October 5th, 2007 by Hafiz Noor Shams
What is happening in Myanmar is nothing short of tragedy. Amid outrage, calls for actions against the junta of Myanmar could be loudly heard. Yet, what action is the most moral of all?
The basis for action is simple: conscience calls it. Forceful suppression that leads to death invokes strong emotions. These emotions as well as the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, for many, lead to one goal: halt the killing. Those with stronger inclination demand absolute respect for liberty and restoration of democracy in Myanmar. While the objectives are noble, it does not prescribe how one achieves that goal with intact moral.
There are those that favor wide economic sanction against the country in hope to pressure to junta out of power or at least, into executing meaningful democratic reforms. I am not too warm to that idea; there is little to achieve by isolating an already isolated country. More often than not, such isolation hurts the people while tyrannical regimes continue to hold power, as proven in North Korea, Cuba, Libya, Zimbabwe and no less, in Myanmar. Sanctions reduce the opportunities for the people from lift themselves out of poverty by preventing them from riding on the wave of globalization.
Some have gone farther down the line by calling for direct intervention in Myanmar, just like what happened in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The moral dilemma of this suggestion, for a libertarian at least, while viewing it through the lens of state sovereignty, is glaring.
Transgression of liberty by itself is enough for a libertarian to act. I however have yet to read a convincing thought specifically forged as a basis of a foreign policy that is capable truly respecting state sovereignty. The reason is, libertarianism is an individual-centric philosophy.
Perhaps, the safest position that appeals to stability for a libertarian is to consider the state as an individual and from that assumption, adhere to non-aggression principal. This translates into non-interference policy. That unfortunately will only justify the stance that ASEAN: relative inaction. Taking a step back, there seems to be conflict of moral: surely, inaction in the face of tyranny is immoral. As an old saying goes, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Nevertheless, the trade-off between stability and impeccable moral is real.
In contrast, hawkish libertarians will ignore state boundaries to promote individual liberty. They will not grant the state the same rights granted to individuals for a very simple but appealing reasoning: a state is not an individual. In isolated incident where consistency of thoughts is suspended, the clear promotion individual liberty leads to the best of all outcomes imagined by libertarians and others that seek the goal of a liberal and democratic Myanmar. Rarely however does such policy is executed in the public domain by instead it will act as a precedent for future actions. Worse, this rationale will lead to a highly unstable world. Many libertarians that support the war in Iraq subscribe to this view. Various states will constantly be at war, at the slightest violation of individual liberty; there will be no such thing as internal issues and such, this erode the idea of the state.
Through this, I hope I have helped illustrate how morally, executing an action is harder than a simply call for noble action. Despite that, there is a path that stays better than isolation and direct or indirect intervention. That path is active engagement.
The countries that I leverage against the junta are countries with considerable ties with Myanmar. Among these countries are China, India and Russia. Countries with have no tie with Myanmar have little influence over it. Through extrapolation, it is only rationale to project that the more integrated the Myanmar economy is to the global economy, the more leverage the world will have over the government of Myanmar. Through this, Myanmar will have to be sensitive to international opinion, lest Myanmar will lose the huge benefits it enjoys from global trade. The fact that the countries that have significant relationship with Myanmar do not exactly hold sympathy for liberty does not help: these countries have little reason to pressure Myanmar to cease its oppression when those countries themselves suppress individual liberty.
Integration also increases the effectiveness of future threat of sanction. As mentioned earlier, the act of isolating an already isolated country is useless: the marginal benefit of such policy has gone over the peak for Myanmar. Integration and by extension, freer trade between Myanmar and the world will grant Myanmar the benefits of economic globalization. Under reasonable autarky that Myanmar currently is, it has nothing to lose from sanction. Under reasonable open market atmosphere, Myanmar has something to lose from sanction.
More importantly, the people of Myanmar will enjoy the benefits of freer trade and the march towards liberal democracy. Truly, there is greater moral here than further sanction or direct intervention, if one wishes to keep the idea of state sovereignty intact.
For a normative model to be successful, it has to include a working carrot and stick model. Under the current setup, there is no carrot. Integration is the carrot and once the carrot is out, the stick will become effect. Without the carrot, the effect of the stick is reduced, as what is happening at the moment in the largest countries on mainland Southeast Asia.
The conclusion suggests this: for ASEAN to have a greater influence over the government of Myanmar, ASEAN, especially the more prosperous states, need to do more to integrate Myanmar into the regional economy that is AFTA.