Event – Myanmar’s Transition amid International Economic Sanctions


Presented by the Asia Foundation, University Of Melbourne Faculty of Arts and the Australia Myanmar Institute.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 | 6.00pm – 7.30pm 

Harold Woodruff Theatre
Microbiology Building
The University of Melbourne


After two decades of military rule, in 2011, Myanmar (Burma) held elections and moved towards an apparently more ‘democratic’ regime, beginning a period of economic reforms and some political liberalisation. Western policymakers and Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi have all claimed that Western economic sanctions “worked” to bring about this change. But, drawing on findings from his forthcoming book – Societies Under Siege: Exploring How International Economic Sanctions (Do Not) Work (Cambridge University Press) – Lee Jones argues that sanctions were marginal or even counter-productive. Their effect on Myanmar’s economy was minor, largely reinforcing a trend towards natural resource exploitation – an area dominated by state actors and their allies – whilst stymieing efforts to develop secondary and tertiary sectors – where more independent social forces (small-scale entrepreneurs and organised labour) might have emerged. Consequently sanctions maintained a configuration of social forces that was more favourable to the regime’s transition strategy than that of the opposition coalition. Arguably, sanctions also encouraged the opposition coalition to maintain an unrealistic transition strategy whilst doing nothing to help realise it. While this may have delayed the junta’s transition to so-called ‘disciplined-flourishing democracy’, ultimately the regime succeeded in completing its plans. This helps to explain why so little has changed under Myanmar’s new regime.

Lee Jones is an Oxford graduate and was Rose Research Fellow in International Relations before moving to Queen Mary in 2009. He is also a fellow of the UK’s Higher Education Academy. Lee sits on the editorial board of Palgrave’s book series, Studies in the Political Economy of Public Policy, and is a member of the ESRC’s peer review college.

Lee has advised government agencies and civil society groups from a wide range of countries including Australia, Britain, Denmark, France, Myanmar and Timor-Leste. He regularly appears in national and international media. Outlets have included Al-Jazeera, BBC News, the Financial Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, the BBC World Service and Monocle 24 radio.

Denise Nichols is Deputy Chair of the Board of Anglican Overseas Aid and Chair of its Development Committee.
Denise was the Burma Program Coordinator for the Jesuit Refugee Service from 1991-93 based in Bangkok working with political asylum seekers and ethnic refugees on the Thai-Burma border.
From 1993-2014 she has continued to visit the border camps and Myanmar as an independent consultant to conduct research, program evaluations and feasibility studies for AusAID, Child Fund, Oxfam Hong Kong, Oxfam Australia and Anglican Overseas Aid. She interviewed Aung San Suu Kyi in 1998 during a brief period when she was not under house arrest, on the role of NGOs working in Burma. In 2012 she was a member of the Australian Women Leaders Delegation led by Janelle Saffin MP to engage with civil society and government leaders inside the country on the situation for women in the reform process. 

Dr Anthony Ware is a Senior Lecturer in International & Community Development at Deakin University, and the (Acting) Director of the Australia Myanmar Institute. Dr Ware’s current research projects are: Analysis of the Causes, Nature and Capacities for Peace in Myanmar’s Identity and Territorial Conflicts and Principles for Post-Conflict Development Prior to Negotiated Political Settlements. His other research interests include development issues, the socio-political context and reform in Myanmar, aid effectiveness (particularly in relation to capacity building of civil society), and religious communities, faith-based organisations and inter-religious partnerships in development.