SEAF Director Named to Task Force on Burma/Myanmar

The Asia Society has organized a Task Force on U.S. Policy toward Burma/Myanmar, co-chaired by retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark and Holsman International Chair (and former USAID Administrator) Henrietta H. Fore.  The panel comprises a dozen or so individuals from various occupations and backgrounds, including SEAF's director, Donald K. Emmerson.  Assisting the Task Force is an also diverse Advisory Group of some thirty experts in Southeast Asian and other countries.  The Asia Society expects to release the Task Force's final report early in 2010.  

The timing of the study is of interest in view of the Obama administration’s willingness to meet with Myanmar’s rulers. 

America’s top diplomat on Asia is Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.  Deputy Assistant Secretary Scot Marciel covers Southeast Asian and ASEAN affairs.  In early November 2009 the two men traveled to Myanmar.  There they met not only with the iconic opposition figure and Nobel Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, but also with Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein.  The latter meeting was the highest-level contact between the two governments since 1995.  An even higher-level meeting was being planned for later in November at a US-ASEAN summit in Singapore, which would bring President Obama face to face with Myanmar’s head of state, Senior General Than Shwe.

Further enhancing the timeliness of the Task Force’s work is the announced prospect of national elections in Myanmar in 2010.  No independent observers expect the exercise to bring about anything resembling liberal democracy.  But some hold out hope that the balloting could yield a marginally more representative and accountable system. 

In early November 2009 it remained to be seen whether the current shifting of American policy toward dealing directly with the Burmese junta would prove effective in nudging its leaders toward political reform, or not. 

The Task Force’s report, scheduled for release early in 2010, should at least provide food for policymaking thought, as U.S. officials continue to review what has been and could be done with regard to a regime that has so far resisted both isolation and engagement.