US call for arms ban to Myan­mar faces UNSC hur­dle

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT - By Thalif Deen

UNITED NA­TIONS - When US Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley called for a vir­tual arms em­bargo against the re­pres­sive and much-ma­ligned mil­i­tary regime in Myan­mar, she took a pass­ing shot at two of her fel­low veto-wield­ing, per­ma­nent mem­bers of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil – namely China and Rus­sia – who are pri­mary arms sup­pli­ers to the in­creas­ingly po­lit­i­cally-iso­lated na­tion.

“And any coun­try that is cur­rently pro­vid­ing weapons to the Burmese mil­i­tary should sus­pend th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties un­til suf­fi­cient ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures are in place,” she de­manded, dur­ing last week’s de­bate in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

The US, which has con­sis­tently re­fused to recog­nise the coun­try’s name-change (from Burma to Myan­mar), said “the world has en­dured images from Burma we should never have to see”— even as that gov­ern­ment stands ac­cused of “eth­nic cleans­ing” of Ro­hingya Mus­lims.

Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary clout and its po­lit­i­cal ar­ro­gance de­pend largely on the stag­ger­ing ar­ray of Rus­sian and Chi­nese weapons at its com­mand. And any res­o­lu­tion im­pos­ing eco­nomic or mil­i­tary sanc­tions on Myan­mar is likely to be ve­toed ei­ther by China or Rus­sia – or both.

Ac­cord­ing to the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute (SIPRI), be­tween 2010 and 2016, China reached agree­ments to trans­fer a va­ri­ety of weapons to Myan­mar, in­clud­ing anti-ship mis­siles, sur­face-to-air mis­sile sys­tems, frigates, and tanks.

Dur­ing the same time pe­riod, Rus­sia reached agree­ments to sell fighter air­craft, com­bat he­li­copters, light he­li­copters, and sur­face-to-air mis­siles.

Mean­while, Is­rael’s long­est run­ning news­pa­per, Haaretz, has ac­cused Is­rael of “arm­ing war crim­i­nals”. In an ed­i­to­rial early Septem­ber, the news­pa­per said the vi­o­lence directed at Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity by the coun­try’s regime has in­ten­si­fied, in­clud­ing burn­ing of their vil­lages—“in­for­ma­tion that has been con­firmed by satel­lite images”.

“But none of this has led to a change in the pol­icy of the Is­raeli De­fence Min­istry, which is re­fus­ing to halt weapons sales to the regime in Myan­mar”.

In a Septem­ber 18 ed­i­to­rial ti­tled “Squeeze Myan­mar’s Mil­i­tary”, the New York Times con­demned “Myan­mar mil­i­tary’s vi­cious crack­down against the Mus­lim Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity in Rakhine State”.

Given Myan­mar’s progress to­wards democ­racy, for­mer US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama lifted long­stand­ing US sanc­tions against Myan­mar last year de­spite warn­ing by hu­man rights groups that eas­ing the pres­sure was pre­ma­ture.

The Times called on the US Se­nate to re­store sanc­tions against Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary rulers “un­less the car­nage stops.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, a global coali­tion of some 88 civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions (CSOs) is call­ing on the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to se­ri­ously con­sider an arms em­bargo against the mil­i­tary– and tar­geted sanc­tions against in­di­vid­u­als re­spon­si­ble for crimes and se­ri­ous abuses.

“All con­cerned UN mem­ber states should also con­sider bi­lat­eral, mul­ti­lat­eral, and re­gional ac­tions they can take to place added pres­sure on the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment,” the coali­tion said. “In par­tic­u­lar, we call on all states to im­me­di­ately sus­pend mil­i­tary as­sis­tance and co­op­er­a­tion with Myan­mar,” said the coali­tion in a state­ment re­leased Septem­ber 28.

The coali­tion in­cludes Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, Hu­man Rights Watch, Refugee In­ter­na­tional, Burma Cam­paign UK, the Na­tional Coun­cil of Churches and Mi­nor­ity Rights Group In­ter­na­tional.

Myan­mar’s huge ar­se­nal in­cludes MiG-29 fighter planes, Antonov An-148 trans­port planes, Mi-35 at­tack he­li­copters and T-55 and T-72 bat­tle tanks (all from Rus­sia) and Chengdu F-7/ FT-7 Air­guard and Nan­chang A-5M fight­ers and ground at­tack air­craft, Aung Zeya Class and Jianghu II class frigates, Off­shore Pa­trol Ships, HQ-2 sur­face-to-air mis­siles, 122mm and 130mm ar­tillery, bat­tle­field rocket launch­ers and other mu­ni­tions (all from China).

The mil­i­tary regime ap­pears bat­tle-ready for any pos­si­ble con­fronta­tion with neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh, which has de­manded that Myan­mar take back the nearly 700,000 Ro­hingya Mus­lim refugees driven out of the coun­try – and seek­ing shel­ter in Bangladesh.

Daniel Dar­ling, Se­nior Mil­i­tary Mar­kets An­a­lyst, Europe and Asia/Pa­cific Rim at Fore­cast In­ter­na­tional Inc, a US-based com­pany pro­vid­ing de­fence mar­ket in­tel­li­gence, fore­cast­ing, and re­search, told IPS that be­sides China and Rus­sia, other key arms sup­pli­ers in­clude North Korea and Pak­istan.

Of par­tic­u­lar note, he pointed out, is that Myan­mar has re­port­edly or­dered 16 Chi­ne­sePak­istani JF-17 Thun­der mul­ti­role fight­ers, of which ini­tial de­liv­er­ies are ex­pected to be­gin later this year.

Asked about US re­la­tions with Myan­mar, Dar­ling said the US has not pro­vided Myan­mar with any weaponry or re­in­sti­tuted ac­cess to the In­ter­na­tional Mil­i­tary Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing (IMET) pro­gram for the na­tion de­spite a long­stand­ing US em­bargo be­ing lifted by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The US Congress, he said, con­tin­ues to main­tain a block on any fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance and/or pro­fes­sional mil­i­tary ed­u­ca­tion to the Tat­madaw, (the of­fi­cial name of the armed forces of Myan­mar)

He said the Tat­madaw mil­i­tary bud­get for 2016 was es­ti­mated at about $2.33 bil­lion, whilst the 2017 ear­mark is placed at $2.14 bil­lion.

The de­fence bud­get for Myan­mar is, in gen­eral, quite in­scrutable and all fig­ures in­volve top-line bud­getary gov­ern­men­tal re­quests which likely do not in­clude sup­ple­men­tal ar­eas of fund­ing for which the mil­i­tary has ex­clu­sive ac­cess, he added.

With an au­to­matic al­lo­ca­tion of one-third of the seats in the lower house granted to the mil­i­tary, all bud­get­ing nat­u­rally must pass through Tat­madaw re­view and thus re­ceive its sup­port.

Of par­tic­u­lar note, the Tat­madaw has, through the Spe­cial Funds Law, the power to grant it­self ad­di­tional – even un­lim­ited – funds with­out an­nounc­ing its ac­tions to Par­lia­ment be­fore­hand or seek­ing the leg­is­la­ture’s ap­proval, Dar­ling said.

Whether this con­tin­ues to hold up, or be amended in some form, over the course of the Na­tional League for Democ­racy’s gov­er­nance re­mains to be seen, but for now it ap­pears Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto ruler, is un­will­ing to de­vi­ate from the del­i­cate dance she and her party must per­form in or­der to pre­vent Tat­madaw from sweep­ing aside her gov­ern­ment and re-im­pos­ing purely mar­tial con­trol, he said.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Se­nior Fel­low with the Se­cu­rity Stud­ies Pro­gram in the Ed­mund A. Walsh School of For­eign Ser­vice at Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity, told IPS that Am­bas­sador Ha­ley, in her state­ment, cited the Myan­mar mil­i­tary’s hu­man rights abuses against the Ro­hingya. “News ac­counts make it clear that Am­bas­sador Ha­ley’s con­cerns are well founded,” she added.

The first re­sponse Am­bas­sador Ha­ley pro­posed in her state­ment was that “…the Burmese mili- tary must re­spect hu­man rights and fun­da­men­tal free­doms.” She went on to ar­gue that “…any coun­try that is cur­rently pro­vid­ing weapons to the Burmese mil­i­tary should sus­pend th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties un­til suf­fi­cient ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures are in place.”

On the sur­face, it’s sur­pris­ing that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is call­ing for an em­bargo on weapons to Myan­mar. Restraint in weapons trans­fers hasn’t ex­actly been a fea­ture of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions thus far, said Dr. Goldring, who also rep­re­sents the Acro­nym In­sti­tute at the United Na­tions on con­ven­tional weapons and arms trade is­sues.

In fact, the Ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­port­edly en­gaged in a re­view of US arms trans­fer pol­icy de­signed to in­crease pro­mo­tion of US arms trans­fers. It’s ap­par­ently much eas­ier for the US gov­ern­ment to ar­gue for an arms em­bargo to a coun­try that’s not one of its cus­tomers, Dr. Goldring said.

She said the same ar­gu­ments in favour of an arms em­bargo on Myan­mar also ap­ply to arms trans­fers to other coun­tries.

For ex­am­ple, Hu­man Rights Watch and oth­ers have doc­u­mented sys­tem­atic Saudi vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights and hu­man­i­tar­ian law in Ye­men.

By Am­bas­sador Ha­ley’s stan­dard, the US gov­ern­ment should be halt­ing arms trans­fers to Saudi Ara­bia “…un­til suf­fi­cient ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures are in place.”

(Cour­tesy: In­ter Press Ser­vice News Agency) (The writer can be con­tacted at thal­ifdeen@aol.com)

Ro­hingya Mus­lim refugees who had just ar­rived wait for a place to stay at Bangladesh's Balukhali refugee camp on Oc­to­ber 2, 2017. AFP

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