As Burma Reaches a Tipping Point, the U.S. Can Help Ensure Democracy Prevails

  • Kyaw Zeyar Win

On October 27, the Three Brotherhood Alliance (TBA) launched a coordinated offensive – called Operation 1027 – against Burma’s military. The TBA, which includes the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA), has gained significant ground in northern Shan State. With the assistance of allied People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), the TBA has captured more than 200 military outposts, police stations, and strategic positions, and established control over several towns and key highway junctions along the China-Burma border. Hundreds of junta soldiers have surrendered to alliance forces. Concurrent with Operation 1027, allied resistance forces launched offensive attacks against junta positions in other parts of the country, including Karenni (Kayah), Chin, Mon, Kayin, and Rakhine States, as well as Sagaing and Mandalay Regions. In response, the State Administration Council (SAC), as the junta calls itself, held an emergency National Defense and Security Council meeting on November 8, where the military-installed president warned that Burma was at risk of breaking apart and declared martial law in eight townships in Shan State. 

Now over one month into Operation 1027, ethnic resistance organizations (EROs) continue to demonstrate their improved capacity for coordination on the battlefield, as well as with political leaders in the democracy movement. Increasing mass surrenders and defections and reports of growing dysfunction and resentment within the military ranks indicate that the military is losing its ability to hold the institution together. Moreover, the loss of control over essential trade routes responsible for over 90% of the bilateral border trade between China and Burma, spiraling inflation and recent sanctions targeting Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprises (MOGE), the junta’s primary source of foreign currency, are having a multiplier effect on the already disastrous economic situation in the country. Taken together, these signs indicate that Burma is reaching a tipping point where the pro-democracy forces can take the upper hand. Now more than ever it is crucial that the United States and its allies provide generous, strategic support to Burma’s democracy movement, including:   

  1. Immediate provision of emergency humanitarian assistance 

The displacement of over 286,000 people during Operation 1027 has highlighted the urgent need for expanded humanitarian support. As the fighting continues, people desperately need shelter, food, medical assistance, communications devices, and counseling services. By allocating funds to provide significant support through local pro-democracy groups who are already doing this work, this support could not only address immediate needs, but also help lay the groundwork for future democratic governance and service provision.  

  1. Strengthening strategic diplomatic relationships 

With the SAC weakening, the pro-democracy forces face a crucial window to increase their diplomatic connections and influence as the country moves closer to some form of political transition. They must strengthen relations with neighboring countries, such as Thailand, India, and China, that play important roles now and will continue to influence what happens in Burma following the revolution. The U.S. can help in these efforts by facilitating connections and encouraging coordinated action with its allies, like it did with the recent sanctions against MOGE.   

  1. Supporting a strategic push to further weaken the junta  

To effectively undermine the junta’s hold in Burma, it is crucial to encourage defections, support the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), and assist resistance groups. With resistance forces gaining momentum and dysfunction and resentment within the military on the rise, now is an optimal time for strategic messaging efforts to persuade military personnel and their families to abandon their posts. Timely encouragement and modest support for defectors and their families could quickly hollow out the military, crippling its ability to continue the fight.  

As Burma’s pro-democracy forces push the military to its breaking point, now is the time for strategic, decisive action by the U.S. and its allies to help ensure their success and that democracy prevails at long last. 

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