Is Myanmar’s Armed Resistance on the Verge of Victory Against a Brutal Military Junta?

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers may have noticed that I link to Myanmar news a good deal, perhaps more than its geopolitical importance warrants. However, I am more interested in Myanmar’s internal struggles: The current civil war is a natural experiment in whether an armed resistance against an extremely brutal and stupid military junta can succeed on its own, without — and this is the key point — any color revolution nonsense exported from the United States. So I imagine there are many, repressors and insurgents alike, who are following Myanmar with interest.

Recent headlines suggest that the Myanmar’s civil war may be reaching its culminating point for Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw[1]:

Junta moves to ‘fortify Naypyitaw at all costs’ Myanmar Now. (Naypyitaw is the monstrous capital, in the center of the country, founded by the military in 2005.)
Revolution and the Escalating Collapse of Myanmar’s Junta The Irrawaddy
Shan State Omen: Is Myanmar’s Junta Losing Control of the War? The Diplomat
Armed Rebels Seize Nearly 50% Of Myanmar In Military Offensive; Junta Says Nation On The Brink Of Breaking Apart Eurasian Times
Commentary: The Myanmar military is losing control Channel News Asia
‘A real blow for the junta’: Myanmar’s ethnic groups launch unprecedented armed resistance France24
Myanmar’s NUG negotiates ethnic differences as crisis deepens Al Jazeera
Is the rule of Myanmar’s junta under threat? Reuters

Let’s begin with a map:

As you can see, Myanmar is bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, Thailand, and the Andaman Sea (the United States being a maritime power). Myanmar has two rivers, its own Irrawaddy and the Mekong, which China cares about as a means of controlling its downstream “neighbors.” The map does not show that China has built a pipeline across Myanmar as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. Some say these factors make Myanmar of central importance to China (and therefore to India (and possibly to the United States)) but personally, I don’t think that (going East) “Gateway to Yunnan” or (going West) “Gateway to the Bay of Bengal” are especially compelling.[2]

The key feature of the map is the names of the various “states” or provinces: Kachin, Shan, Chin, Mon, Kayin, and so forth. These indicate not only political entities, but ethnicities, a key point in understanding Myanmar’s politics (which I will forthrightly admit I do not. In all, there are more than 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar’s 55 million population).

Therefore, geopolitics are out of scope for this post (including ASEAN). So is Myamar’s tortured and tragic political history (here is a timeline), although I may allude to key events as I go along. Rather, I will focus on the key players in the Myanmar civil war: The Tatmadaw, the National Unity Government (NUG), the NGOs (who are much the same in Myanmar as they are anywhere), the locals, and the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs)/People’s Defence Force (PDFs). This is, in other words, not a binary story of fascist regime[3] vs. democratic resistance. There are a lot of players! Let us take each in turn.


Myanmar’s military government is stupid. From George Packer in 2008:

Four days after [Cyclone Nargis] made landfall, with whole districts of lower Burma under water, tens of thousands of people dead, and a growing danger of mass disease and starvation, government officials announced that the situation was returning to normal and that voting on a proposed constitution would take place on May 10th as scheduled in most districts.

(Yes, they handle the economy just as as well.) The Cyclone Nargis debacle led directly to the 8888 uprising, the rise of Nobelist and NGO-beloved Aung San Suu Kyi, and a military coup even more brutal than the military government that precded it.

Myanmar’s military is also brutal. Their fundamental strategy against their civilian population is described by Sophie Ryan, in “When Women Become the War Zone: the Use of Sexual Violence in Myanmar’s Military Operations“:

The Myanmar military is infamous for its brutal ‘Four Cuts’ doctrine. The literature available on this strategy, and its implementation through a corollary, though lesser-known, area colour-classification strategy, frames sexual violence as a permissible tactic within the strategies for achieving civilian relocation and intimidation. The Four Cuts strategy is a doctrine aimed at countering guerrilla movements by delivering four ‘cuts’ to insurgents’ food supply, funds, intelligence, and possible recruits. In Maoist terms, the supporting ‘water’ is taken away from the ‘fish’…. Operationally, it is implemented through ‘clearing operations’ and ‘scorched earth’ policies. Such assaults have been documented as usually four-fold in character: first, an initial ‘assault’ drives out insurgents and civilians in the area; second, the area is ‘cleared’ by destruction; third, information is ‘gleaned’ from insurgents and inhabitants; and fourth, the area is made uninhabitable by ‘mining’ it with landmines. Smith notes that the effect is that ‘[f ]or the Tatmadaw in the Four Cuts campaign there is no such thing as an innocent or neutral villager. Every community must fight, flee or join the Tatmadaw’. These offensives are often facilitated by a three-stage colour classification system whereby areas are designated as black, brown or white according to the perceived degree of insurgent control over the area… Former soldiers have described being told in black areas to ‘do whatever you want’ to civilians, including rape.

The Four Cuts strategy is still used by the Tatmadaw in today‘s civil war. Hence the pictures and satellite maps of burning villages, etc.

However, due to EAOs/PDFs (see below) combining, the Tatmadaw may be reaching their culminating point, unable to perform their operations (the Four Cuts being the essential one). From War on the Rocks, “The Myanmar Military Is Facing Death by a Thousand Cuts“:

Events in Myanmar’s renewed civil war took a dramatic turn these past three weeks, reminding us not to forget about the world’s longest running conflict. Just prior to the break of dawn on Oct. 27, 2023, the Three Brotherhood Alliance of the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army launched a surprise assault — called Operation 1027 — on junta forces in northern Shan State. Within a couple of weeks, the three ethnic armed organizations have reportedly seized over 150 military outposts and several key towns astride a strategic road to the Chinese border, as well as highways crisscrossing Shan State.

…While the fog of war demands analytical caution, Operation 1027 carries important implications for the future of Myanmar. First, the Myanmar military is increasingly overstretched despite its airpower and artillery advantages. Second, the Three Brotherhood Alliance potentially aligning itself more openly with the pro-democracy movement — at least militarily — highlights the resistance’s determination and coalition-building efforts… Considered together, the Myanmar military is more vulnerable than at any time in the past half century. Now is the moment for Myanmar’s pro-democracy resistance to push hard and for their international supporters to crank up the pressure on the junta. The resistance should continue to build momentum with operations across the country, while international backers like the United State[4] should increase the tempo of sanctions and redouble their diplomatic efforts to convince the junta that it cannot prevail.

The Tatmadaw is also having recruiting problems:

While the coup regime is losing territory due to armed conflict, they are also suffering defection, desertion, and recruiting problems. Given the dwindling of foot soldiers, the military has had to summon all veterans for one more tour of duty. An anonymous veteran said they are not allowed to refuse the call to duty except on health grounds. According to Captain Lin Htet Aung, who defected the military and joined the resistance movement, nearly 10,000 security forces—roughly 8000 soldiers and 2,000 policemen—have defected since the coup.

So, optimism? For a change?

National Unity Government (NUG)

The NUG is the successor to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), dissolved by the miltary after its coup in 2021 ended a ten year experiment in democracy, where the NLD represented the forces of democracy (and not very well, given the Rohingya debacle). Its strategy differs from NLD’s in key ways:

While the NLD had emphasised democracy before federalism, the NUG is prioritising federalism. It also exhibits greater inclusion of ethnic and other stakeholder interests, and views itself to be laying the foundation for “a federal union that seeks to address decades of structural violence against all the people of Myanmar regardless of race and religion”.

In particular, policy pronouncements made by the NUG includes a reversal of NLD-era statements that had defended atrocities committed by the military against the Rohingya.

Critcally, the NLD advocated non-violence. The NUG does not:

The People’s Defensive War – which the NUG announced on 7 September – may constitute the most controversial policy; the international community held mixed views and reactions to this move. Be that as it may, the NUG’s call to arms was widely welcomed, supported and acted upon across Myanmar. Its establishment of the People’s Defense Force (PDF) in May and the subsequent proliferation of many local PDF chapters/groups serve as a barometer of on-ground sentiments.

The NUG has achieved a considerable amount internationally:

The NUG has achieved diplomatic breakthroughs that most other parallel or exile governments could only dream of.

Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations has aligned himself with the NUG, which has the added benefit of effectively blocking the military junta from the world’s highest intergovernmental body.

The regime has also been excluded from high-level ASEAN summits, while the NUG’s foreign minister Daw Zin Mar Aung has publicly met with a number of prominent international government figures.

(The NUG also has offices on K Street in Washington, DC.)

The NUG is also, to a degree, self-funded (though it is not sovereign in its own currency and seems, oddly, not to have established a central bank). From the Stimson Center:

The opposition National Unity Government’s Ministry of Planning and Investment (MOPFI) [has] raised over $150 million in an innovative and tech-savvy manner through the auction of military-owned property and land preemptively seized under eminent domain, crypto bond sales, lotteries, sale of mining rights, potentially issuing shares in military-owned corporations, and now a full-service online bank. This has all been possible through their fintech savvy. The NUG has raised all funds in a licit manner as though they are the state they aspire to be.

(I think many would quarrel with the Stimson Center’s description of NUG as “the opposition,” since that implies that the junta is legitimate.) The MOPFI also, amazingly, runs a state lottery out of its digital wallet, NUGPay.

The NUG has also established a process through which a Constitution will be created, a sort of meta-Constitution, called the Democracy Charter. Here is the home page:

Note the multiple languages, which shows NUG’s commitment to the various ethnicities. Note also that the default language is English (and not Chinese).

Here is one section of the Charter:

Point 4 is a real commitment to Federalism, probably the only way forward for Myanmar other than the Four Cuts. Point 5, however, points to the NUGs fundamental problem: How to achieve the monopoly of violence one expects the state to have. We saw above, for example, that the Three Brotherhood Alliance was not under the (civilian) command of the NUG.

Finally, the NUG is not headed by a charismatic figure. That may not be a bad thing (though it probably confuses the press and funders):

Myanmar resistance movements – note the plural – today do not have a single charismatic leader who can perform like Ukraine’s Zelensky, a TV actor-cum-politician. …[T]hat’s not a bad thing for Myanmar… [F]or a quarter of a century, we had Aung San Suu Kyi who had been likened with Mandela, MLK Jr., Mother Theresa, and Mohandas Gandhi. We know how that fairy tale of Mother of the nation ended – as the defender and denier of the genocide at the UN’s highest court in The Hague. She turned into a cultist figure, while her Bama-centric politics aligned with the genocidal military had further disunited Myanmar’s majoritarian and ethnic minority communities.

(Bama, or Bamar, is the ethnicity of central Myanmar, hegemonic in many ways.)


I have to include this from The Irrawaddy, partly because it’s funny, but also because if there is an attempt to “broker a peace,” instead of letting the Myanmar resistance win, the NGOs will play their part, as analysts, spokesholes, etc. The scene is a local café, a Starbucks if there is one:

NGO Worker I: We had a real good series of peace workshops up in Kachin State in 2019, youth and women were enthusiastic! We were shifting the narrative, and focusing on inclusiveness. We had evidence-based surveys too that the workshops worked. Now, it would be relevant to do such workshops in Sagaing, where donors are interested in investing due to armed conflicts.

Of course, this reinforces my priors on NGOs!

Local Self-Governance

An important point to make is that much state-like organizing is happening on the ground, right now:

But NUG is NOT the alternative structure or even organization that will replace Myanmar’s murderous military. If international state actors are looking at the NUG – and reach the conclusion that it is not the winning horse capable of holding the strife-torn country together, they were looking for the answer in the wrong place.

Myanmar local communities of resistance, in collaboration with, yes, both NUG and the ethnic armed organizations, are building state structures from the ground up, in accord with the ethos of devolution or decentralization of local self-governance. Many of these local communities work with the Chin National Front, Kachin Independence Organization, Arakan Army, the Karen National Union, the Karenni National Progressive Party, and so on, who actively opposed to the coup regime. Even the Restoration Council of Shan State and the United Wa State Army have a functioning truce with the military in Naypyidaw run their own administration, without needing any nod from the military.

(Here is an argument that international organizations should assist these local organizations directly.) Subsidiarity, then, exists before a Constitution; indeed, the Constitution could be said to grow out of it, not the other way round.


The danger that, when the Tatmadaw implodes, the various EAOs will turn into warlords, instead of banding together in a Federal system, is so obvious I don’t need to state it. Goons, or statesmen? Time will tell. Less obvious is that the same dynamic applies with PDFs, which are not ethnic armies, but initiated (see above) by the NUG itself:

Local administrations in PDF strongholds, like Sagaing and Magway regions, are largely subordinate to PDFs, meaning there is little civilian oversight of the various armed groups. This has led to a rise on criminal activity linked to PDFs and NUG local administrators – including sexual assault, illegal logging and gambling dens.

And of course, private armies could proliferate as well:

Myanmar politics in the 1950s was defined by the rise of pocket armies – personal militias loyal to prominent politicians or businessmen. “They were used as personal security forces by politicians, and they engaged in violence and intimidation,” said the seminal 2016 Asia Foundation report on militias in Myanmar.

With hundreds of newly formed armed groups across Myanmar since the coup, this phenomenon risks returning and would make it harder for the NUG to reform itself. If some of its leaders go, they could take whole groups of armed men with them.

It’s hard for me to imagine that the principle of subsidiarity applies to armed groups, but I guess we’ll find out.


I hope this post at least gives you enough of a scorecard so you can tell the players apart! This video, with an energetic Myanmarese aerobics instructor going through her routine while, in the background, the Tatmadaw drives its armored vehicles up to Naypyitaw’s Parliament building, as they staged a coup, spawned innumerable viral takes and memes in 2021:

Wouldn’t it be nice to see the aerobics dancer make a sequel, in 2023 or 2024, with democratic forces marching out of the Parliament building? That would be a happy conclusion to our natural experiment. That, and if the good guys stayed good. So often they don’t.


[1] The term “tatmadaw” is contested:

“Tatmadaw’ (တပ်မတော်) has long been adopted as the standard title of the Burmese military in journalistic and scholarly reports on Burma. The critics called on writers to replace the term with “sit-tat” (စစ်တပ်), which simply means “military” in Burmese…. Because of the laudatory nature of the royal particle daw (တော်) included in the term, critics say the continuous use of the term amounts to whitewashing over the crimes committed by the institution and even risks emboldening them to continue their abuses.

However, “tatmadaw” is what search wants, so that is what I will use.

[2] As far as China’s influence, the Myanmar people have views. From Lawfare, of all places:

Politics, though, is not an elite sport… [T]he rules of the game are forged over long stretches of time. In the clash of attitudes, expectations and entrenched interests, it is most important to note that Myanmar’s population is particularly wary (and weary) of Chinese influence. The country, for instance, is increasingly a safe-haven for China’s illicit industries. Over the past decade, Myanmar turned into one of the world’s largest hubs for methamphetamine production. This industry is a breeding ground for transnational Chinese syndicates, a revenue stream for various parties to the conflicts in Myanmar and a source of social unrest as addiction spiked along with the growing trade. Border-town casinos are meanwhile transforming into ‘smart cities’ fully separate from the Myanmar monetary system. Chinese interests are also evangelizing their intertwined notions of development and governance in the country’s largest cities, facilitating a massive surveillance system in Mandalay and pushing for a New Yangon City to house a swelling urban population. China’s development model is a strategic export; demand, though, is nascent, and popular resistance to any form of heavy-handed rule remains resolute across Myanmar. Since the coup, this popular skepticism has turned into speculation and fear-mongering about China’s role in supporting the military, leaving their interests in ever-more doubt. This doubt reached a fever-pitch when two Chinese-owned garment factories were burned earlier this month amid a military crackdown in Yangon’s poorest outskirts.

[3] Bad as they are, the Tatmadaw are not fascist, at least as Robert O. Paxton defines the term.

[4] Feh. From Foreign Affairs, June 2023:

[T]he 2023 BURMA Act… reiterates Washington’s goal of reversing the coup and calls for the provision of nonlethal military aid (mostly communications equipment) to antiregime forces. Yet the law mandates neither lethal military support nor sanctions on the junta’s oil and gas business, and even the disbursement of nonlethal aid has lagged. U.S. efforts on behalf of Myanmar’s rebels are negligible—practically nonexistent—in comparison with the support the United States is providing to Ukraine, for instance, in its war against Russia.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. playon

    I haven’t heard about any official Chinese involvement in Myanmar. Russia is the one who is helping to support the Tatmadaw.

    1. lambert strether

      Well, geopolitics really isn’t in scope. That said, Russia sold the Tatmadaw some aircraft. Chinese commercial entities, often criminal, are deeply involved in the Myanmar economy, and with some EAOs (as is IIRC China’s government).

      1. Random

        Geopolitics is the only way in which outside powers view the situation though so it’s important.
        I don’t think either China, Russia or the US actually care how brutal the military is.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          > Geopolitics is the only way in which outside powers view the situation though so it’s important.

          I’m not saying it’s not important. I’m saying that’s not within the scope of this post. For my purposes, dynamics within Myanmar are more important. My reasoning is explained in the first paragraph.

    2. ciroc

      Israel is also a supplier of advanced weapons to Myanmar’s military regime. Given the close relationship between the two countries, it is probably no coincidence that their approaches to ethnic minorities are very similar.

  2. The Rev Kev

    If the people there were left to their own devices I am pretty sure that they will be able to take out that government and I say good luck to them. But I remain wary about what follows. Look at the map at the top of this page which shows this country and its borders. You cannot tell me that Washington Neocons would not be drooling at the opportunity to set up that country as a sort of aircraft carrier in this part of the world and which would give them access to over two thousand kilometers of China’s border. Imagine the trouble that they could stir up. Tough luck for the people there but they would be considered as disposable assets by these neocons. It was only a decade ago that there was a coup against the Ukrainian government and a lot of people in the west were cheering that and saying how the good guys won. But we all know how that turned out so I fear the same may happen to Myanmar and its people. In short, this bloody war that has been fought the past coupla years may just be a prelude for what is about to follow.

    1. hk

      One reason that Myanmarese “opposition,” as understood in the West, makes me queasy is that they speak English too well and are too “suave.” They seem too eager to sell themselves to foreigners and that makes me doubt if they have any serious domestic support at home. Most serious opposition within Myanmar seem to be from ethnic minorities whom Bama/Myama people would have issues with (or armed groups of “dubious” people from all stripes). The article seems to be consistent with my hunches. If so, the Myanmarese people seem stuck between rock and hard place and I’d suspect that the average Bama/Myama person on street would prefer the junta over the alternative. Not saying that they are a nice people, but the alternatives seem so unappealing.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > You cannot tell me that Washington Neocons would not be drooling at the opportunity to set up that country as a sort of aircraft carrier in this part of the world

      I am puzzled by this too (although, again, geopolitics is not in scope). But isn’t this a case of “If they were going to do it, they would already have done it?” It would not have been hard for Washington to sanction the regime (no oil sales, no weapons) or to interfere with its international banking (Myanmar has a dependency on remittances). Yet they have not done so. I suspect a private balance-of-power deal with China (who doesn’t want to get too close to Myanmar, either. I didn’t put this in the post, but China thinks the generals are whack jobs who will make them look bad. And they’re right).

      1. steppenwolf fetchit

        Perhaps they have known so little of Burmyanmar that they are not the least bit up to speed on even the most rudimentary basic information about it. They don’t know enough about it to even know whether to be excited or indifferent.

  3. ciroc

    Even if the cruel military dictatorship is overthrown, without a strong central government, what remains is a failed state dominated by warlords. Myanmar’s future is bleak.

  4. PlotinusObscurus

    Thanks Lambert for this report. For all the intrinsic drama of a war of liberation against a military junta that seems determined to embody a caricature of thuggish tyranny, the mainstream media seems little interested. The struggle of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar has been close to my heart for years and yet doesn’t seem to draw a lot of Western interest — maybe the complexities you’ve outlined here make it hard to paint a simplistic Evil Empire narrative in the way the MSM has done in Ukraine.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > pro-democracy

      Looking at “our democracy,” the desire for democracy seems naive, even a little pathetic. But I suppose that just because we have extinguished our own light, that doesn’t mean others must stay in the dark.

      Go back, however, and look at the NLD v. NUG discussion. For the NUG, federalism comes before democracy. And I think they’re right.

  5. steppenwolf fetchit

    Here is a way that subsidiarity could be extended to the non-Bamar ethnic armies in a Federal or Federated Myanmar.

    Each ethnic group with an army of whatever size would have its own state within the Federation. Each ethnic army would become its State’s National Guard or State Guard or whatever. Bamaria might also get to have its own ethnic State National Guard if not having one would leave it feel too left out to join such a Federation.

    The Federal Republic could have a Federal National Army for defense of the Federation against external pressure. Ways could be worked out to have all ethnic groups represented within the command structure and among the soldiers. If none of the ethnic groups would take orders in any other ethnic group’s language, then a totally neutral language would have to be picked for the command and the soldiers to speak in. Something like Abkhasian or Armenian or Tongan or Navaho. None of the ethnic groups could feel uniquely disfavored by having to learn that language for the Federal Army.

    1. JBird4049

      In other words, the American Republic’s military structure before it went all in on empire. IIRC, after the Spanish-American War and before the First World War. Certainly by the Second World War.

      Of course, the American states’ national guard are effectively the federal government’s as Uncle Sugar pays for it. Some states, like California, also have their own completely separate additional militaries, but I think that they are more on paper than in reality.

      Considering how bad the current one is, I wonder if there would be any fears over a new central military?

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      I had to leave something on the cutting room floor, and I would need to check attestation.

      However, the argument is that in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia, under a so-called “win win” policy, elements of the former Khmer Rouge and elements of the various competing factions were successfully integrated into a single national Army (a remarkable achievement, if true, and may Henry Kissinger die accursed).

      Cambodia has a lot of problems, but another genocide isn’t one of them. So if Cambodia can achieve “win win” I would imagine Myanmar could as well. (Moreover, there’s a precedent to follow, presumably genuine experts could be called in (not Western MBAs), there could be testimonials to build trust, and so on.)

  6. VietnamVet

    The difficulty with “might is right” is that humans are tribal pack animals. If there are enough overlaps between nations and tribes, humankind can work together for the greater good if the government is run by and for the people. However, with current endless neo-feudal wars for profit, ethnic cleansing becomes the default mode of operation from Gaza to Myanmar. With sovereign nations superseded, money flows to war profiteers, oligarchs and NGOs.

    The “Four Cuts” clear and mine operations takes land out of production. Genocide alienates the survivors who will fight to death. This strip-mines the war zone of people – creating no man’s land. The only way to counter this mercenary violence is for self-contained areas to regain sovereignty and build militias and strong borders. Allies and diplomacy are required when necessary.

    WWIII is destroying nations and economies. Armistices, DMZs and peace are needed now. Huffington Post’s headline: “Bizarre Right-Winger Wins Argentina Presidential Election”. The Americas are not immune to the spreading contagion.

    1. JBird4049

      Are you afraid of another French red zone? They are still cleaning out areas from unexploded shells and mines, as well as the ground poisoned by all that poison gas used, 105 years after the First World War ended.

  7. PlutoniumKun

    This is a fantastic overview, thanks Lambert.

    Just a point on the ethnicity issue – one element that is not often appreciated from the outside is the distinction ‘locals’ make between ‘native’ groups and ‘outsiders’. One reason the Rohingya people were so viciously picked upon by the government and received so little sympathy from other ethnic groups is that they are perceived as being Bangladeshi, not Burmese, despite most of them being in the country for a generation or more. Throughout SE Asia there is a history of ethnic violence aimed at those groups – usually Indian or Chinese in origin, who are seen as outsiders. So just because the various ethnic groups in Myanmar come to a peaceful agreement is no guarantee that they won’t decide that certain groups just don’t count as they are not ‘real’ Burmese.

    Another key issue is geography, which is probably the key reason why the neighbouring countries (most notably Thailand and India, are very reluctant to get involved. With the exception of the Irrawaddy plains, it is mostly very mountainous and difficult to traverse, and building an adequate road and railway network through it would be staggeringly expensive. It is a country which has only proven governable during short periods when the politics have aligned or when its had particularly cunning rulers or colonialists (the British actually did a pretty good job of keeping control for a time given the circumstances). However, the days where the country was seen as a prize for imperialists and wannabe imperialists due to its oil, rubber and teak are long gone.

    I suspect also that one reason why China is keeping it at arms length is that getting too deeply involved in the country means having an extended, and very difficult to control mountain border with India. For most countries in the region (the US isn’t really a player), Myanmar is far more useful as a weak neutral buffer state than anything else. I suspect that a weakened federal State would suit most neighbours, although they will always be concerned at the overspill from the borders as many of the ethnicities don’t neatly end at the Thai/Indian/Chinese border. They Thais in particular don’t treat their northern minorities (who often straddle the border) particularly well.

    On the issue of Cambodia, i think you can make an argument that the Khymer Rouge are still essentially in charge – the current leaders are former KR who fled to Vietnam and became part of a pro-Vietnam rather than pro-Chinese axis. Vietnam mostly dealt with the KR hard core, but thanks to US/UK/Thai interference they were given a lifeline in the forests of the north-west in the 1990’s. Vietnam called the shots in that period, but were content to stand back once the older KR cadres insurgency ran out of steam and they were sure the government was neutral/pro Vietnam and that ethnic Vietnamese minorities were protected (they bore the brunt of much of the KR’s killing fields). A little like Myanmar, Cambodia is a country more valuable to everyone else as a buffer than anything else, its too poor to be much of a prize for anyone except for NGO grifters and Chinese off-shore online scammers.

  8. catchymango

    MK Bhadrakumar for what its worth has repeatedly implied that the west has an interest in Myanmar, possibly in order to destabilize the BRI. Although he usually fingers the Brits as a leading conduit for western meddling, alongside the Americans.

    1. steppenwolf fetchit

      I have noticed a general trend among left-wing sites and blogs and etc. to not even mention Myanmar the least little bit. I have long thought that the reason for that is that the left in general cannot figure out how to accuse America of causing it or propelling it, and since their psychopolitics rest on a belief in American Exceptional Evilism, if American cannot be blamed for something or accused of something; they don’t care about that thing even existing.

      I notice, for example, that ( unless I have missed it), Ian Welsh has said zero about Myanmar, ever ever.

      I think Bhadrakumar is the exception which proves the rule here. He desperately comes up with reasons to blame America for events in Myanmar and I don’t know if his reasons are reality-related or stem from anti-Americanitic fever dreams. There was one other commenter here some time ago who offered material blaming America for Myanmar events. But that commenter’s comments were so ignored that he/she gave up even trying. ( Perhaps this comment will renew that commenter’s interest in coming back and giving it another good hard try).

      So Lambert’s genuine interest in this area is very heterodox compared to the basic approach of the mainstream orthodox left, and is very useful and helpful.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        I ran a check on National Endowment of Democracy grants relating to Myanmar (through 2021 at the NED site). All minuscule, five and six figures. Granted, a dollar goes a long way in Myanmar. More telling is that we aren’t seeing any color revolution signifiers. Whatever, we’re not seeing a Maidan here. (It may also be that the language barriers are so great — 165 ethnicities! — that the Blob just threw up its, er, appendages and decided nothing could be done.

        1. Catchymango

          Respectfully, the NUG having its HQ in DC like you mention in the article is not something to be brushed aside so quickly.

          The NDA was teeming with British politicos, while last year Biden signed the BURMA Act, which among other things, “authorizes the appropriation of funds for FY 2023 to 2027 for various forms of assistance, including ‘programs to strengthen federalism in and among ethnic states in Burma, including for non-lethal assistance for Ethnic Armed Organizations in Burma.’ Assistance may also be provided for ‘efforts to establish an inclusive and representative democracy in Burma;’ ‘technical and non-lethal support’ for the EAOs, PDFs, and ‘pro-democracy movement organizations;’ and programs to ‘investigate and document atrocities in Burma.’ A bit more significant than some measly NED programs, if you ask me.

          Further, from CSIS:

          One potentially important detail is the assistance provisions of the BURMA Act is the authorization of “non-lethal assistance” to Myanmar’s EAOs, PDFs and “pro-democracy movement organizations.” This detail is significant in two ways. First, it explicitly designates the EAOs and PDFs as possible recipients of “non-lethal assistance.” The Biden administration has, in general, refrained from direct mention of relations with the EAOs and PDFs, choosing to focus more on its engagement with the NUG.
          Second, the authorization of “non-lethal assistance” provides the Biden administration with the opportunity to adopt a more liberal interpretation of what forms of military aid it can provide to the EAOs and PDFs. In Syria and Ukraine, for example, “non-lethal assistance” allowed the provision of uniforms, protective armor, armored military vehicles, radar equipment and medical equipment and supplies.

          Russian media has also published an article recently on this line of thinking.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Unfortunately, many on the left seem incapable of understanding that many small to medium sized countries have agency and motivations of their own, which have nothing to do its the US, western colonialism, or China/Russia. Smaller countries are perfectly capable of manipulating the interests of larger powers for their own strategic interests (e.g. Vietnam, Serbia, Azerbaijan, Guyana, Philippines). In fact, if they are not capable of this, they will soon disappear as independent or viable entities.

        Myanmar has little strategic interest for the West, and not a lot for other big powers either. The external ‘players’ are Thailand, India and China, and to a lesser extent Bangladesh. All have their particular interests in the country, mostly relating to their own minorities – this is one reason why the Thais and Indians in particular are not very keen on encouraging Burmese ethnic separatists.

        1. steppenwolf fetchit

          Perhaps the Left is just another flavor of EuroWestern Missionary Chauvinism, after all.
          Lakota Nationalist Russell Means thought so, and he deeply offended many EuroWestern Leftists and Marxist Chauvinist Missionaries by saying so in a speech. He titled that speech
          “Marxism is as Alien to My Culture as Capitalism”. And it sure did offend the EuroWestern Cultural-Supremacist Marxists. Here is the link.

  9. Matthew G. Saroff

    It should be noted that the Myanmar military grew out of the Burmese National Army, and this was largely a creation of the Japanese imperial army, the Rikugun (陸軍),and unlike later Japanese defense forces, the extreme brutality of the Rikugun was never addressed in the Myanmar military.

    1. steppenwolf fetchit

      Perhaps they did quietly address it in their own secret counsels. Perhaps the “addressment” they arrived at was this: Japanese Imperial Brutality is what would keep the multi-ethnic Bamar Empire together and keep ethnic seccession prevented or at least contained.

  10. Petter

    Absolute fantastic Lambert. I listened to the Radio War Nerd podcast the other night, and with that and your post, I think I actually have an idea of what’s going on.


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