Burma Tests ASEAN’s Legitimacy

Burma Tests ASEAN’s Legitimacy

To critics of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Burma has long served as proof of the organization's ineffectuality. For decades, the country's ruling junta has suppressed democracy, oppressed its people, and ignored global calls to observe human rights. ASEAN member nations have previously been reluctant to apply economic sanctions to Burma because of a founding agreement not to intervene in the affairs of fellow members.

But with the current trial of democracy advocate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi drawing widespread international condemnation, ASEAN once again faces a critical test in its quest for legitimacy. The time is now ripe for ASEAN to pressure the Burmese regime to accept the organization's governing terms, by cutting off its economic support to the country. Strategic economic sanctions targeted at Burma could help bring down the military junta that rules the nation. More importantly, penalizing Burma will demonstrate to member nations and the world that ASEAN is a legitimate and effective regional organization.

ASEAN was founded in 1967 to accelerate economic growth, increase social progress, and foster cultural development in Southeast Asia. Sensitive to the cultural and political differences in neighboring countries, ASEAN sought to achieve its stated objectives through mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national identity of all members. These principles, referred to as the "ASEAN Way," are exemplified in ASEAN's policy of non-interference in the activities of its member nations.

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