The Real Issues for 2015-2016
Bottom Line: Burma / Myanmar should by all rights be a leading example of “What right looks like” for the globalizing world. It has both the human and natural resource potential to be a powerhouse in its region. This has been squandered for decades by Burmese military and corporate elites in power mired in conflict with ethnic minorities whose ancestral land rights going back almost three thousand years. All sides in Burma are losers in this contest, because China and other internationals exploit this circumstance for their advantage.
The solution for what ails Burma fundamentally lies in pragmatic economic, military and political power sharing among its diverse ethnicities. Crafting delicate balance of power is the name of the game to be waged and won before outsiders fully exploit the situation. There are many examples around the world today where this has tragically been the case.
The key in this context is to understand and take action on the real issues holding Burma and its peoples back from realizing full potential. Until and unless the following issues are attended to, there will likely be no enduring solution in this land of promise:
1. Control of land and the fruits of the land is the primary sticking point holding up progress. This is because Burmese in power face the reality that ethnics occupy ancestral lands host most of Burma’s natural resource wealth, cover the majority of Burma’s borders and international trade routes, and host most of Burma’s hydropower potential. This has been the primary basis for Burmese elites’ power and wealth.
2. Strong ethnic armies are able to thwart one-sided Burmese economic prosperity on an enduring basis. This is because these defensive armed forces are protecting defendable homelands that favor unconventional warfare that can be waged at low cost, while yielding high casualties and costs on the part of the Burmese Army. This situation is a reality that is never going to change.
3. The international community is taking advantage of the overall static situation with an eye for profit making on the corporate side, and justification of development and aid on the non-profit site. This is generally being done without regard for the imperative to “First, do no harm”. In this context, ethnic minorities are being exploited by Burmese in power who insist that all business, aid and development must be controlled by the Burmese. This effectively marginalizes ethnics and secures already dominant Burmese power.
4. Burmese elites leverage this situation to their enduring advantage. This has been done by promoting the image of reform, while never substantively relinquishing any real power to ethnics. The Burmese military, which has never been held accountable for decades of human rights violations and crimes against humanity, retains its power and remains immune from prosecution, while still continuing with its constitutional controls of government.
5. Ethnics now find themselves being labelled as obstacles to progress by the Burmese and supportive internationals. This is a great irony, given that ethnics held the line against decades of totalitarian Burmese rule, and many were front line fighter for democracy, as they were throughout World War II as faithful US-UK allies.
6. Ceasefire negotiations promoted by the Burmese in power are now being used as a deceptive weapon against ethnics that also dupes the international community. The terms “Peace” and “Ceasefire” have been marketed as virtuous goals that internationals readily clammer to, but the reality is that “lack of war” does not equate to “lack of oppression, coercion and marginalization of ethnics. It should be appreciated that the Burmese Army has continued armed aggression in the same moment that Burmese negotiators speak of peace.
7. The game in Burma today is fundamentally a Central Government versus State / Local Government balance of power contest. This often get obscured by ethnic rhetoric (Burman versus Non-Burman). In reality most ethnic minorities meet the international community’s criteria as states according to the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States signed 26 December 1933. Burmese-dominated central government, army and businesses are confounded by this legitimate, competitive reality after decades of one-sided Burmese dominance. Security sector balance of power is an imperative in this setting after decades of armed conflict between Burmese and ethnics. Burmese insistence on disarmament of ethnics does not pass the logic test of prudent statecraft.