A New Negotiating Strategy with Myanmar’s General Than Shwe

A New Negotiating Strategy with Myanmar’s General Than Shwe

May 18, 2009 by davidfday

MyanMar's General Than Shwe

Myanmar’s General Than Shwe

On the eve of Daw Suu Kyi’s show trial as a consequence of the Missouri swimmer, it is easy to see the double jeopardy created by this seemingly harmless event, just as Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s long suffering period of house arrest was coming to a close. It would appear to be the perfect set-up/excuse for General Than Shwe and the Burmese junta to shove Daw Suu Kyi back into detention or worse. She was so close to being free…or so the world thought.

Washington has handled the 1990 election freeze-out of Daw Suu Kyi in an understandable, but clearly ineffective, “ice-out attempt” strategy. That confrontive negotiation strategy with General Than Shwe and his Generals is regime-threatening and has a 19-year track record of going nowhere. Worse, the denial of aid and business sanctions have punished the Burmese people terribly, but have not scratched the junta leadership.

Members of Myanmar's ruling junta are shown during an Armed Forces Day ceremony

Members of Myanmar’s ruling junta are shown during an Armed Forces Day ceremony

The U.S. military’s (out of the Pacific Command) Cyclone Nargis humanitarian aid negotiations have provided a partial key in terms of strategy development vis.a.vis negotiating with General Than Shwe. That partial key (let’s call it Part 1 of 2) is that the tactic must not be perceived as “regime threatening.” Success with Myanmar will not come by the historic (but naïve) approach of rejecting Burma’s constitution and the sham referendum which ratified that constitution. That is “regime-threatening” and, as a negotiation strategy, it is a dead end. Similarly, insistence upon requiring General Than Shwe and his “State Peace and Democracy Council” (SPDC) release Daw Suu Kyi and some 2000 plus political prisoners, engage in a dialogue with Kyi’s political party, the “National League for Democracy” (NLD), is also regime-threatening and not going to achieve anything. Kyi’s trial will be a sham and Myanmar’s hopes for democracy will be put on ice a while longer. She cannot be forced into power at this juncture.

Once the “regime-threatening” Part 1 is understood and appreciated, a successful negotiation strategy emerges if it is combined with a Part 2 piece. Part 2 was interestingly delivered by Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein at the ASEAN summit in Thailand. There is a national election coming up in Myanmar in 2010. Prime Minister Sein has stated that Burma would allow the United Nations to monitor that election. So, Part 2 of the successful negotiating strategy is to set aside the “regime threatening,” and get ASEAN, Washington, and other concerned nations to hold the Burmese to their word. 2010 elections monitored by the United Nations. A strategy that bears a strong resemblance to the voter registration efforts in the Philippines of NAMFREL that ultimately unseated Ferdinand Marcos and brought Corazon Aquino to power in February of 1986.

There is more to Part 2 of the strategy, though. Kyi’s NLD must not be allowed to boycott the 2010 elections and simply cede the results back over to Than Shwe. The NLD must be encouraged to participate to the fullest extent possible.

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