Courtesy Reuters

BURMESE DAZE

By Howard Dean

To the Editor:

As Brannon P. Denning and Jack H. McCall note, when states formed the Union, they ceded to the new federal government the power to develop and implement foreign policy ("States' Rights and Foreign Policy," January/February 2000). The United States must speak with one voice on foreign policy.

The states' role, however, is neither as narrow nor as minimal as Denning and McCall make out. For example, states play a fundamental role in America's defense, as seen in the increasing reliance on National Guard troops to project American foreign policy. State militias also played fundamental roles in safeguarding the country and, at one point, saving the Union.

Furthermore, international trade has a phenomenal impact on the states. The trade relationships between particular states and friendly nations are crucial to maintaining America's economic vitality. The states have a significant stake, therefore, in how the nation projects itself.

How do states participate in a global economy without disrupting foreign policy? Vermont passed a law last year to help the United States sway the unlawful regime in Burma. The law instructs any state agency that holds shares in companies doing business in Burma to vote for resolutions questioning trade with the Burmese regime. The law also allows government shareholders in these companies to do the same. In other words, Vermont as an investor now has the authority -- and presumably the duty -- to influence the business decisions of companies in which it invests.

I supported this law, and I believe the legislature passed it for several reasons. First, it supports American foreign policy. In fact, if the U.S. secretary of state lifts sanctions against Burma, the law sunsets. Second, the regime in Burma is universally condemned as brutal, repressive, and unlawful. Vermont is not unique in officially condemning it. Finally, the law does not attempt to ban trade or boycott companies trading with Burma. It gives the people of Vermont -- who, through their government, have placed their money in corporate treasuries -- a voice in the matter.

This approach to state involvement in U.S. foreign policy is fair and justified. The approach sets a high bar to state action and complements, rather than frustrates, U.S. policy. The sponsors of the bill were right to ask that Vermont add its voice to the chorus condemning the Burmese regime.

HOWARD DEAN

Governor of Vermont

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