All talk, no action

If words could topple thuggish dictatorships, or even make them less thuggish, the generals who run Burma would have been looking for ways to liberalize by now. But they know that talk without action is only talk, and so they feel free to brutally suppress spontaneous peaceful demonstrations for democracy led by thousands of Buddhist monks.

Some of the talk has come from the U.N. Security Council, which called the use of force “abhorrent and unacceptable” and urged Burma’s leaders “to take bold action” toward democratization and open a dialogue with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who by virtue of a landslide election victory in 1990, which the generals ignored, is Burma’s rightful leader.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy to Burma, after reporting on widespread abuses—including raids on homes and monasteries, beatings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances and deaths under interrogation, as well as “accelerating impoverishment” and “deep and widespread discontent"—promised an intensification of diplomatic efforts.

The Security Council did issue a unanimous statement strongly deploring the regime’s violence, but it was just more talk. There’s been talk of sanctions, of an arms embargo, of sending the envoy back, but little in the way of intensification.

One problem is that the two huge countries bordering Burma (or Myanmar, as some call it) both get natural gas from it. Taking advantage of Burma’s pariah status, China has turned it into virtually an economic colony, so it doesn’t want to rock the boat. India, however, is the world’s largest democracy and the birthplace of Buddhism. It could do far more than talk.

As could the United States. Burma has become First Lady Laura Bush’s pet project, and she’s been talking about it all she can, but it remains to be seen whether her husband will follow through with sanctions. Even if he does so, his influence in the world is so weakened by his misadventure in Iraq that he may have trouble getting other countries to join the effort. The talk, talk, talk will continue, of course, and the people of Burma will continue to suffer.