Over the past decade, while America has struggled with intractable conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, ominous long-term changes in the international landscape have evolved into an ugly new reality. Once we have freed ourselves from the mayhem of Iraq and Afghanistan, we may be shocked to find that our attention has been needed elsewhere. A number of so-called “brush-fire” wars may have serious long-term consequences, and North Korea’s and Iran’s uncompromising and unrelenting efforts to obtain nuclear weapons are coming to a crisis. It seems that while we have been focused elsewhere, they have been fixated on their goal.
As the U.S. participates in the gathering of the United Nations General Assembly that opened yesterday morning, our feeble response to both North Korea and Iran has set a bad example — potentially resulting in a nuclear arsenal in the hands of one or both of these erratic and irrational regimes. A number of other unsavory characters also seek the clout, security, and respectful attention that nuclear weapons provide. There have been recent revelations, for example, that the Burmese junta, a government that is the worst of the worst, is engaged in a long-term endeavor to obtain nuclear capability.
Over the past two decades, the Burmese military has turned a once-prosperous country with enormous potential into a poverty-stricken police state where the government literally enslaves its own people for manual labor. Village after village in Burma’s ethnic tribal areas has been burned and savaged by the junta’s forces, turning hundreds of thousands of Burmese into displaced persons. The more fortunate refugees have managed to flee across the Thai border in order to reach some semblance of safety. But even Thailand, with its long history of benevolence and charity toward refugees fleeing tyranny, is reaching its limits.
The suffering of the people of this hidden corner of Asia knows no bounds. When a massive cyclone hit Burma in 2008, the military delayed Western aid from reaching devastated areas, with no concern for the suffering of their own people. The ruling generals are tyrannical, bloodthirsty, and without moral restraint. So how do nuclear weapons fit into this picture? Recent reports indicate that the regime is actively pursuing a nuclear program, with the help of North Korea. Such awesome new power in the hands of psychotic bullies who have no regard for human life would be a nightmare — not just for the suffering Burmese, but for all of humanity. Like North Korea’s nuclear program, Burma’s does not suggest that it’s time to cut a deal. It’s time for regime change. Such a goal does not require us to send troops, but it does require a commitment to an alternative, and it requires our attention.
Thankfully, there is an alternative to the Burmese military establishment. Aung San Suu Kyi and her ethnic allies are democratic and give the West a viable and powerful option. They would already have succeeded in toppling their oppressors, except that China has supplied the junta with an arsenal of modern arms and other instruments of repression. There is a steep price for China’s assistance. Burma’s vast natural resources are being plundered, and China is being provided with strategic military positioning for its army and navy, which puts India in serious jeopardy. All of this is, of course, in keeping with China’s global game plan of adding to its own power by helping the world’s most rotten regimes, including North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and Venezuela, among others.