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23 the national bureau of asian research nbr special report #45 | march 2014 CATHARIN DALPINO is a Contract Course Chair at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. She is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (1993–96). She can be reached at . Second Chance: Prospects for U.S.-Myanmar Relations Catharin Dalpino EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This essay examines how Myanmar’s emergence in regional affairs adds a new dimension to the geostrategic calculus in the Asia-Pacific and argues that the country’s opening provides a unique opportunity for the U.S. and Myanmar to map out a new bilateral relationship. MAIN ARGUMENT The history of U.S.-Myanmar relations is marked by periods of long estrangement, which gives the two countries limited experience with one another and constrains the ability of the U.S. to influence Myanmar’s political development. Over the past two decades, U.S. policymakers have focused on the National League for Democracy and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. However, the pool of potential leaders is expanding, and Washington must consider a number of possible outcomes to the 2015 elections. Bilateral economic and trade relations are largely free of sanctions but have nonetheless been slow to develop. Cooperation in this area is focused more on positioning Myanmar to benefit from trade with the U.S. at a future point. As Myanmar becomes the nexus of connectivity on mainland Southeast Asia, its importance to U.S. security policy will increase. This will require stronger military-to-military relations, which is arguably the most sensitive area of policy. POLICY IMPLICATIONS • Even if it eventually produces a democratic system, the political reform process in Myanmar will be uneven and long. A policy that aims to sustain the momentum of liberalization without requiring a specific electoral outcome will be the most effective in the long run. • Although U.S. companies might not take the lead in the current “gold rush,” trade with the U.S. promises technology transfer and higher labor standards for Myanmar. • At this juncture, U.S. security interests may best be served by supporting Myanmar in its policy of developing stronger relations with several powers rather than by pressing the country to lean toward the U.S. in particular. • The U.S. military should nurture a fraternal relationship with its counterpart in Myanmar as political conditions permit. This will not only encourage more democratic civilmilitary relations in Myanmar but also enable the two militaries to develop rudimentary interoperability for joint cooperation. 25 PROSPECTS FOR U.S.-MYANMAR RELATIONS u DALPINO T he history of U.S. relations with Myanmar since that country’s independence in 1948 is more one of estrangement than cooperation.1 Periods of closeness were often followed by rupture—for example, in 1962 and 1988—with either side choosing to downgrade relations. Moreover, the two countries had little history before independence, in contrast with Myanmar’s relations with the United Kingdom and Asian neighbors such as China, Japan, and Thailand. As a result, despite the fact that interest in Myanmar is strong in the U.S. policy community at the present time, the two countries lack a solid mutual foundation, and the importance of one to the other is still hypothetical to some degree. The thinness of this past could prove to be an advantage. It compels the two countries to be forward-looking as they identify shared interests and forge new pathways for cooperation. However, for the immediate future, the prospects for closer relations will depend on the continued success of Myanmar’s reforms and the ability of U.S. policymakers to maintain a clear-eyed view of this process. This essay examines the impact of past U.S.-Myanmar relations on the prospects for strengthening the bilateral relationship in the near and mid-term. Given continued U.S. interest in Myanmar’s political reform process, the essay considers whether U.S. and Burmese visions of this process can be reconciled. It also examines U.S. economic and security interests in Myanmar, particularly with regard to changing power dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region. Last, the essay offers recommendations to strengthen U.S.-Myanmar relations. The Impact of History After World War II, as Southeast Asian countries struggled to become independent from their Western colonizers and faced the challenge of nation-building, Burma was believed to have particular promise. Rich in natural resources such as minerals, rubber, and timber, Burma also had a robust educated class compared with many other Southeast...


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