The announcement that the US is lifting its longstanding ban on imports from Myanmar, known also as Burma, is yet further evidence that the Southeast Asian nation’s political and economic reforms have been well received in the West. Washington had already removed the prohibition on American investment in Myanmar. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on a visit to the US, as is Myanmar President U Thein Sein, had supported the easing of sanctions. The question is whether these sanctions had any effect in convincing Myanmar’s military rulers to implement political and economic reforms and to release political prisoners including Suu Kyi. Indeed, do sanctions work? Are they working in Iran, in North Korea?
Some argue that economic sanctions can be effective, if certain conditions are met. Others argue that they only hurt the people of the affected countries and not the leadership. In Myanmar’s case, it could be argued that the military’s decision to pursue reforms has been motivated by regional strategic interests rather than by the sanctions. There is no denying, however, that Myanmar has moved quickly to open up – but are the reforms for real? The next three years will reveal the answer to that important question.