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

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers might have seen that I hyperlink to Myanmar information deal, maybe greater than its geopolitical significance warrants. Nonetheless, I’m extra taken with Myanmar’s inside struggles: The present civil warfare is a pure experiment in armed resistance in opposition to a particularly brutal and silly navy junta can succeed by itself, with out — and that is the important thing level — any coloration revolution nonsense exported from the USA. So I think about there are lots of, repressors and insurgents alike, who’re following Myanmar with curiosity.

Latest headlines counsel that the Myanmar’s civil warfare could also be reaching its culminating point for Myanmar’s navy, the Tatmadaw[1]:

Junta moves to ‘fortify Naypyitaw at all costs’ Myanmar Now. (Naypyitaw is the monstrous capital, within the heart of the nation, based by the navy in 2005.)
Revolution and the Escalating Collapse of Myanmar’s Junta The Irrawaddy
Shan State Omen: Is Myanmar’s Junta Losing Control of the War? The Diplomat
Armed Rebels Seize Nearly 50% Of Myanmar In Military Offensive; Junta Says Nation On The Brink Of Breaking Apart Eurasian Occasions
Commentary: The Myanmar military is losing control Channel Information Asia
‘A real blow for the junta’: Myanmar’s ethnic groups launch unprecedented armed resistance France24
Myanmar’s NUG negotiates ethnic differences as crisis deepens Al Jazeera
Is the rule of Myanmar’s junta under threat? Reuters

Let’s start with a map:

As you possibly can see, Myanmar is bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, Thailand, and the Andaman Sea (the USA 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 Highway Initiative. Some say these components make Myanmar of central significance to China (and due to this fact to India (and probably to the USA)) however personally, I don’t suppose that (going East) “Gateway to Yunnan” or (going West) “Gateway to the Bay of Bengal” are particularly compelling.[2]

The important thing function 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 more than 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar’s 55 million inhabitants).

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


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

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

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

Myanmar’s navy can be brutal. Their basic technique in opposition to their civilian inhabitants is described by Sophie Ryan, in “When Women Become the War Zone: the Use of Sexual Violence in Myanmar’s Military Operations“:

The Myanmar navy is notorious for its brutal ‘4 Cuts’ doctrine. The literature obtainable on this technique, and its implementation by a corollary, although lesser-known, space colour-classification technique, frames sexual violence as a permissible tactic inside the methods for attaining 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 carried out by ‘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 combat, flee or be a 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 line with the perceived diploma of rebel management over the realm… Former troopers have described being instructed in black areas to ‘do no matter you need’ to civilians, together with rape.

The 4 Cuts technique is still used by the Tatmadaw in today‘s civil war. Therefore the images and satellite tv for pc maps of burning villages, and many others.

Nonetheless, on account 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 Military Is Facing Death by a Thousand Cuts“:

Occasions in Myanmar’s renewed civil warfare took a dramatic flip these previous three weeks, reminding us to not overlook concerning the world’s longest working 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 — referred to as Operation 1027 — on junta forces in northern Shan State. Inside a few weeks, the three ethnic armed organizations have reportedly seized over 150 navy outposts and a number of other key cities astride a strategic highway to the Chinese language border, in addition to highways crisscrossing Shan State.

…Whereas the fog of warfare calls for analytical warning, Operation 1027 carries necessary implications for the way forward for Myanmar. First, the Myanmar navy is more and more overstretched regardless of its airpower and artillery benefits. Second, the Three Brotherhood Alliance probably aligning itself extra brazenly with the pro-democracy motion — at the very least militarily — highlights the resistance’s willpower and coalition-building efforts… Thought of collectively, the Myanmar navy is extra susceptible than at any time up to now half century. Now’s the second for Myanmar’s pro-democracy resistance to push onerous 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 be having recruiting problems:

Whereas the coup regime is dropping territory on account of armed battle, they’re additionally struggling defection, desertion, and recruiting issues. Given the dwindling of foot troopers, the military has had to summon all veterans for one more tour of duty. An nameless veteran stated they don’t seem to be allowed to refuse the decision to obligation besides on well being grounds. According to Captain Lin Htet Aung, who defected the navy 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 yr experiment in democracy, the place the NLD represented the forces of democracy (and never very properly, given the Rohingya debacle). Its strategy differs from NLD’s in key methods:

Whereas the NLD had emphasised democracy earlier than federalism, the NUG is prioritising federalism. It additionally displays larger inclusion of ethnic and different stakeholder pursuits, and views itself to be laying the inspiration for “a federal union that seeks to handle many years of structural violence in opposition to all of the folks 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 navy in opposition to the Rohingya.

Critcally, the NLD advocated non-violence. The NUG does not:

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

The NUG has achieved a considerable amount 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 benefit of successfully blocking the navy 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 quite a few outstanding worldwide authorities figures.

(The NUG additionally has offices on K Street in Washington, DC.)

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

The opposition Nationwide Unity Authorities’s Ministry of Planning and Funding (MOPFI) [has] raised over $150 million in an modern and tech-savvy method by 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 firms, and now a full-service on-line financial institution. This has all been potential by 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 Heart’s description of NUG as “the opposition,” since that means that the junta is official.) The MOPFI additionally, amazingly, runs a state lottery out of its digital pockets, NUGPay.

The NUG has additionally established a course of by which a Structure will likely be created, a form of meta-Structure, referred to as the Democracy Charter. Right here is the house web page:

Be aware the a number of languages, which reveals NUG’s dedication to the varied ethnicities. Be aware 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, nevertheless, factors to the NUGs basic drawback: How one can 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 shouldn’t be headed by a charismatic determine. That may not be a bad thing (although it most likely confuses the press and funders):

Myanmar resistance actions – notice the plural – at this time wouldn’t have a single charismatic chief who can carry out like Ukraine’s Zelensky, a TV actor-cum-politician. …[T]hat’s not a foul 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 navy 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 additionally as a result of if there may be an try and “dealer a peace,” as a substitute of letting the Myanmar resistance win, the NGOs will play their half, as analysts, spokesholes, and many others. The scene is an area 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 ladies 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 taken with investing on account of armed conflicts.

After all, this reinforces my priors on NGOs!

Native Self-Governance

An necessary level to make is that much state-like organizing is happening on the ground, proper now:

However NUG is NOT the choice construction and even group that may substitute Myanmar’s murderous navy. If worldwide state actors are wanting on the NUG – and attain the conclusion that it’s not the successful horse able to holding the strife-torn nation collectively, they had been on the lookout for the reply within the flawed 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 Social gathering, 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 navy in Naypyidaw run their very own administration, with no need any nod from the navy.

(Right here is an argument that worldwide organizations should assist these local organizations directly.) Subsidiarity, then, exists earlier than a Structure; certainly, the Structure might 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 must 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, which 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, non-public armies might proliferate as properly:

Myanmar politics within the Nineteen Fifties was outlined by the rise of pocket armies – private militias loyal to outstanding 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 bunch of newly shaped armed teams throughout Myanmar because the coup, this phenomenon dangers returning and would make it more durable for the NUG to reform itself. If a few of its leaders go, they might take complete teams of armed males with them.

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


I hope this put up at the very least offers you adequate of a scorecard so you possibly can inform the gamers aside! This video, with an lively Myanmarese aerobics teacher going by 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 or not 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 navy in journalistic and scholarly experiences on Burma. The critics referred to as on writers to exchange the time period with “sit-tat” (စစ်တပ်), which merely means “navy” 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 folks have views. From Lawfare, of all locations:

Politics, although, shouldn’t be an elite sport… [T]he guidelines of the sport are cast over lengthy stretches of time. Within the conflict of attitudes, expectations and entrenched pursuits, it’s most necessary to notice that Myanmar’s inhabitants is especially cautious (and weary) of Chinese language affect. The nation, for example, 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 business 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 remodeling into ‘good 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 fashionable resistance to any type of heavy-handed rule stays resolute throughout Myanmar. For the reason that coup, this fashionable skepticism has became hypothesis and fear-mongering about China’s position in supporting the navy, 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 navy crackdown in Yangon’s poorest outskirts.

[3] Dangerous as they’re, the Tatmadaw are not fascist, at least as Robert O. Paxton defines the time period.

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

[T]he 2023 BURMA Act… reiterates Washington’s aim of reversing the coup and requires the supply of nonlethal navy assist (largely communications tools) to antiregime forces. But the regulation mandates neither deadly navy 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—compared with the help the USA is offering to Ukraine, for example, in its warfare in opposition to Russia.

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