Burma policy by numbers
If Greg Sheridan’s latest column is anything to go by, we may soon expect the Australian Government to announce closer, even intimate, bilateral ties with the ruling junta in Burma, nominally to ‘enhance regional security’.
You see, Sheridan is worried that Burma could become a staging post for attacks on Western interests in neighbouring countries, if Australia doesn’t take up the junta’s request for more direct anti-terrorism ‘assistance’. Yep, that’s the kind of assistance that entails military and intelligence training and such.
Sheridan acknowledges Burma is “the worst regime in Southeast Asia in terms of gross human rights abuses”. He concedes also that the regime could use whatever assistance Australia gives it to step up repression against its domestic enemies.
To ‘solve’ this ‘moral dilemma’, cue the spectre of another Bali:
The war on terror adds an acute new dimension to the dilemma. If terrorists use Burma as a base to conduct an operation in, say, Bangkok, which kills hundreds of Australians, there will be nobody saying to the Australian Government, well at least you kept the purity of your policy intact. Instead, they will damn Canberra for ignoring a glaring hole in the regional counter-terrorist effort.
There follows discussion of the problem of terrorism in the Philippines, which may or may not illuminate the case of Burma. But, cutting to the inevitable ‘corollary’, Sheridan concludes: “Now the Burmese would like more assistance in their counter-terrorist efforts. Frankly, we’d be ill-advised to decline.”
Well, frankly Sheridan does a sterling job of connecting the dots in such a way that this conclusion seems inevitable. The trick is, of course, to omit any depth of dimension from the discussion.
For one thing, does anyone seriously consider the Burmese junta to be the kind of regime that would tolerate the presence within its territory of any armed groups that were not consummately engaged in protecting and consolidating its own political and commercial interests? Burma’s rulers are cultivating a resources boom, which places them squarely within the Western sphere of influence. They are not about to have any truck with extremist groups that will jeopardise that relationship.
Consider also that repression domestically by the junta of ethnic and other oppositional groups is more likely to promote armed extremism within that imprisoned country. If any ‘assistance’ the West were to lend the regime was to contribute to the repression of these groups, that would likely be sowing the seeds of further extremism, very possibly aimed towards the West. It was for these kinds of considerations that the UN Security Council recently decided that the Burmese regime’s egregious abuses are a threat to peace and security in the region.
In his column, Sheridan describes how Burma is already the beneficiary of Australian ‘anti-terrorism assistance’ by arrangement through ASEAN. Perhaps that’s already a long enough spoon with which to sup with the devil.