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Myanmar: The Military's World View

BANGKOK/BRUSSELS, 7 December 2001: The International Crisis Group today publishes a report analysing key influences on the country’s military rulers – the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Most outside pressure has failed completely to push the regime towards democracy or economic reforms but better understanding of the generals’ world view may improve international leverage.

"Myanmar: The Military’s World View and Foreign Policy" describes the historical, political, psychological and economic factors that inform the SPDC mindset. It also provides a detailed analysis of Myanmar’s relations with the major Asian powers (Japan, China, India), ASEAN and the West.

ICG Asia Program Director Robert Templer said: “In short no country has much influence with the SPDC in terms of encouraging change. The regime is obsessed with self-reliance and national sovereignty, making it suspicious of foreign relations, however well intentioned. But the generals are also keen to improve Myanmar’s desperate economic situation and there is a tension between the desire to maintain traditional values and current needs.”

Highly practical considerations also shape their approach. The economic interests of the regime – both licit and illicit – and concern for personal security in the event of a new political order are key concerns. There will be no surrender of power without guarantees for the generals and their families.

Outsiders naturally look at Myanmar through their own cultural lenses and act according to their own ideological predispositions. Not surprisingly there are widespread misconceptions on both sides – but there is room to expand contacts and so prepare the ground for political reforms.

ICG believes that it is vital to work for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar, but it may be most practical in the short term to focus on immediate goals – transforming relationships and gradually loosening military control over political and economic activity. According to Robert Templer, “slower incremental steps may defuse the paranoia and win more influence than demands for rapid change that have repeatedly been rebuffed.”

Among ICG’s recommendations are the provision of education and training opportunities for government employees in areas like human rights, expansion of media activities and education broadcasts by the BBC and VOA and an expansion of UN programs with an emphasis on training local workers in education and health. Efforts should be made to encourage debate on economic development as well as to expand funds for overseas study and improve the availability of texts in Burmese and minority languages.

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