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 home  programs  asia  burma/myanmar
  Myanmar’s military and the future

Bangkok/Brussels, 27 September 2002: Since 1988, it is estimated that the armed forces in Myanmar (the Tatmadaw) have doubled in size, consuming up to 45 per cent of the government’s annual budget. It is already the second largest armed force in Southeast Asia after Vietnam. This ambitious expansion and modernisation program undertaken by the military government has important implications for any moves towards democratisation.

A new briefing paper published today by the International Crisis Group, Myanmar: The Future of the Armed Forces, describes the key issues surrounding the Tatmadaw that will have to be dealt with in any political transition to a civilian government – and compares the visions respectively of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

ICG Asia Program Director Robert Templer said: “There is some common ground between the NLD and the military hierarchy about the role of the armed forces, but there are even greater differences. The first question is whether the military leaders could ever contemplate a more open debate on defence and security questions. At this point the chances are remote. The SPDC’s intention is to maintain a leading role in politics and absolute control over all matters relating the national security and the internal affairs of the armed forces”.

While even discussing how a compromise might look therefore risks being seen as a highly theoretical exercise, ICG believes it is prudent to canvass possible ways in which an agreement with the Tatmadaw on transition might be encouraged. The strength of the military’s role in Myanmar means that some compromise or agreement would have to be reached with military leaders simply for a new government to be permitted to take office. Among the issues that would have to be addressed are the role of the intelligence apparatus and possible amnesty for members of the armed forces and other government officials.

Mr Templer said: “The ability of the international community to influence the military government on this critical area is very limited. Even private approaches by fellow military officers are unlikely to have any direct impact. Therefore, the best advice to foreign governments and international organisations is to focus on establishing an ‘enabling environment’, that is, creating a win-win situation for all political stakeholders. The military leadership is more likely to compromise in an atmosphere of progress than it is under siege”.

Katy Cronin (London) +44(0)20 86 82 93 51
email: [email protected]
Ana Caprile (Brussels) +32(0)2 536 00 70
Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601

All ICG reports are available on our website www.crisisweb.org


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