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I’m tempted to say straight off that what goes on in Myanmar (formerly Burma) is entirely the business of the Burmese people and that other countries don’t have any business interfering in the affairs of a sovereign country. And that’s fine, as far as it goes.
But there’s a shared responsibility that the world’s leaders have to the world’s citizens, which is the responsibility to ensure that what we call ‘normal civil rights’ are preserved regardless of which government or junta is in power.
Normally, this is expressed through the august offices of the United Nations, first by the UN Security Council (in emergency situations) and later, by the UN General Assembly.
In the case of Myanmar, the UN Security Council has barely commented, and the UN General Assembly hasn’t yet discussed the plight of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the deposed, or partially deposed leader of that country — who, it must be said, barely ‘ruled’ the country in the first place, and that, only with the tepid approval of the powerful Burmese military.
Was she the leader at all, one wonders? Or was it all a pantomime to placate democrats around the world concerned about the purity of democratic process everywhere, and in particular, Myanmar?
I think it was the latter, because as soon as Aung San Suu Kyi began to implement democratic reforms she found herself under house arrest along with some of her government ministers charged with spurious offences. An utterly predictable outcome.
If you didn’t see this coming years ago, either you’re not an astute observer of international politics or you’re incredibly naive.
The Burmese Regime Has Been Preparing for This Moment for Decades
Obviously, it’s been the plan all along: Placate world leaders by installing a weak president bereft of any real power; arrest the president if he or she decides to implement real democratic reforms; and then get ready to repel invasion by international ‘do-gooder’ nations, and then, via the use of pre-placed terrorist operatives around the world, destroy their attackers from within, to ‘teach them a lesson’ about ‘messing with Myanmar’. Anything is possible in war they say.
Which isn’t a bad way for a country to make a name for itself and a good way for a large number of extremely wealthy Burmese generals to enhance and extend their grip on power. Totally logical. Efficient.
And likely to succeed on account of the extended preparation time that Myanmar’s military has enjoyed courtesy of a global order busy with postwar rebuilding, the Cold War, and various wars and economic crises in the postwar era. And during the entire time, Myanmar was at the bottom of the international ‘To Do’ list.
As I said, anyone could’ve seen it coming.
The Moral (and Tempting) Choice is for World Leaders to want to ‘Bring Myanmar to Heel’
But how is that possible without getting Aung San Suu Kyi killed, or worse?
And how is it possible for the world to quickly create a powerful military coalition to enforce change in Myanmar — without hundreds or even thousands of military casualties courtesy of the Burmese military which has been spoiling for this fight for generations and now seems ready to engage and fight this battle on their own carefully prepared turf…
It’s a fight that the existing order is wholly unprepared for and one they could actually lose.
No one thought that North Korea could fight to a draw, a robust America nearing the peak of its power in 1950-53.
No one thought that France could lose the war in French Indochina (Vietnam).
No one thought that the USA (at the peak of its power, 1962-1975) and acting in concert with some of its allies, could lose the Vietnam War.
No one thought that the Cold War would end in a stalemate, irreparably damaging the economy of the former Soviet Union and driving American debt to a sky-high 82% of GDP. Generations from now, American citizens will still be paying the debt on the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the Afghan War, and countless brushfire wars, skirmishes, and ‘economic competition’.
No one thought that a single city (Mogadishu) could send the US Marines home damaged — not having ‘won’ their objective but not having ‘lost’ their objective either. And that was just one city.
And after all the billions spent to protect and defend American citizens, even the USA can barely protect itself from a tiny COVID-19 virus.
Myanmar’s military too, has been on an equipment spending spree for decades and it employs among the most sophisticated weaponry available in the world, its troops are trained to a very high standard, and Burmese generals seem to have no concern about losing thousands of their own citizens in civil war or international conflict. The fewer mouths to feed, the better. Unless they’re old enough to carry a rifle, that is…
It might be difficult for some to realize this, but the world has changed, and not just a little. The US, if it acted alone against the Burmese military in Myanmar, could lose that fight. Think about that for a minute. Think about how that would change the world.
What kind of world will we live in if upstarts like Myanmar can beat the mighty United States military and its allies (within Myanmar) and concomitantly wreak widespread (terrorist) destruction across America during and long after a war between the US allied group and Myanmar?
The world has changed people! Think about what you want to do, before you commit your country to a plan of action.
It’s Not What the Burmese Generals Know That Will Bite Them – It’s What they Don’t Know That Will Bite Them
Although the military junta has created a large and lethal army to protect their operation, there are other ways to get the citizens of Myanmar what they want and get what we want for Myanmar’s people. Peace and prosperity, along with civil rights.
One: Give the junta everything they want. Eventually, financial excess, unlimited political power and infighting will have the Burmese army consuming itself until there’s nothing left and then legitimate politicians can return to power and never again be challenged by their military after that negative experience.
Two: Cut off any travel by air or sea (only) to and from Myanmar. (A no-fly and no-sail zone along Myanmar’s entire coastline) Yes, plenty of trade could still be done via Myanmar’s land borders and this plan might merely inconvenience the ruling junta.
However, if they challenged America and it’s allies at sea, the junta would lose badly because naval power and air power happen to be Myanmar’s weakness. They have no real air force other than the latest-missile-equipped spotter-type aircraft and they have no real Navy other than small coastal patrol craft that are capable of sinking drug-runner boats. It must be emphasized again that Myanmar has a large and formidable (land-based) army, representing a huge capability for them.
So, when you go to war, you always want to fight the enemy on your own terms, doing that which your own side does best. You never want to fight the enemy on their strengths as that will dramatically increase your own casualty rate and the casualty rate of the civilians you’re trying to protect.
But cutting off air and sea access to Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal ocean frontage would embarrass the junta and let the citizens of Myanmar know that their plight has been heard and is being acted upon by a coalition of nations. (Hopefully, acted upon by all other nations)
And eventually, with enough billions of coalition dollars and enough coalition casualties, they would beat-down the junta enough that they would allow President Aung San Suu Kyi to rule Myanmar again. Unhindered this time.
Three: A long process; But so-called ‘Soft Power’ — employing diplomacy to work with the ruling junta to help it gain the same respect, maturity, and perspective that developed countries enjoy and employ to attain their goals — would work to raise the level of discourse among the generals that presently rule Myanmar. And this is what should’ve been happening all along, throughout the Cold War and especially since the end of that incredibly destructive (and wholly unnecessary) conflict.
Bringing Myanmar’s generals up to the same governance standards as the rest of the world is, by far, the best way to ensure peace, security, and prosperity for Myanmar and other countries in the region.
Helping Myanmar’s junta to become part of Myanmar’s solution instead of part of its own problem is the way to proceed.
Time for a Tony Benn quote: “All war, represents a failure of diplomacy.”
Let’s Plan Ahead and Get the Result We Want
Who doesn’t like peace and prosperity?
Who doesn’t like watching their hopes and dreams come true every day?
Everyone likes these things, and for good reason, they are the pathways that lead to happy and fulfilling lives for citizens and those things allow the robust economics that produce the reliable revenues that politicians need to deliver high quality government services to their citizens year in and year out.
So, let’s continue to plan for that in our own countries, and in the case of countries like Myanmar where governance is clearly still a work-in-progress, let’s help them plan for the same outcomes in their country by giving them the information and training they lack — thereby allowing their country to succeed — instead of them becoming yet another nightmare, another failed state that we all wind up paying for in blood and treasure.
Either this generation of world leaders are up to that task, or they aren’t. And if they aren’t, they haven’t learned from past mistakes and we’ll soon be at some kind of war in Myanmar. We shall see…
Way back in the Colonial Era… it seemed a fine thing that a tiny cohort of middle-aged white men born in the United Kingdom could determine the fate of millions of people around the world… and the UK had plenty to offer the world at the time, bringing unheard-of mechanization to countries trying to improve the lives of their respective citizens. So it wasn’t all bad. But…
NEWSFLASH! Those days are over. The Royal Navy no longer rules the waves and the United Kingdom no longer consists of an Empire upon which the Sun never sets. And in no way should UK politicians be trying to roll the clock backward by empowering those who aren’t happy the world has changed.
In 1997, the UK government signed an agreement to return Hong Kong to China by the year 2000 — an agreement signed in good faith by both parties. And now that a small number of UK politicians, a tiny number of U.S. citizens (by the way, the U.S. was never a signatory of the treaty that returned Hong Kong to China) and several hundred thousand professional protesters from Hong Kong have decided they don’t like the deal, they think they have the right to overturn that good faith agreement.
Well, that just doesn’t cut it. So-called ‘seller’s remorse’ doesn’t present sufficient excuse to overturn a bilateral treaty signed between the UK and China. And that’s that. There’s no ambiguity in the treaty, therefore, there’s no room for debate, nor can there by any justification for failing to adhere to the terms and spirit of the treaty.
If you don’t like it that’s just too bad. Life isn’t fair and nobody ever said it was. So suck it up, people. An international treaty was signed in good faith — and both sides will keep their end of the bargain or chaos will ensue — as has been the case since time began. Check your Grade 12 history textbooks kids, because all the wars ever fought occurred because one side or the other didn’t adhere to the terms of an international treaty signed in good faith.
Thinking of Bringing Your HK Protest Movement to the UK?
Although I’m a supporter of Boris Johnson and his government, offering to host millions of Hong Kong residents in the United Kingdom wouldn’t be my first choice. It may be popular with certain American neocons specifically and China-haters around the world generally, it certainly isn’t the best thing for the average British citizen, the UK economy, future UK trade prospects in Asia, or for Britain’s reputation in the world as a country that abides by both the letter and spirit of international agreements.
Somebody should ask Nigel Farage what he thinks about the UK government offering UK citizenship to millions of Hong Kong protestors so they can simply relocate their violent protests to London. Stand well back, because you’re likely to receive a robust answer.
Not only Nigel Farage, of course. Millions of Britons might not want thousands of Hong Kong residents to suddenly appear in the UK, be granted UK citizenship, and be found protesting (perhaps violently) on behalf of HK issues every weekend in London, Brighton, Manchester or Glasgow.
Something to think about.
A conversation has begun in the post-Cold War era about whether Britain and other countries should continue their nuclear missile programmes.
In the United Kingdom, the Trident missile delivery system is up for discussion along with modernized warheads.
In case you haven’t heard, the Trident missile system is favoured by the government to replace the Royal Navy’s Cold War era nuclear-tipped missiles.
They don’t last forever. In fact, nuclear materials deteriorate at a steady rate and if you leave them for too many decades they can self-detonate. Yes, the Royal Navy stays on top of this, that’s why we’re having the discussion now as opposed to having it in Heaven…
If nuclear materials deteriorate beyond a certain point and detonate aboard a RN submarine in the middle of the Atlantic, it would be a very sad day indeed.
Which is why nuclear weapons aren’t something to play around with — and that includes playing politics.
Only properly informed people should be involved in this decision but it doesn’t hurt for members of the public to read about and understand the nuclear deterrence rationale, called ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ or MAD. (Fitting, isn’t it?)
But no matter the name, the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction has worked to prevent nuclear confrontation since 1945.
Under the MAD terms, no sane leader would use nuclear weapons against another country as it would bring an equally devastating nuclear response from the attacked nation.
Although leaders of countries have become furious at each other in years past in regards to trade disputes, SR-71 overflights, or attempts at regime-change — their knowledge that a nuclear strike / counter-strike could occur if the dispute gets out of hand, such incidents are automatically self-governing due to the horrific consequences attached to nuclear weapons use.
And it works! Nuclear deterrence has performed flawlessly since 1945 to prevent major conflict between nation-states.
Why Would We Need MAD in a post-Cold War World?
This rationale is a cobra snake disguised as a dove, for it says; ‘The Cold War is over, everything is fine, we live in a largely stable and peaceful world — so why do we need nuclear weapons as a deterrent?’
Just as the people who said prior to World War I; ‘We live in a largely stable and peaceful world, why bother having a national military that costs millions to maintain?’
Those words were barely uttered before World War I arrived.
And similar occurred in the interwar period between 1919 and 1939. People thought there could never be another World War as the consequences of the First World War (‘The War to End All Wars’) were still too horrible to contemplate.
But World War II did arrive and in many ways it was more horrific than WWI due to the advanced firepower of the era.
Then came the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Soviet/Afghan War, then the 1990 Gulf War in Iraq, and in 2003 the second war in Iraq which we call the Iraq War, along with the 2003 Afghan War. Not to mention the almost countless brushfire wars that have occurred in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America and Central America during the postwar era.
In every case, the public consensus was that the previous war ‘had to be the last war’ because ‘war is too horrible to do’ and thenceforth only peace would reign on Earth.
We see how wrong they were…
Prepare for War, but Always Plan for Peace
Every combat-experienced Admiral will tell you; ‘Prepare for War, but Always Plan for Peace’ for they know better than anyone that war is simply an extension of human psychology.
Eventually, diplomacy will fail and the military had better be up to the task of defending the country — or they and their fellow citizens won’t have a country.
It’s no Coincidence the Best-armed Countries have Fewer Wars Thrust on Them
With a strong military a country can decide to take part in a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ for example.
But very few countries with a powerful military get invaded. Not that invasion is the only type of warfare, but that’s the primary reason nations divert precious resources to fund a viable military.
Certainly, nuclear-armed nations aren’t subject to invasion, nor will any potential conflict go far, as the world’s nuclear powers police not only the world but each other as well.
The UN Security Council permanent members are all nuclear powers and each of them has an outsized say in world affairs. It would be naive in the extreme to think that the UK could stay in the UNSC should it decide to give up its advanced nuclear weapons programme.
Having a viable nuclear weapons system is one thing, but having a say in global affairs at the highest level is on the shortlist of things that identify the United Kingdom as a Top Ten political power.
It isn’t always about GDP and Productivity
Sometimes it’s about defending the interests of your country and like-minded countries, even if that means continuing with an expensive Cold War programme that was designed from the outset to make war far too costly to contemplate.
And, the most important point of all? It has worked perfectly, every day, since 1945.
In the discussion between Strategic Hope vs. Strategic Deterrence, my heart is with those who believe that one day the human race will mature to a point where war is left behind in the dustbin of history (as it should be!) but in the meantime, my mind favours what has actually worked over the past 72 years. Poseidon’s trident must remain.