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Monday, December 31, 2012

Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions

Michael F. Martin
Acting Section Research Manager/Specialist in Asian Affairs

The installation of the Union Government in 2011 and the undertaking of a number of political reforms have raised the prospects for the resumption of a fully democratically elected civilian government in Burma after five decades of military rule. The release of Burma’s political prisoners has a central role in U.S. policy and Burma’s political future. Many of the U.S. sanctions on Burma were implemented after Burma’s ruling military junta suppressed protests and detained many political prisoners. In addition, the removal of many of the existing U.S. sanctions requires the release of all political prisoners in Burma.

Similarly, hopes for a democratic government in Burma—as well as national reconciliation— would depend on the release of prisoners associated with the country’s ethnic groups. Several ethnic-based political parties have stated they will not participate in parliamentary elections until their members are released from custody. Also, prospects for stable ceasefires and lasting peace with various ethnic-based militias may require the release of their members currently in detention.

Estimates of how many political prisoners are being detained in Burma vary. Burma’s President Thein Sein has not officially acknowledged that there are political prisoners in Burma. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), or AAPP(B), a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying and locating political prisoners in Burma, the Burmese government may have as many as 216 political prisoners in its 42 prisons and 109 labor camps scattered across the country.

Differences in the estimates of the number of political prisoners in Burma can be attributed to two main factors. First, Burma’s prison and judicial system is not transparent, making it difficult to obtain accurate information. Second, there is no consensus on the definition of a “political prisoner.” Some limit the definition of “political prisoner” to “prisoners of conscience” (people who are detained for peaceful political opposition). The AAPP(B) includes “anyone who is arrested because of his or her perceived or real involvement in or supporting role in opposition movements with peaceful or resistance means.”

Since his appointment in April 2011, President Thein Sein has granted amnesty to selected prisoners on eight separate occasions, the latest occurring during President Obama’s November 2012 visit to Burma. In total, the Union Government has released 29,356 prisoners, of which 800 were political prisoners, according to the AAPP(B).

The State Department is actively discussing the political prisoner issue—including the definition of political prisoners—with the Burmese government, opposition political parties, and representatives of some ethnic groups. In these discussions, U.S. officials emphasize the importance of the release of all political prisoners for the further easing or removal of U.S. sanctions on Burma.

The status of Burma’s political prisoners is likely to figure prominently in any congressional consideration of U.S. policy in Burma. Congress may choose to examine the political prisoner issue in Burma either separately or as part of a broader review of U.S. policy towards Burma. Congress may also consider taking up legislation—on its own or in response to a request from the Obama Administration—to amend, modify, or remove some of the existing sanctions on Burma.

Date of Report: December 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R42363
Price: $29.95

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Monday, December 3, 2012

India-U.S. Security Relations: Current Engagement

K. Alan Kronstadt
Specialist in South Asian Affairs

Sonia Pinto
Research Associate

U.S.-India engagement on shared security interests is a topic of interest to the U.S. Congress, where there is considerable support for a deepened U.S. partnership with the world’s largest democracy. Congressional advocacy of closer relations with India is generally bipartisan and widespread; House and Senate caucuses on India and Indian-Americans are the largest of their kind. Caucus leaders have encouraged the Obama Administration to work toward improving the compatibility of the U.S. and Indian defense acquisitions systems, as well as to seek potential opportunities for co-development or co-production of military weapons systems with India. In a report accompanying the FY2012 Defense Authorization (S.Rept. 112-26), the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed its belief that a deepened strategic partnership with India will be critical to the promotion of core mutual national interests in the 21st century.

The United States and India have since 2004 been pursuing a “strategic partnership” that incorporates numerous economic, security, and global initiatives. Defense cooperation between the two countries remains in relatively early stages of development. However, over the past decade—and despite a concurrent U.S. engagement with Indian rival Pakistan and a Cold War history of bilateral estrangement—U.S.-India security cooperation has flourished. American diplomats now rate military links and defense trade among the most important aspects of transformed bilateral relations in the 21st century. The United States views security cooperation with India in the context of common principles and shared national interests such as defeating terrorism, preventing weapons proliferation, and maintaining regional stability. After initial uncertainty, under President Barack Obama, senior Pentagon officials assured New Delhi that the United States is fully committed to strengthening ties through the enhancement of the defense relationship made newly substantive under President George W. Bush.

Many analysts view increased U.S.-India security ties as providing a perceived “hedge” against or “counterbalance” to growing Chinese influence in Asia, although both Washington and New Delhi repeatedly downplay such motives. While a complete congruence of U.S. and Indian national security objectives is unlikely in the foreseeable future, meaningful convergences are identified in areas such as the emergence of a new balance-of-power arrangement in the region. Still, indications remain that the perceptions and expectations of top U.S. and Indian strategic planners are divergent on several key issues, perhaps especially on the role of Pakistan, as well as on India’s relations with Iran. Moreover, given a national foreign policy tradition of “nonalignment,” Indian leaders are averse to forming any “alliance” with the United States and are clear in their intention to maintain India’s “strategic autonomy.” Questions remain about the ability of the Indian economy to grow at rates sufficient to improve its security capabilities at the pace sought in both Washington and New Delhi. Despite these factors, U.S. leaders only expect India’s importance to U.S. interests to grow steadily, and they foresee India taking on new security roles commensurate with its status as a major power and stakeholder in the international system. This expectation is a key aspect of the Obama Administration’s policy of “rebalancing” or “pivoting” toward the Asia-Pacific, which is conceived as including the Indian Ocean region.

This report reviews the major facets of U.S.-India security relations with a focus on military-tomilitary contacts, counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation, and defense trade. It also discusses some of the many obstacles to deeper cooperation in each of these areas. This report will be followed by a companion piece on the strategic aspects of U.S.-India security relations. For a discussion of U.S.-India relations more broadly, see CRS Report RL33529, India: Domestic Issues, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Relations, coordinated by K. Alan Kronstadt.

Date of Report: November 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: R42823
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Australia and the U.S. Rebalancing to Asia Strategy

Bruce Vaughn
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Australia, a traditionally staunch U.S. ally, is exploring ways to support the U.S. strategy of increasing its involvement in Asia—often called the rebalancing to Asia strategy—at a time when Australia has embarked on significant cuts to its defense budget. Australia is seeking to strengthen its long-standing defense alliance with the United States without jeopardizing its important trade relationship with China. Australia’s strategic geography is increasingly focused on its north and west at a time when the United States is also increasingly focused on the same areas, namely Southeast Asia and the northern reaches of the Indian Ocean. An analysis of Australia’s role in the United States’ Asia strategy is particularly relevant as Congress considers future U.S. strategy, force structure, and defense procurement decisions.

Australia’s place in the U.S. rebalancing to Asia strategy is an important one to a large extent because the United States and Australia share many values and strategic perspectives. Australia’s strategic worldview generally is one that views the United States as a force for good in the world and in Australia’s Indo-Pacific region. The May 2012 Australian force posture review gives insight into Australian strategic thinking relative to its defense posture. While there is strong support for further developing bilateral defense cooperation with the United States, planned Australian defense budget cuts, and their potential impact on Australian defense capability plans, may place limits on the extent to which Australian defense capabilities can grow in the years ahead. That said, Australia has a relatively strong economy and a political context that could lead to more defense capability development in the future. What is clear is that there is strong bipartisan elite and popular support in Australia for remaining a close and valuable strategic ally of the United States.

During President Obama’s visit to Australia in 2011, he and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the deployment of up to 2,500 United States Marines to Australia’s Northern Territory. This deployment is one of the most tangible examples of the rebalancing to Asia strategy, and also demonstrates Australia’s resolve to support that strategy. When in Australia, President Obama stated, “Our alliance [with Australia] is going to be indispensible to our shared future, the security we need and the prosperity that we seek, not only in this region but around the world.” The Marine rotational deployment announcement, and subsequent disclosures of additional plans to further expand the United States’ already strong alliance relationship with Australia, did much to give the rebalancing to Asia strategy military substance. It was also during his speech to the Australian Parliament that President Obama pledged not to cut the United States’ Asia Pacific force posture as cuts to the U.S. defense budget are considered.

Australia’s decision to place renewed emphasis on its strategic relationship with the United States within the context of America’s rebalancing to Asia strategy makes its partnership with the United States a valuable piece of U.S. strategic engagement with the Indo-Pacific region. Australia’s decision to strengthen its American alliance may also reflect growing uncertainty in Canberra with the evolving correlates of power in Asia.

Date of Report: October 26, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R42822
Price: $29.95

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