THE Burmese government rates among the worst in the world. Despite large amounts of foreign aid over the last 30 years, the economy has stagnated. The only things growing there are the Army, political repression, and the war against Burma's ethnic peoples.
Since 1988, the military government has intensified its repression. It has destroyed the political opposition, purged the civil service and education system, and forcibly relocated large numbers of its citizens. With more than $1 billion in arms purchased from China, it is now redoubling its military efforts against its own people. It is brutally encouraging the exodus of large numbers of Muslims to poverty-stricken Bangladesh. Despite Burma's own abject conditions, the military ruling council - the SLOR C - finances its internal wars with unsupervised foreign aid, some foreign investment, the deforestation of its teak for sale to Thailand, and even the encouragement of opium production for transit through Bangkok or southern China. Neither SLORC's behavior nor the impact of its repression on its Asian neighbors has caused the world to stir.
Burma's neighbors use the mantra of "noninterference" to avert their gaze. United States and European petroleum firms, eager to open up Burma's rich but dilapidated oil fields some day, also counsel silence. Meanwhile, China's arms-makers find the Burmese military a steady customer. The world, with a few exceptions, continues its policy of "constructive engagement." In Burma, however, for 30 years constructive engagement has been a failure. It has done nothing to civilize the military.
The best avenue for creating change in Burmese policy or leading to the overthrow of the military is sustained political pressure and commercial isolation. The recent escalation in SLORC ferocity requires these responses by the UN:
1. Convene the Security Council to confirm that Burma is a threat to the peace and security of the area.
2. Since force is not now a realistic alternative, win approval from the Security Council for economic sanctions on trade, aid, and investment.
3. Seek an international arms embargo, as Norway proposed.
4. After the visit of the secretary-general's representative to investigate Burma's refugee situation, the Security Council should consider relief activities within Burma as foreseen in the General Assembly resolution of Dec. 4, 1991, setting up coordinated UN humanitarian relief operations. The UN must insist that Burma permit relief agencies into the country with protection.
Inaction by the UN should not prevent like-minded countries instituting their own economic and arms embargoes and carrying out the following additional measures:
* Encourage the Chinese to cease exporting arms to Burma.
* Impose an immediate boycott on Burmese-origin timber.
* Encourage Thailand to prevent its military and business communities from their shameless deforestation of Burma.
* Insist upon Chinese efforts to prevent narcotics leaving Burma via south China.
* Demand an end to all UN developmental aid such as that provided by the Asian Development Bank.
* Increase broadcasts to inform Burmese about their government, as the short-wave service of All India Radio is now doing.
* Support the efforts of India and other countries to raise violations of human rights in Burma at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
Although its own vital interests are not directly affected by the tragic situation in Burma, the US should nonetheless raise these issues in the Security Council and with other countries. Burma is a test case for preventive diplomacy, where tough preventive measures by the world community could save lives and eventually forestall need for a greater, even bloody effort later on.