Student Opinion: Biden Administration Faced with the Coup in Myanmar

(The New York Times)

By Liam Benedict

With one of the most chaotic elections in the history of the United States taking place last year, it only makes sense that what was supposed to be “a peaceful transition of power” in the White House did not go smoothly. Tensions were still high, evidenced by Donald Trump’s absence of his successor’s inauguration––the first time this has happened since 1869.

Unfortunately, on top of these transitional challenges, the Biden Administration now faces a Foreign Relations crisis. The military has performed a hostile takeover in the country of Myanmar, also known as Burma, but there has not been wide-scale violence.

However, this state of emergency that the military has used to “temporarily” take power is clearly fraudulent, happening just as the other party would be confirmed as the winner of their election. Instead, Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders have been detained by the military. 

Now, the new Biden Administration has a difficult decision to make regarding how the United States should react to this coup. 

Burma has had an ugly, turbulent history, rife with political and ethnic conflicts, including the inhumane treatment of Rohingya Muslims. This led to sanctions being placed upon the country. But for the past decade, Burma has been making steady strides since a new democratic, civilian government was established in 2011. 

Less than a few days ago, the votes of the Burma election were being counted. U.S. News reported how “Suu Kyi’s party [The NLD] captured 396 out of 476 seats in the combined lower and upper houses of Parliament. The state Union Election Commission has confirmed that result.” This meant that the military party (USDP) had lost in an even greater landslide than in the previous election. 

That is when the military intervened, using a clause in their country’s constitution to implement a “temporary” one-year-long state of emergency in which the military will rule. The report for doing this was that they had supposedly found “millions of irregularities in voter lists in 314 townships”, even though there is no proof of this. 

That now places several countries, including the U.S., in a difficult position. Many citizens within Burma and several major news organizations such as CNN have already declared the military’s actions as a coup. 

But if the United States were to label their actions as a coup officially, it would have significant ramifications. As CNN reported, this would “legally bind the US to cut off foreign assistance to the country’s government,” possibly making life even worse for the citizens of Burma. 

In the same vein, the government also can reinstate harsh sanctions on the country, which has gradually been lifted as Burma improved in certain areas. Biden has made it clear that this is a possibility. 

In an official statement, Biden said, “[t]he United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action.”

I understand the appeal to immediately look to sanctions as resolutions. We all agree that what has occurred here is a permanent threat to Burma’s democracy, with many citizens feeling like the law has failed them. However, sanctions can also have major ramifications. Instead of encouraging Burma to change, it may have the opposite effect, causing the military to sink their claws in deeper and ask for aid from other intimidating foreign powers, such as China. 

So what is the solution here for the U.S.? Put on sanctions, or let this travesty go ignored? In this case, we must shoot for a middle ground. Waiting for the international community’s support to form a unified front against the coup in Burma would ultimately be the safest choice, one most likely to produce meaningful results. 

Biden has stated that he wants America to retake the lead in world affairs. However, frankly, that hasn’t worked out very well for us in the past. Although it may be hard to wait, a collaborative move against Burma is ultimately the best course of action. 

Liam Benedict is a first-year English major from the small town of Galt, California. He is a writer and is planning on becoming a lawyer in the future.

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