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Myanmar’s Geostrategic Significance Demands United States Patronisation and not Demonisation in 2021
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Dr Subhash Kapila | Date:14 Feb , 2021 0 Comments
Dr Subhash Kapila
is a graduate of Royal British Army Staff College Camberley and combines a rich & varied professional experience in Indian Army (Brigadier), Cabinet Secretariat and diplomatic/official assignments in USA, UK, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan.

Myanmar’s geostrategic significance in 2021 in relation to the fast menacing China Threat to Indo Pacific security endows it with significant “Strategic Asset Value” for the United States, the West, India and the QUAD Maritime Security Grouping. Myanmar contextually merits US strategic patronisation NOT demonisation.

In relation to the China Threat to Indo Pacific security and stability the crucial question for United States, more crucially in 2021, is to whether in relation to ongoing events in Myanmar, the United States  should let ‘Realpolitik’ prevail or let the US fetish for evangelism for Human Rights and Democracy subsume or devour US vital strategic interests.

If United States could let ‘Realpolitik’ dominate its Pakistan-policies and wink at Pakistan Army Generals subversion of democracy over decades then would it not be prudent in 2021 for the United States to let ‘Realpolitik’ prevail and not let Myanmar be irretrievably lost to China by strategically inadvisable demonisation.

United States would be well advised to restrict its Myanmar demonisation to rhetorical flourishes to please some constituencies within USA and elsewhere, but not proceed beyond to proactive strategies of economic sanctions and political isolation of Myanmar.

United States also needs to bear in mind that within the ranks of its Indo Pacific Allies and Strategic Partners many nations feel that Myanmar present military coup should be left as a domestic issue of that nation and that it is best to keep criticism of Myanmar Army Generals be kept muted in the larger geopolitical interests so as not to push Myanmar into a full embrace of China like it was done in the decade s of 1980-90s.

Most of the South East nations like Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and others like Japan, India and South Korea have vital strategic stakes in Myanmar and have prudently not gone beyond muted criticism. The United States cannot afford to ignore the vital stakes of these US-friendly countries that they have in Myanmar.

China vetoing UN Security Council censures on Mya mar should provide a clue to Washington as to how desperately China wishes to reclaim Myanmar’s client relationship which Myanmar Generals shrugged off in the past decade with a US outreach.  

Japan and India are both members of the QUAD led by United States and it should dawn on US policy establishment that their strategic sensitivities, if nothing else, should be respected by United States in relation to Myanmar.

Myanmar was Lost to China in the 1980-1990s by Similar Demonisation by United States & West

China right from the 1980- 1990s had the uncanny strategic vision to extend its friendly hands to Myanmar as then also Myanmar was being subjected to demonisation by United States and the West. Even India then followed suit.

Afflicted by economic sanctions and political isolation, Myanmar Generals were left with no option but to grasp China’s hand and munificence. Perceptionaly, it seems that Myanmar Generals calculated that grasping the hand offered by China in uncertain times could possibly restrain China from lesser activation of Chinese-aided insurgencies on Myanmar’s peripheries.

Myanmar was then lost to China by the Free World by imposition of economics sanctions and its pariah-like ostracisation. Even then, this Author pleaded in his writings perceptionaly that “Myanmar Generals did not embrace China but China strategically embraced Myanmar exploiting United States and the West’s political isolation of Myanmar.”

Seemingly, the United States became alive to the above reality at the beginning of the last decade with visits of US President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visits to Myanmar. The following years did witness Myanmar diluting its links with China—at least an effort was made.

In the last US Administration, Myanmar seems to have downslided again in Washington’s strategic calculus when geopolitical realities dictated otherwise.

Once again, with the recent military coup in Myanmar dangers exist where United States may again further downslide into adversarial stances against Myanmar with consequent effects on Indo Pacific security.

Many external observers opine that the Myanmar Generals resorted to the present coup impelled that the Suu Kyi Government resorted to massive rigging of the recent elections to gain overwhelming majority to regain full political control.

Indian Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao Reclaims Myanmar from Outright Chinese Strategic Embrace by Imaginative Diplomacy

It was left to  Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to reclaim Myanmar in India’s national security interests on India’s Eastern land borders and flanking the entire Eastern Littoral of the Bay of Bengal. His was a marked departure from the earlier stand of  Governments which blindly followed the West’s strategies against Myanmar, and also prompted by earlier dynastic linkages

Prime Minister Narasimha Rao wisely navigated and put aside US and Western obsessions with human rights and democracy and opted for the more strategically-wise course of ‘Realpolitik’ in conduct of India’s relations with Myanmar.

Myanmar Army Generals responded with equal measure and it was that foundation that has stood India in good stead till 2021 when we witness close and friendly cooperation between India and Myanmar at all levels including military. Myanmar Army has been a great asset for India in denying sanctuaries to China-aided insurgencies in the North East.

Interaction by this Author with Myanmar high-ranking interlocutors in 1990s indicated that Myanmar Generals were alive to the China Threat to Myanmar in the 1990s but were left with no alternative by global ostracisation on the specious criticism of human rights and democracy, not applied by United States to Pakistan or Pakistan Army Generals.

Also needing highlighting is that Myanmar Generals, despite Western perceived adverse perceptions, were for the first time after 1948 in the late 1990s were able to put down many of the various ethnic insurgencies generated by external powers—more pointedly China.

China even today continues to provide sanctuaries for anti-Myanmar insurgents despite so-called eternal friendship for Myanmar. This is done as a strategic pressure point to stop Myanmar from loosening China’s strategic embrace.

Myanmar’s Geostrategic Significance for the United States in the China Threat Context

United States policy establishment needs to recognise Myanmar’s “Strategic Asset Value” for United States in 2021 related to the burgeoning China Threat. This value is a constant, irrespective of who is in political power in Myanmar.

Following United States logic in relation to Pakistan Army, Myanmar’s ‘Strategic Asset Value” to United States would be that much more when Myanmar Army is in firm control of its nation’s security.

Myanmar by its geostrategic location of sharing a 2,129 km border in the North with China and a long coastline of 1,920 Km resting on the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal is endowed with strategic advantages both for China and the United States,.

Besides, greater strategic value of Myanmar is for India, as Myanmar is contiguous with India and China in a region where serious armed conflict broke out in China-India War 1962. Additionally, Myanmar provides the entire Eastern Flank of the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea which China covets.

The best way to highlight Myanmar’s geostrategic significance for the United States in 2021 is to highlight why China right from 1980s onwards had assiduously attempting to bring Myanmar into China’s strategic orbit, even much before it attempted the CPEC in Pakistan. Also, why China even in 2021 vetoes UN Security Council Resolutions censuring Myanmar.

China visualised the China Myanmar Economic Corridor as the shortest access to an outlet on the Indian Ocean segments of Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. Myanmar in China’s strategic orbit would also assure China of the security of its sensitive South West underbelly.

 More significantly, a Myanmar in adversial contours with India would confer immense strategic value to China to generate strategic pressure points. United States can ill-afford India’s strategic sensitivities pertaining to the significance that India attaches to its relations with Myanmar, besides religious and civilsational links.

Obvious from the above is that conversely, Myanmar firmly in United States strategic orbit provides potential land bases, air bases, and naval bases to apply strategic restraint against China, keep Bay of Bengal free from China’s maritime intrusions and provide India with a secure North East and Eastern Flank.

Besides, China’s projects of linking China with Myanmar’s Kyakphyu Port project with roads and oil-pipelines projects would be aborted.

Myanmar’s geostrategic significance for United States, Japan and India cannot be ignored in 2021—that is the striking contextual geostrategic message.

Concluding Observations

Myanmar and neither Myanmar Generals have perceptionaly ever undermined directly or otherwise United States vital security interests in the region. Demonisation of Myanmar in past decades arose from United States evangelism on human rights and democracy impelled by certain quarters.

Democracy and human rights are terms relative to a nation’s stage of political development and its security environment. The enforcement of such values should be left to a nation itself.

Keeping the above in mind and also the analysis in this Paper, it would be more than strategically prudent and politically wise for the United States to immediately stop the demonisation of Myanmar on these counts.

The United States in 2021, more than ever, needs patronisation of Myanmar and by its capacity building in conjunction with Japan, India and Singapore forge Myanmar into a “Strategic Asset” for the United States and Indo Pacific Security

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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