good as any, but I'll be interested to read what more you can come up with on this.

Burma does get little mainstream media attention, but it has been getting more just recently. Sanctions against it have recently been renewed, and this extension of Suu Kyi's detention came right after a UN visit from Ibrahim Gambari.

Its slowly becoming apparent that Burma is in fact a regional security threat - they are the 'epicenter' for the AIDS epidemic in southeast asia, and the conflict in the border regions does spill over - not to mention the drug production and gun running that goes on. Burma's neighbors have gotten benefits in the way of trade and exploitation of her natural resources, but there's some indication that this benefit is slowly being outweighed by the negatives. The West is not a major trading partner in SE Asia, so I think it's easier to keep a safe distance. No one likes fighting wars in SE Asia!

However, the US does actually send millions to groups working for democracy there though the NED. I think that's great for the groups that can get the money, and as far as I know, it has gone to good people, but without more overt action on the issue it's simply not good enough.



At Monday, May 29, 2006 6:24:00 p.m., Anonymous Aidan Kehoe said...

Joel at Far Outliers is posting extracts from an apparently very interesting book on Burma lately; this is one of them.

The general totalitarianism in Burma is not especially ignored; we here nothing about Belorussia, Uzbekistan, Libya, Haiti, and a small bit about Zimbabwe. The antidemocratic situation in all these places is at least as bad as it is in Burma. North Korea and Iraq were the anomalies in this, and you're right in that it is trade that makes the difference (the threat towards South Korea and Japan for the first, the oil for the second.) Note that it's trade, not capitalism that is at issue; Saudi Arabia has a massively un-capitalist economic system, yet the economically important countries still pay it loads of attention.


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