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Myanmar Strategic Environment and Projections

Myanmar the land bridge between South and South East Asia resting between the two major powers in the region – China and India and a member of the economically vibrant ASEAN grouping is a weak state thus prone to internal fractures and external influence.

The country faces limited external territorial or state sovereignty challenges but is engaged in multiple fault lines internally which have been recently attenuated by the February 01 (2021) coup by the Tatmadaw or Myanmar military.

Myanmar’s international and regional relations have been complicated by military coup which has resulted in calls by the ASEAN to resolve the crisis through engagement, while China and India have remained ambivalent. The United States and Western democracies have imposed sanctions on key stakeholders in the military caretaker government while the UN is concerned over rights and humanitarian issues. The caretaker government is nonchalantly riding over the crisis.

Historically role of military in politics in Myanmar has spanned a long period, but gradual transition was anticipated after the 2008 Constitution and the 2015 elections which brought the country’s largest democratic party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) in power.

The Tatmadaw resented emergence of the NLD led by the charismatic Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Laureate as a political force within as well as without as the Party received international approval with hope of a permanent transition of Myanmar to a democracy.

Tatmadaw apart from political influence also has strong economic interests many of which are driven by the military’s senior leadership and their progeny.

Obviously a West led democratic model that was emerging which sought market capitalism was harming military’s economic forays.

The final straw was the overwhelming sweep of the NLD in the elections to the multiple parliaments federal and state in the country held on November 08 last year.

Using provisions of the 2008 Constitution with reference to Emergency, the military took over the reins of power and has quickly assumed a civilian veneer by declaring a Caretaker government led by the military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Elections have been announced after two years.

What the military did not bargain for was an outbreak of multiple mutinies in the country. The Civil Disobedience Movement took a cue from protests in Hong Kong against Chinese imposition of authoritarian administration while in parallel People’s Defence Force (PDF) were formed in multiple states and regions across the country’s periphery. A shadow government the National Unity Government (NUG) has been formed which has also openly raised a call to arms against the Tatmadaw.

This has only attenuated security situation in the country where multiple ethnic groups are already engaged in armed conflict with the central government for a federation rather than the unified construct of the state at present.

While National Cease Fire Agreements (CFA) have been signed with at least 10 of these groups these have now broken down post the coup.

Thus, the country is on the brink of a civil war if not already immersed in one.

This has expanded the military's role that was primarily managing the ethnic insurgency to that of countering wider violence replicating a civil war. Accused of widespread human rights violations the military also faces an international legal challenge in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for genocide in 2017 against the Rohingya a Bengali Muslim community mainly settled in the Rakhine State.

A recent projection from the World Bank suggested that Myanmar's economy is expected to contract 18 percent in 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the military coup.

Myanmar kyat continues to weaken against the US dollar, despite sale of American currency reserves to the private sector by the junta-controlled Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM). Consequently, around 1 million jobs are at risk and already many workers are facing low income due to reduced hours or wages.

The United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) late 2020 household survey revealed that over 83 percent of households are experiencing lower incomes on average, almost halved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the circumstances the Caretaker Government in Myanmar is facing challenges on multiple fronts internally while managing the external space to combat Western sanctions and rising influence of China.

On the whole thus Myanmar is going through a crisis of political identity and multiple security fault lines forcing diplomatic compromises which are weakening the state’s international and regional responses while severely impacting economy and livelihood of millions.

Future Trends

Political. Political tensions between the Caretaker Government and opposing parties are likely to be sustained with limited compromises.

International and Regional Relations. Military led caretaker government is expected to face acute diplomatic pressures leading to a tilt towards China and Russia compromising autonomy.

Economy. While the military led administration is attempting to revive the economy, sanctions, COVID 10 and people’s resistance will severely curtail growth

Internal Security. Intensification of fighting between the Myanmar Army and the PDF as well as ethnic armed organisations can be anticipated in the months ahead.

Defence. Myanmar military is expected t be engaged in sustained combating of internal security challenges in the months ahead.


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