Myanmar crisis: Which way is the international politics heading?

Myanmar Military Coup Protest

Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country liberated from British colonial rule in 1948, has seen so-called democracy after more than five decades of military rule, but recent military coups have once again plunged the country's future into uncertainty.

Former state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in the National League for Democracy (NLD) on November 8 last year. 

On February 1 this year, just before the first parliamentary session, a bloody military coup led by Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing arrested and imprisoned the country's top leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Mint, for a year, accusing the elected government of corruption and fraud. The military junta declared a state of emergency. Since then, anarchy has started in the country.

Thousands of people are protesting on the country's highways, demanding the release of Suu Kyi and other leaders and the return of power to the elected party. More than 700 civilians have been killed and more than 2,800 arrested in anti-military junta protests. 

Analysts believe that the government's tough policy and use of high-powered weapons to quell the movement could push the country towards civil war. 

That is why Myanmar could be a threat to the security of South and Southeast Asia.

Ever since independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar has been under the control of the military, sometimes directly or indirectly. During this time, several armed rebel groups have sprung up in the country, who have revolted against the military government at various times. 

Besides, ethnic riots, corruption, crisis, separatist policies are all very common in the history of Myanmar.

The new constitution drafted by the military ruler in 2008 gave the army irresistible powers. According to the constitution, 25 percent of the seats in parliament are reserved for the army and they have been given veto power to amend the constitution. Amendments to the constitution require more than 75 percent of the vote in parliament. 

Besides, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Defense has a special place in the decision-making and formulation of the army's opinion. It is mainly because of such a constitution that the power of the military in Myanmar is so irresistible.

After the civilian government came to power in 2011, Myanmar's democratic journey began. Various reforms were taking place during this time. General pardons and releases of political prisoners were granted, media censorship was relaxed, and attention was paid to foreign trade and investment. 

In 2015, for the first time in Myanmar's history, a multi-party general election was held and Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar's independence movement, won a landslide victory and formed a government.

However, despite the existence of a civilian democratic government in power, the impression of the army's constitutional irresistible power was evident in Myanmar's political behavior and activities even after the 2015 elections. The Rohingya crisis is the biggest example. 

When various international human rights organizations and countries, including the United Nations, have said that human rights violations have taken place in Myanmar over the Rohingya issue, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has completely ignored the issue, which has severely tarnished her image in the international arena. 

There were even calls for Suu Kyi to withdraw her Nobel Prize. However, Suu Kyi, who became a democratic leader and did what the military wanted her to do, did not survive. Suu Kyi's arrest by the military on February 1 this year is proof of that.

Although the military junta announced on April 9 that elections would be held in the next two years, there is no end to the uncertainty about whether elections will take place at all or how long the military rule will last. 

Because the history of Myanmar shows how strong and lasting the military rule is. Only five years after the establishment of the so-called democracy, the military has regained power.

Although most countries and international organizations have condemned the military coup and called for the return of democracy, Russia has remained largely silent on the issue. 

China has called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders but has described the military coup as a Coup d'état. 

China even vetoed the UN resolution condemning the military coup. It means that Myanmar has succeeded in making China a strong pillar in the international arena.

Although the United States and several European countries have imposed sanctions on Myanmar, it is safe to say that the military government, which has been pursuing separatist policies for decades, will not budge. 

Although most countries do not condemn and recognize the military junta, the spokesman for Myanmar's military ruler denies it and declares that they have international recognition.

Myanmar protest
Image: Associated Press

Since 2011, the country has expanded its policies in trade, commerce, economy, and diplomacy, with various countries, especially China and Myanmar, investing the most in various business sectors. Neighboring countries also have investments in various sectors. 

But given the current situation in the country, the economy, business, and investment are under threat. Therefore, investing countries, including China, should try to restore democracy and a stable political environment in Myanmar.

The possibility of another migration crisis after the Rohingya migrant crisis in the region as a result of the volatile situation in Myanmar cannot be ruled out.

If the military rule continues for a long time, the country may face a food crisis, unemployment, and violence, or civil war. It is not uncommon for Myanmar people to cross the border into neighboring countries to escape. 

In that case, the neighboring countries India, China, Thailand, Bangladesh, Laos may face new immigration problems.

There are more than 20 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) active in Myanmar. Since independence, these organizations have staged numerous small and large uprisings against the government. 

Two-thirds of the country's population is Buddhist Bamar and the remaining one-third is from other religions and groups. Violence between minorities and majority groups or against the government is nothing new for Myanmar.

However, it is doubtful that after the military coup, the people of the country have become violently agitated and there is no guarantee that these agitating people will not start a civil war against the military junta by joining various armed groups. 

If the violence turns into a civil war, it is bad news not only for Myanmar but also for other countries in South and Southeast Asia. Because if a civil war situation arises, there will definitely be an immigration crisis.

The effects of Myanmar's violence could spill over into neighboring countries. Every country has some small or big rebel groups. Violence in Myanmar could trigger insurgent groups in neighboring countries in what is known as the "Spill Over Theory" in international relations.

Besides, the possibility of proxy war cannot be ruled out in such a situation. Meanwhile, China has been seen to be flexible towards Myanmar. 

While India has condemned the military coup in Myanmar, China has issued a warning to India, calling it an internal matter of Myanmar. 

On the other hand, the United States has made harsh statements about Myanmar. Due to China, it has not been possible to take any effective action in this regard internationally. 

So if the violence in Myanmar crosses the country's borders, the possibility of a proxy war between the United States and India with China and Russia cannot be ruled out. Evidence of this has been found in the wars in Vietnam, Korea, and Afghanistan.

The argument here is that in the twenty-first century, states understand their own interests very well and even if they increase their stockpiles of weapons, they do not want to spend it on war. 

Rather, it seeks to use it based on "Deterrence Theory." That is, a country that has sufficient military capabilities is less likely to be invaded by another country.

However, in the twenty-first century, countries are not too arrogant in the use of hard power, ie military power, but can use soft power, that is, the economic, social, and cultural elements of the state. 

The trade war could be one of the examples that the world has witnessed a few days ago between the United States and China.

So while the volatile situation in Myanmar is not a major concern for other countries at the moment, it could pose a major threat to the region's security in the future. 

This reality may not be realized by China and Russia yet, perhaps because Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been on the path to establishing an unspoken dictatorship in their respective countries for the next 15 years.

Maybe that's why they are also supporting Myanmar as if such a state system can be made New Normal. But whether they support Myanmar silently or vocally, a speedy resolution of the situation is essential for security in the region. 

It remains to be seen how effective the United States, India, Japan, and other allies can be in resisting China and Russia.

Alumni, Department of International Relations, Jahangirnagar University.

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