The Red Line
Episode 79. Myanmar's Crumbling Coup
Listen to this episode on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Libsyn RSS
After a landslide democratic victory the military seized power with a coup in February 2021. To prevent democracy from slipping away once again, the people of Myanmar stood up against the military junta. These protests began what would spiral into a 19-month war that has shattered the country and broken the economy.
Now the war is entering a new stage, with the Junta retreating across the country. As the Junta retreat back to the major cities though, the opposition has begun to fracture and turn on each other. Is Myanmar about to plunge into an even more complicated civil war?
Part 1: Detaining Democracy (3:49)
Min Zaw Oo walks us through the process through which the Myanmar military entrenched itself into the Constitution to ensure its supremacy as the most influential entity in Burmese politics.
We discuss the introduction of democracy into Myanmar and the domestic political parties that gained power and popularity in concert with the Burmese military's control of the system, including the National League for Democracy (NLD).
We discuss the February 2021 coup, which deposed Aung San Suu Kyi as de facto head of government, and the various reasons that led to that moment, including civil military relations eroding after the 2015 election and the desire of senior Junta generals to remain in leadership positions and hold political offices such as President.
We conclude with a discussion about current military ruler Min Aung Hlaing and his actions since seizing power in the February 2021 coup.
Part 2: A Crumbling Coup (19:28)
Benjamin Strick discusses the difficulties of determining the current regime's ambitions, noting increasingly violent crackdowns on civil dissent commencing in the middle of 2021.
Strick discusses the effects of skirmishes against the Burmese military, noting that the after-effect of these clashes have resulted in dozens of retaliatory attacks, often resulting in the burning down of villages, as well as airstrikes on civilian areas.
We discuss the international community's response to the military crackdown, including the failures of financial and arms sanctions due to Myanmar's land borders and close relations with China. We note that despite this, there have been a significant reduction in international financial and military aid to Myanmar.
We turn to the situation on the ground created by the coup and civil conflict, which has degraded significantly as the conflict has raged on, and the prospect of finding a resolution to the fighting and restoring of relations between the resistance and the military.
Part 3: A Restrained Referendum (40:33)
Joshua Kurlantzick notes the shrinking of the Burmese military, with the reduction of personnel and resources, has led to the resistance now taking the fight to the military, assassinating officers, encouraging defections, and potentially capturing major cities.
We discuss where China would prefer this conflict to head, noting that the situation before the coup was significantly more beneficial for China's economic and security interests. Kurlantzick notes that it is difficult to now identify who to negotiate with from the resistance, and that both sides have no interest in negotiating a ceasefire.
We attempt to breakdown the various actors in the resistance, noting there's no clear leader and no guarantee of unity between these actors if the Junta were to collapse.
We turn to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in the west of the country, and the loss of credibility Aung San Suu Kyi achieved by defending the actions of the Junta to the international community, even if she did not have an alternative choice.
Part 4: A Policy of Scorched Worth (55:11)
Jason Tower notes the scope of the human disaster since the coup in February 2021, as well as the effects of human displacement and transnational crime across Southeast Asia.
However, Russian and Chinese support for the Junta has effectively prevented western interventions from bringing a resolution to the conflict. Tower notes that China maintains relations with the Junta and some of the main resistance groups, allowing it to play a key role in steering the Junta's actions.
We turn to India's relationship with the Junta, which is mainly concerned by the deepening relationship between the Junta and China leading to India being frozen out. We also note that India is facing its own security challenges with ethnic groups destabilising the northeast.
We also discuss the coup's effects on ASEAN, with the coup creating tensions and strains on its multilateral efforts in the region, as well as ASEAN's limited options to have an impact moving forward.
We conclude by recognising that there is no prospect of a free and fair election under the Junta, currently scheduled for 2023, and talking through potential endings for this conflict.
Min Zaw Oo
Adjunct Fellow (Non-Resident), Southeast Asia Program at CSIS
Executive Director at the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, which implements research and analysis on security issues and the peace process.
Previously served as Adviser to the Peace Commission under the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government until the military coup.
Director of Investigations for Myanmar Witness
Director of Investigations for the Centre for Information Resilience
Former contributor to the BBC and Bellingcat
Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations
Previously a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Author of A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA
Country Director, Myanmar for the United States Institute for Peace
Prior to the USIP, Tower served in several peace building organisations in China and Southeast Asia
Previously served as Southeast Asia Program Manager for the PeaceNexus Foundation, managing a portfolio of grants and partnerships in China, Burma, and Cambodia.
The Red Line's Turkey Reading List:
We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand the geopolitics of Turkey.
Picking Off New Shoots Will Not Stop the Spring
Edited by Ko Ko Thett and Brian Haman
In the Dragon's Shadow: Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century
Blood, Dreams and Gold: The Changing Face of Burma
For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/theredlinepodcast
This episode is dedicated to Patreon member Mr_Yamato.