US-Burma Military Ties ‘Would Push Reform’

US military transport plane prepares to deliver relief supplies to Burma in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

The United States should engage with Burma’s armed forces, collaborate with China and further roll back sanctions to enhance reforms, urges a leading think-tank.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) visited Burma in August to explore the current political, economic and social transformation enacted by President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government and reported that greater regional engagement was needed including joint military exercises.

“If the military continues to support the transition to civilian rule and observes ceasefires in ethnic minority areas, the United States should begin to consider joint military exercises with the Myanmar armed forces and provide selected Myanmar officers access to US International Military Education and Training opportunities in US defense academies,” read a CSIS report on the trip released on Wednesday.

The Washington-based think-tank encouraged President Barack Obama to meet with both Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi when they visit the United States this month. Economic sanctions on imports from Burma should also be rolled back while assistance programs by international financial institutions must receive immediately support.

“Myanmar’s government, opposition leaders, civil society groups and business leaders all emphasized that there is an urgency and immediacy around the process of change in their country,” said the CSIS.

“The United States should be aware that there are important, perhaps even historic, opportunities to promote and support reform. It needs also to be aware of substantial threats to reform and transparency.”

While admitting that real change is underway in the former pariah state, the CSIS denied that excessive dependence on China was a primary motivation for military leaders to pursue reform and, conversely, a proactive policy of consultation with China could help mitigate concerns in Beijing.

“In fact, the group’s interlocutors stressed China’s role as a traditional neighbor and encouraged the United States to avoid zero-sum policies toward China,” continued the report.

“Given China’s long near-monopoly on political ties, military sales and trade with Myanmar during the decades of military rule, the country’s rapidly warming ties with the United States are being greeted with suspicion in China and are stoking fears about imagined US containment efforts.”

In fact, the CSIS claims that it was the generals’ damaged pride over Burma’s economic failings and fatigue with running the country in the wake of the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” democracy protests and subsequent violent crackdown that prompted the current wave of democratization.

“Describing Than Shwe as a wily political manipulator, informed observers speculated that he sought to diffuse power to avoid a Ceaușescu-style uprising in the wake of the Arab Spring and to safeguard his inner circle’s perquisites once safely in retirement,” said the report, referring to former Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu who was overthrown and executed in 1989.

The CSIS said that economic growth in post-sanctions Burma could be rapid considering the military-dominated nation’s geostrategic position at the “crossroads of China, India and Southeast Asia,” yet a lack of expertise and experience could jeopardize reforms along with ongoing ethnic conflicts—as well as the Rohingya crisis in western Burma’s Arakan State.

“Two years ago, the notion of ‘federalism’ was considered a dirty word by the government. Today government officials have begun to talk openly about the concept, although they leave it undefined,” said the think-tank. “The [CSIS] delegation heard considerable goodwill toward the ethnic groups from senior officials, but so far much of their attention is focused on ceasefires, which history suggests is not enough to resolve long-standing differences.”

Civil society activists emphasized to the CSIS that it was vital to build support for reform and institutionalize change in the run-up to the 2015 general election while building confidence within the military with a view to eventually altering undemocratic articles in the widely-condemned 2008 Constitution.

“Government officials, including representatives of the Ministry of Defense, said they expected the military planned to gradually cede its grip on 25 percent of the seats in Parliament as is now mandated in the Constitution,” read the report.

“Officials frequently cited the Indonesia model where the military gradually gave up the protected seats it had in the Parliament following the 1998 toppling of President Suharto. In Myanmar, military members of Parliament do not always vote as a bloc and end up sometimes supporting the opposition as many did on a recent proposal requiring that parliamentarians should declare their assets.”

Meanwhile, despite expressing disapproval with the manner in which their country’s name was changed from Burma to Myanmar, opposition figures told the CSIS group that “the country should be called Myanmar unless and until the people of Myanmar change the name in the future.”


4 Responses to US-Burma Military Ties ‘Would Push Reform’

  1. Who all design this plan to victimize Muslims in Arakan? It was a unforgettable dictator Ne Win and ultra nationalists of the BSPP party leaders including ultra Arakanese nationalist U Hla Tun Pru had
    drawn the plan to diminish Muslims population in Arakan especially northern Arakan Buthidaung and Maungdaw area. At the time of when General Khin Nyunt and Than shwe get power, Khin Nyunt continue the plan to suppress and victimize Muslims of Arakan especially Muslims Rphingya populated areas at first and slowly through out Arakan State. Anti Muslims properganda was even giving lecturers in the civil servants training courses. Muslims travel restriction, married permission and various religious practice were purposely made to stop and victimize. With effect from 1964 and on wards till Khin Nyunt and Than Shwe got power, especially Khin Nyjun t Military Intelligent Unit had done many a occsasion destroy many Mosque and Islamic religious buildings through out Burma.
    Many of the civil servant training course teaching that in Arakan State ( Rakhine Buddhists ) alone posses and inhabited. Historically no Muslims in Arakan was a major subject teaching in civil servant training course. So the hatred was created between two community in Arakan. Even in ID card, Race column is written Arakanese, in Religion Column is written Islam, when immigration officer see it, the officer said there is not Islam in Arakan. How so funny it is they want to change reality of history of Arakan.
    Here many of the comment are anti Muslims writing, never mine this are their wishes and racist minded peoples, they will come to know one day. Who all brought Ahwa Kyunthar Arakanese (Rakhine Buddhist) to Arakan? These peoples came to Arakan around 50 years back, to day they get Arakan nationalities and become ethnic, how it is very shameful to the government of Myanmar. This peoples all pure Arakanese call them Anaukthar Bangali. Now to day Anaukthar Bngali become real ethnic group of Arakan. It is totally misguided practice of Dictator Ne Win and his followers Khin Nyunt. Let us make and create reality and allow to come true and justice and also peace in Arakan.

  2. No doubt Bamar Sit-tut is desperately keen to get their hands on best killing apparatus from best killing nation on earth; real guns, F16/ 18/ whatever better than the ones the Thais have, night gogles, killing/ spying drones and those cool sunglasses. And listening staions thrown in. They now do not need that horrid Korean pariahs to get their hands on missiles. May be more than the Thais ever had just like their lifelong dream. And joint naval exercises.

    Just need to give a freehand to do whatever they want with oil and gas to the yanks. That’s all.

    Despicable as the Chinese are with their looting (razing to the ground of the forests, looting of jade, fish, rare earth minerals, etc) and their brash, overbearing ways and introduction of their barbatrian culture- like having swimming fish/ turtoise right in front of the restaurants to kill and eat there and then in a Buddhist country and buying cheap all the women of Burma,the Americans with midas touch where any thing they touch turns into filth and unsolvable miasmic swamp- seen all over the globe, latin America, Middle East, Thailand) is billion times more appalling prospect even though Aung San Suu Kyi, their adopted daughter and her cult as well as people currently living abroad and brain-washed may disagree.

  3. When Deng Xiopeng decided to breakout the fossilized mindset of his people,where did he send his young people?Against the objection and opposition of old guards,he chose America and WesternEuropean countries,not to Russia /USSR nor Eastern Europe.He knew where the BEST was available.He did not want his young people to learn the SECOND BEST.Inspite of many failings,China broke out of the box and now could claim second largest economy and presumptive Super Power.Our military and non-military talents should learn the Best,nothing less.Our scarce financial resources and human talents must be put to use for maximum effects..Within 5-10 years we must have a very highly educated,technologically qualified,motivated generation.Its a pity we lost a generation of talents,either languished in prison dungeons or in diaspora.Time is against us.Mobilize what are in hands andsend out our young talents to the best institutions,civil or otherwise.Its very welcome news USA and another European nations are keen to help us.Use wisely the opportunities presented!!!

  4. Ant little whiff of US military of any sort is Open invitation to thew whole Al Qaeda group and affiliates, Jemaah Islamia, Jamaat E-Islami itself, Taliban and currently buoyalt salafist movement gaining conventioanl power and offices in Egypt, likely soon in Syria, Tunisia and Morroco.

    Forced, igonminious withdrawal of US and US led “allies” from Afganistan as well as persistant attackes on US military and commercial interests aroyund the world makes one to be vey weary who to befriend with even for followers of Than Shwe drooling for those cool sunglasses.

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