Myanmar’s Military: Back to the Barracks?
Yangon/Brussels | 22 Apr 2014
It was Myanmar’s military that initiated the end of its own dictatorship; to advance stable reform, it needs to continue withdrawing from civilian life.
In its latest briefing, Myanmar’s Military: Back to the Barracks?, the International Crisis Group examines the military’s key role in political and economic reforms. The military has preserved its essential interests, including through the constitution, while reducing its share of power. But the armed forces are still far from having dealt with the legacy of dictatorship.
The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
It is sometimes wrongly assumed that the military is the main brake on reform, or its potential spoiler. Myanmar’s political transition has been top-down; the military initiated the shift away from dictatorship.
The military has generally been supportive of political and economic reforms, even when these have impacted negatively on its interests, including through loss of power, greater scrutiny and loss of economic rents.
The military began this process as it saw a significant strategic threat from the country’s increasing dependence (both political and economic) on China and because economically Myanmar was falling dangerously behind even its poorest neighbours. The military believed the only viable responses were to counterbalance China’s influence and open up the economy, for both of which improved relations with the West were indispensable.
For Myanmar’s full democratic transition to take place, the military needs to accept that its political role, as enshrined in the current constitution, must be reduced and civilian control of the armed forces increased.
The military must end ongoing rights abuses and change how it interacts with civilians, particularly in the ethnic borderlands, in order to restore its damaged reputation and transform itself into a professional institution that is reflective of – and serves to defend – Myanmar’s ethnic and religious diversity.
“While the military proved more integral to Myanmar’s reform than perhaps many anticipated, its role in the country is still problematic” says Acting Asia Program Director, Jonathan Prentice. “It needs to transcend decades of dictatorship and internal armed conflict and move from being seen as the oppressor, or enemy, to being a respected national institution. If the military hangs on to its constitutional prerogatives for too long, it will be detrimental to the democratisation and future prospects of the country”.