Home Economics Is Myanmar’s Armed Resistance on the Verge of Victory towards a Brutal Navy Junta?

Is Myanmar’s Armed Resistance on the Verge of Victory towards a Brutal Navy Junta?

Is Myanmar’s Armed Resistance on the Verge of Victory towards a Brutal Navy Junta?


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers could have observed that I hyperlink to Myanmar information an excellent deal, maybe greater than its geopolitical significance warrants. Nonetheless, I’m extra interested by Myanmar’s inner struggles: The present civil battle is a pure experiment in armed resistance towards an especially brutal and silly army junta can succeed by itself, with out — and that is the important thing level — any colour revolution nonsense exported from america. So I think about there are various, repressors and insurgents alike, who’re following Myanmar with curiosity.

Latest headlines counsel that the Myanmar’s civil battle could also be reaching its culminating level for Myanmar’s army, the Tatmadaw[1]:

Junta strikes to ‘fortify Naypyitaw in any respect prices’ Myanmar Now. (Naypyitaw is the monstrous capital, within the middle of the nation, based by the army in 2005.)
Revolution and the Escalating Collapse of Myanmar’s Junta The Irrawaddy
Shan State Omen: Is Myanmar’s Junta Dropping Management of the Struggle? The Diplomat
Armed Rebels Seize Practically 50% Of Myanmar In Navy Offensive; Junta Says Nation On The Brink Of Breaking Aside Eurasian Instances
Commentary: The Myanmar army is shedding management Channel Information Asia
‘An actual blow for the junta’: Myanmar’s ethnic teams launch unprecedented armed resistance France24
Myanmar’s NUG negotiates ethnic variations as disaster deepens Al Jazeera
Is the rule of Myanmar’s junta underneath menace? Reuters

Let’s start with a map:

As you may see, Myanmar is bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, Thailand, and the Andaman Sea (america being a maritime energy). Myanmar has two rivers, its personal Irrawaddy and the Mekong, which China cares about as a method of controlling its downstream “neighbors.” The map doesn’t present that China has constructed a pipeline throughout Myanmar as a part of its Belt and Street Initiative. Some say these components make Myanmar of central significance to China (and subsequently to India (and presumably to america)) however personally, I don’t assume that (going East) “Gateway to Yunnan” or (going West) “Gateway to the Bay of Bengal” are particularly compelling.[2]

The important thing characteristic of the map is the names of the varied “states” or provinces: Kachin, Shan, Chin, Mon, Kayin, and so forth. These point out not solely political entities, however ethnicities, a key level in understanding Myanmar’s politics (which I’ll forthrightly admit I don’t. In all, there are greater than 135 ethnic teams in Myanmar’s 55 million inhabitants).

Subsequently, geopolitics are out of scope for this submit (together with ASEAN). So is Myamar’s tortured and tragic political historical past (here’s a timeline), though I’ll allude to key occasions as I’m going alongside. Fairly, I’ll give attention to the important thing gamers within the Myanmar civil battle: The Tatmadaw, the Nationwide Unity Authorities (NUG), the NGOs (who’re a lot the identical in Myanmar as they’re wherever), the locals, and the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs)/Folks’s Defence Power (PDFs). That is, in different phrases, not a binary story of fascist regime[3] vs. democratic resistance. There are a whole lot of gamers! Allow us to take every in flip.


Myanmar’s army authorities is silly. From George Packer in 2008:

4 days after [Cyclone Nargis] made landfall, with entire districts of decrease Burma underneath water, tens of hundreds of individuals lifeless, and a rising hazard of mass illness and hunger, authorities officers introduced that the state of affairs was returning to regular and that voting on a proposed structure would happen on Could tenth as scheduled in most districts.

(Sure, they deal with the economic system simply as as effectively.) The Cyclone Nargis debacle led on to the 8888 rebellion, the rise of Nobelist and NGO-beloved Aung San Suu Kyi, and a army coup much more brutal than the army authorities that precded it.

Myanmar’s army can also be brutal. Their elementary technique towards their civilian inhabitants is described by Sophie Ryan, in “When Girls Turn into the Struggle Zone: the Use of Sexual Violence in Myanmar’s Navy Operations“:

The Myanmar army is notorious for its brutal ‘4 Cuts’ doctrine. The literature obtainable on this technique, and its implementation by means of a corollary, although lesser-known, space colour-classification technique, frames sexual violence as a permissible tactic inside the methods for reaching civilian relocation and intimidation. The 4 Cuts technique is a doctrine aimed toward countering guerrilla actions by delivering 4 ‘cuts’ to insurgents’ meals provide, funds, intelligence, and potential recruits. In Maoist phrases, the supporting ‘water’ is taken away from the ‘fish’…. Operationally, it’s applied by means of ‘clearing operations’ and ‘scorched earth’ insurance policies. Such assaults have been documented as often four-fold in character: first, an preliminary ‘assault’ drives out insurgents and civilians within the space; second, the realm is ‘cleared’ by destruction; third, data is ‘gleaned’ from insurgents and inhabitants; and fourth, the realm is made uninhabitable by ‘mining’ it with landmines. Smith notes that the impact is that ‘[f ]or the Tatmadaw within the 4 Cuts marketing campaign there isn’t any such factor as an harmless or impartial villager. Each group should struggle, flee or be part of the Tatmadaw’. These offensives are sometimes facilitated by a three-stage color classification system whereby areas are designated as black, brown or white in keeping with the perceived diploma of rebel management over the realm… Former troopers have described being advised in black areas to ‘do no matter you need’ to civilians, together with rape.

The 4 Cuts technique is nonetheless used by the Tatmadaw in immediately‘s civil battle. Therefore the photographs and satellite tv for pc maps of burning villages, and so on.

Nonetheless, as a consequence of EAOs/PDFs (see under) combining, the Tatmadaw could also be reaching their culminating level, unable to carry out their operations (the 4 Cuts being the important one). From Struggle on the Rocks, “The Myanmar Navy Is Dealing with Loss of life by a Thousand Cuts“:

Occasions in Myanmar’s renewed civil battle took a dramatic flip these previous three weeks, reminding us to not overlook concerning the world’s longest operating battle. Simply previous to the break of daybreak on Oct. 27, 2023, the Three Brotherhood Alliance of the Arakan Military, the Myanmar Nationwide Democratic Alliance Military, and the Ta’ang Nationwide Liberation Military launched a shock assault — known as Operation 1027 — on junta forces in northern Shan State. Inside a few weeks, the three ethnic armed organizations have reportedly seized over 150 army outposts and a number of other key cities astride a strategic street to the Chinese language border, in addition to highways crisscrossing Shan State.

…Whereas the fog of battle calls for analytical warning, Operation 1027 carries essential implications for the way forward for Myanmar. First, the Myanmar army is more and more overstretched regardless of its airpower and artillery benefits. Second, the Three Brotherhood Alliance probably aligning itself extra overtly with the pro-democracy motion — no less than militarily — highlights the resistance’s dedication and coalition-building efforts… Thought-about collectively, the Myanmar army is extra susceptible than at any time prior to now half century. Now could be the second for Myanmar’s pro-democracy resistance to push arduous and for his or her worldwide supporters to crank up the stress on the junta. The resistance ought to proceed to construct momentum with operations throughout the nation, whereas worldwide backers just like the United State[4] ought to enhance the tempo of sanctions and redouble their diplomatic efforts to persuade the junta that it can not prevail.

The Tatmadaw can also be having recruiting issues:

Whereas the coup regime is shedding territory as a consequence of armed battle, they’re additionally struggling defection, desertion, and recruiting issues. Given the dwindling of foot troopers, the army has needed to summon all veterans for yet another tour of obligation. An nameless veteran stated they don’t seem to be allowed to refuse the decision to obligation besides on well being grounds. In line with Captain Lin Htet Aung, who defected the army and joined the resistance motion, practically 10,000 safety forces—roughly 8000 troopers and a pair of,000 policemen—have defected because the coup.

So, optimism? For a change?

Nationwide Unity Authorities (NUG)

The NUG is the successor to Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nationwide League for Democracy (NLD), dissolved by the miltary after its coup in 2021 ended a ten 12 months experiment in democracy, the place the NLD represented the forces of democracy (and never very effectively, given the Rohingya debacle). Its technique differs from NLD’s in key methods:

Whereas the NLD had emphasised democracy earlier than federalism, the NUG is prioritising federalism. It additionally reveals higher inclusion of ethnic and different stakeholder pursuits, and views itself to be laying the inspiration for “a federal union that seeks to deal with a long time of structural violence towards all of the individuals of Myanmar no matter race and faith”.

Particularly, coverage pronouncements made by the NUG features a reversal of NLD-era statements that had defended atrocities dedicated by the army towards the Rohingya.

Critcally, the NLD advocated non-violence. The NUG doesn’t:

The Folks’s Defensive Struggle – which the NUG introduced on 7 September – could represent probably the most controversial coverage; the worldwide group held combined views and reactions to this transfer. Be that as it might, the NUG’s name to arms was broadly welcomed, supported and acted upon throughout Myanmar. Its institution of the Folks’s Protection Power (PDF) in Could and the following proliferation of many native PDF chapters/teams function a barometer of on-ground sentiments.

The NUG has achieved a substantial quantity internationally:

The NUG has achieved diplomatic breakthroughs that the majority different parallel or exile governments might solely dream of.

Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations has aligned himself with the NUG, which has the additional advantage of successfully blocking the army junta from the world’s highest intergovernmental physique.

The regime has additionally been excluded from high-level ASEAN summits, whereas the NUG’s international minister Daw Zin Mar Aung has publicly met with various distinguished worldwide authorities figures.

(The NUG additionally has workplaces on Okay Road in Washington, DC.)

The NUG can also be, to a level, self-funded (although it’s not sovereign in its personal foreign money and appears, oddly, to not have established a central financial institution). From the Stimson Middle:

The opposition Nationwide Unity Authorities’s Ministry of Planning and Funding (MOPFI) [has] raised over $150 million in an revolutionary and tech-savvy method by means of the public sale of military-owned property and land preemptively seized underneath eminent area, crypto bond gross sales, lotteries, sale of mining rights, probably issuing shares in military-owned companies, and now a full-service on-line financial institution. This has all been potential by means of their fintech savvy. The NUG has raised all funds in a licit method as if they’re the state they aspire to be.

(I feel many would quarrel with the Stimson Middle’s description of NUG as “the opposition,” since that means that the junta is reputable.) The MOPFI additionally, amazingly, runs a state lottery out of its digital pockets, NUGPay.

The NUG has additionally established a course of by means of which a Structure shall be created, a form of meta-Structure, known as the Democracy Constitution. Right here is the house web page:

Observe the a number of languages, which exhibits NUG’s dedication to the varied ethnicities. Observe additionally that the default language is English (and never Chinese language).

Right here is one part of the Constitution:

Level 4 is an actual dedication to Federalism, most likely the one method ahead for Myanmar aside from the 4 Cuts. Level 5, nonetheless, factors to the NUGs elementary drawback: The best way to obtain the monopoly of violence one expects the state to have. We noticed above, for instance, that the Three Brotherhood Alliance was not underneath the (civilian) command of the NUG.

Lastly, the NUG will not be headed by a charismatic determine. That might not be a nasty factor (although it most likely confuses the press and funders):

Myanmar resistance actions – be aware the plural – immediately don’t have a single charismatic chief who can carry out like Ukraine’s Zelensky, a TV actor-cum-politician. …[T]hat’s not a nasty factor for Myanmar… [F]or 1 / 4 of a century, we had Aung San Suu Kyi who had been likened with Mandela, MLK Jr., Mom Theresa, and Mohandas Gandhi. We all know how that fairy story of Mom of the nation ended – because the defender and denier of the genocide on the UN’s highest court docket in The Hague. She became a cultist determine, whereas her Bama-centric politics aligned with the genocidal army had additional disunited Myanmar’s majoritarian and ethnic minority communities.


I’ve to incorporate this from The Irrawaddy, partly as a result of it’s humorous, but in addition as a result of if there may be an try to “dealer a peace,” as a substitute of letting the Myanmar resistance win, the NGOs will play their half, as analysts, spokesholes, and so on. The scene is a neighborhood café, a Starbucks if there may be one:

NGO Employee I: We had an actual good sequence of peace workshops up in Kachin State in 2019, youth and girls had been enthusiastic! We had been shifting the narrative, and specializing in inclusiveness. We had evidence-based surveys too that the workshops labored. Now, it might be related to do such workshops in Sagaing, the place donors are interested by investing as a consequence of armed conflicts.

In fact, this reinforces my priors on NGOs!

Native Self-Governance

An essential level to make is that a lot state-like organizing is occurring on the bottom, proper now:

However NUG is NOT the choice construction and even group that can substitute Myanmar’s murderous army. If worldwide state actors are trying on the NUG – and attain the conclusion that it’s not the profitable horse able to holding the strife-torn nation collectively, they had been in search of the reply within the incorrect place.

Myanmar native communities of resistance, in collaboration with, sure, each NUG and the ethnic armed organizations, are constructing state constructions from the bottom up, in accord with the ethos of devolution or decentralization of native self-governance. Many of those native communities work with the Chin Nationwide Entrance, Kachin Independence Group, Arakan Military, the Karen Nationwide Union, the Karenni Nationwide Progressive Occasion, and so forth, who actively against the coup regime. Even the Restoration Council of Shan State and the United Wa State Military have a functioning truce with the army in Naypyidaw run their very own administration, with no need any nod from the army.

(Right here is an argument that worldwide organizations ought to help these native organizations instantly.) Subsidiarity, then, exists earlier than a Structure; certainly, the Structure could possibly be stated to develop out of it, not the opposite method spherical.


The hazard that, when the Tatmadaw implodes, the varied EAOs will flip into warlords, as a substitute of banding collectively in a Federal system, is so apparent I don’t have to state it. Goons, or statesmen? Time will inform. Much less apparent is that the identical dynamic applies with PDFs, that are not ethnic armies, however initiated by the NUG itself:

Native administrations in PDF strongholds, like Sagaing and Magway areas, are largely subordinate to PDFs, that means there may be little civilian oversight of the varied armed teams. This has led to an increase on prison exercise linked to PDFs and NUG native directors – together with sexual assault, unlawful logging and playing dens.

And naturally, personal armies might proliferate as effectively:

Myanmar politics within the Fifties was outlined by the rise of pocket armies – private militias loyal to distinguished politicians or businessmen. “They had been used as private safety forces by politicians, they usually engaged in violence and intimidation,” stated the seminal 2016 Asia Basis report on militias in Myanmar.

With a whole lot of newly shaped armed teams throughout Myanmar because the coup, this phenomenon dangers returning and would make it tougher for the NUG to reform itself. If a few of its leaders go, they might take entire teams of armed males with them.

It’s arduous for me to think about that the precept of subsidiarity applies to armed teams, however I assume we’ll discover out.


I hope this submit no less than offers you sufficient of a scorecard so you may inform the gamers aside! This video, with an brisk Myanmarese aerobics teacher going by means of her routine whereas, within the background, the Tatmadaw drives its armored autos as much as Naypyitaw’s Parliament constructing, as they staged a coup, spawend innumerable viral takes in 2021:

Wouldn’t it’s good to see the aerobics dancer make a sequel, in 2023 or 2024, with democratic forces marching out of the Parliament constructing? That may be a cheerful conclusion to our pure experiment. That, and if the nice guys stayed good.


[1] The time period “tatmadaw” is contested:

“Tatmadaw’ (တပ်မတော်) has lengthy been adopted as the usual title of the Burmese army in journalistic and scholarly stories on Burma. The critics known as on writers to switch the time period with “sit-tat” (စစ်တပ်), which merely means “army” in Burmese…. Due to the laudatory nature of the royal particle daw (တော်) included within the time period, critics say the continual use of the time period quantities to whitewashing over the crimes dedicated by the establishment and even dangers emboldening them to proceed their abuses.

[2] So far as China’s affect, the Myanmar individuals have views. From Lawfare, of all locations:

Politics, although, will not be an elite sport… [T]he guidelines of the sport are solid over lengthy stretches of time. Within the conflict of attitudes, expectations and entrenched pursuits, it’s most essential to notice that Myanmar’s inhabitants is especially cautious (and weary) of Chinese language affect. The nation, as an illustration, is more and more a safe-haven for China’s illicit industries. Over the previous decade, Myanmar became one of many world’s largest hubs for methamphetamine manufacturing. This trade is a breeding floor for transnational Chinese language syndicates, a income stream for varied events to the conflicts in Myanmar and a supply of social unrest as dependancy spiked together with the rising commerce. Border-town casinos are in the meantime reworking into ‘sensible cities’ absolutely separate from the Myanmar financial system. Chinese language pursuits are additionally evangelizing their intertwined notions of growth and governance within the nation’s largest cities, facilitating an enormous surveillance system in Mandalay and pushing for a New Yangon Metropolis to accommodate a swelling city inhabitants. China’s growth mannequin is a strategic export; demand, although, is nascent, and in style resistance to any type of heavy-handed rule stays resolute throughout Myanmar. Because the coup, this in style skepticism has became hypothesis and fear-mongering about China’s function in supporting the army, leaving their pursuits in ever-more doubt. This doubt reached a fever-pitch when two Chinese language-owned garment factories had been burned earlier this month amid a army crackdown in Yangon’s poorest outskirts.

[3] Dangerous as they’re, the Tatmadaw are not fascist, no less than as Robert O. Paxton defines the time period.

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

[T]he 2023 BURMA Act… reiterates Washington’s objective of reversing the coup and requires the availability of nonlethal army assist (largely communications gear) to antiregime forces. But the legislation mandates neither deadly army help nor sanctions on the junta’s oil and fuel enterprise, and even the disbursement of nonlethal assist has lagged. U.S. efforts on behalf of Myanmar’s rebels are negligible—virtually nonexistent—as compared with the help america is offering to Ukraine, as an illustration, in its battle towards Russia.

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