By James Emery*
The situation in Myanmar following the Tatmadaw’s coup d’état of February 1, 2021 is at a critical point. The insular Tatmadaw, backed by China and Russia, along with supportive regional players, is unlikely to capitulate from traditional sanctions and a compromised United Nations (UN).
The first step in crafting an effective response is to identify the primary drivers and objectives of the coup. Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, controlled the Ministries of Defense (armed forces), Home Affairs (national police force), and Border Affairs. Myanmar soldiers, police, militias, and the courts help maintain the Tatmadaw’s totalitarian grip on power.
In the November 8, 2020 election, over 93 percent of the population voted for civilian rule for the 1,117 open seats at the local, regional, and national level – 82.36 percent voted for the National League for Democracy (NLD) and 11.28 percent for other groups. The Tatmadaw’s political wing, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), only received 6.36 percent of the vote. Virtually their only votes came from Tatmadaw members, their families, and those profiting from their tyrannical rule.
General Min Aung Hlaing and the Tatmadaw had hoped to reverse the poor results of the 2015 election. They fear a true democracy could break up the Tatmadaw’s monopolistic control of the economy, government, and Defense Forces. The General also fears that he and other Tatmadaw military officers could face criminal charges for corruption and human rights abuses. General Min Aung Hlaing faced mandatory retirement on July 3, 2021, when he turned 65. To retain his power, he needed to make a move. The opportunity came with the lopsided election loss of 2020.
A coup d’état can’t hide or ignore the universal rejection of Tatmadaw rule, based upon the election results of 2015 and 2020. There is no evidence of fraud, just a national loathing of the Tatmadaw. The Tatmadaw’s manipulation of the constitution enabled them to keep most of the power during the last ten years of limited democracy. However, they’re concerned about their future prospects, due to the growing popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi and public demands for democratic reforms.
The Tatmadaw revised the Myanmar Constitution in 2008, guaranteeing themselves 25 percent of the seats in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Assembly of the Union), comprised of the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities), the 224-seat upper house and the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives), the 440-seat lower house. This allows the Tatmadaw to block amendments, legislation, and criminal reforms because their 2008 constitution required more than 75 percent of the vote to pass them. They also control the seats of their political wing, USDP.
The Tatmadaw have sustained an intertwined legal and illegal economy that enables them to maximize their income and profits. They have the power to initiate or withhold investigations, prosecution, and legal reforms regarding Myanmar’s illicit activities. This not only allows them to protect their own criminal interests, but enables them to extract bribes or profit-sharing arrangements from unsavory organizations to shield them from prosecution. They can also target and eliminate their competitors.
The Tatmadaw’s profiteering across businesses and industries in Myanmar during the last 60 years has generated a staggering amount of wealth. Generals become rich, due to generous stock options, unscrupulous profiteering, and numerous other financial schemes. The Tatmadaw junta benefits from their stranglehold on the government, the police, and the courts, along with their ability to incarcerate or kill their critics.
This is what motivates the leadership of the Tatmadaw junta to brutalize their population and defy international courts and diplomacy. They want to keep their power and wealth, while avoiding criminal prosecution for an entire catalog of crimes. The Tatmadaw fabricated charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and hired an unsavory PR firm to spew lies, attempting to give their deceitful coup a veil of legitimacy.
The Tatmadaw Generals are primed to unleash increased lethal force against unarmed protesters in an effort to crush the revolt. In the coming weeks, civilians bravely demonstrating for democracy are likely to be repeatedly massacred until their numbers dwindle and they give up.
This potential escalation of violence requires the international community to make significant changes in their approach. It’s unlikely the Tatmadaw will concede power and restore Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD unless extraordinary countermeasures are initiated. The Tatmadaw junta initiated the coup with a willingness to accept prolonged sanctions. They are prepared to stay the course, embracing a siege mentality, reinforced by a historical loathing of foreign influence and intervention.
The Tatmadaw will likely convict Aung San Suu Kyi on trumped-up changes to make her ineligible to run for office. They will ban the NLD and incarcerate its leaders. The Tatmadaw will allow limited representation of other ethnic and regional political parties, encouraging them to make alliances with the Tatmadaw’s political wing, the USDP. At this point – with Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD ineligible – the Tatmadaw regime will hold “democratic” elections that stifle the will of 83 percent of the population of Myanmar that support NLD candidates.
To get the Tatmadaw’s attention requires situational intelligence, strategic targeting, and ruthless pursuit with a willingness to use enhanced measures to break their will and capacity to resist. These measures can include everything from targeted sanctions and criminal indictments to seizing wealth and eroding the support of their allies through heightened accountability and costly consequences.
BUILDING A COALITION
A coalition should be formed that establishes core criteria with flexibility to increase regional and international participation. This requires an implicit and fluid understanding of the political, economic, and cultural priorities and considerations from both an Eastern and Western perspective. It also requires a thorough understanding – of the mindset and motivation, strengths and vulnerabilities – of the Tatmadaw, collectively, as well as their leaders, soldiers, associates, and others.
Knowledge of the respective history and relationships of each of the countries involved with Myanmar, along with their individual issues and concerns, will improve the accuracy and strength of countermeasures. With the imminent threat of enhanced violence in Myanmar, the selective content and timing of actions must be precise.
Building a highly effective alliance to address the Myanmar situation should focus on having people with the essential core traits, knowledge, and experience – regardless of rank or title. This is no place for overly ambitious egotists or intellectually and ethically challenged opportunists. It requires exceptional leaders and highly skilled, team players, with a collective commitment to the success of the mission.
Establishing and prioritizing the key objectives will help determine the response. The clarity of initial objectives will vary, depending upon the countries involved – local, regional, or international. All three marginally autonomous levels should be in play, pushed to the limits of their respective capacity. Economic sanctions should be careful to target Tatmadaw business holdings, along with the Generals and their families and associates, while having minimal impact upon the general population. Following a year of COVID, about two-thirds of the population of Myanmar is earning less than $2.00 a day, compared to just 15 percent before the pandemic. The negative impact of the coup has further diminished income.
THREE LEVELS OF RESPONSE
There are numerous options to counter the coup, but they generally fall within three approaches – limited, enhanced, and conciliatory.
The limited approach is the one currently in play. Countries issue stern criticism and some back it up with sanctions that will fail to budge the Tatmadaw. The Tatmadaw’s business empire is more local and regional in scope, rather than global markets. Typical international sanctions will lack capacity and influence, while many regional states will be reluctant to participate, especially regimes with similar military juntas that view this as an internal issue. China and Russia – each vying for influence – support the Tatmadaw. As members of the UN Security Council, they can block UN motions, while supplying the Tatmadaw with all the weapons they want.
The depth and breadth of the sanctions and motions that are currently in play will not motivate the Tatmadaw to reverse the coup or diminish their violence and oppression towards the population. They anticipated these actions, making specific preemptive moves, before hunkering down into a siege mentality. The Tatmadaw anticipate full support from China and Russia, limited backlash from a few Asian countries, and heated rhetoric, lacking sharp teeth – from the West.
The Tatmadaw will allow the protests to continue while the global community gauges their options, weighs the consequences, and plays themselves out. The Tatmadaw will continue to make night raids, arresting and incarcerating political leaders and activist, torturing them for information, names, and for sadistic punishment and amusement. They will systematically decimate key leaders and organizers, killing some and keeping others incarcerated for years.
The Tatmadaw will monitor the unity and resolve of the countries opposing them. As global news cycles move on to other issues, and reports coming out of Myanmar receive little or no coverage in the media, international interest will wane and resolve will diminish. Diplomats and others will bemoan the crisis, but claim they did everything they could to help. At that point – if not before – the Tatmadaw will brutally crush the anti-coup protesters with as much violence and carnage as they deem necessary. This massive bloodletting will cause renewed outrage and condemnation from the international community, but the Tatmadaw will be unmoved.
Diplomacy is in play, but in this case, it’s similar to participating in a highly restrained martial arts tournament, where the emphasis is more on form than conquest. Negotiations with the Tatmadaw will be a street fight in which traditional diplomacy is perceived as a weakness. Scoring points is meaningless if you lose the fight or the negotiation by a knockout.
Opponents of the Tatmadaw’s ruthless carnage need to elevate their response and think outside their restrictive political and diplomatic boxes. When you are in a street fight with the devil – which is what this will be – traditional procedures don’t apply. You have to break the will or the body of the beast, stop the carnage being inflicted upon the population, and restore the democratically elected leaders of Myanmar.
The Coalition will have to operate within their enhanced individual and collective zones, locked in and focused solely on the Myanmar situation. This elevated level of creativity, thinking, determination, and analysis will enable them to construct and initiate responses that will go beyond the scope – in capacity and timing – of traditional policy players and coalitions. The Myanmar-focused Coalition needs to have the intensity, integrity, and commitment of a finely-tuned special operations unit, because politically, that’s that they are being tasked with.
# 2 ENHANCED POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC ACTIONS
The enhanced and expanded second option identifies and targets the Generals, their families, and their cronies, along with all facets of Tatmadaw businesses and investments in Myanmar and around the world. This entails a comprehensive effort that engages the Tatmadaw on all fronts to inflict the maximum political, economic, legal, and personal consequences. It also targets countries that provide political or economic support to the Tatmadaw, with the objective of leveraging vulnerabilities as a flanking maneuver to make them push for a resolution.
Political leverage should start with China and Russia, UN Security Council members that can block UN motions against the Tatmadaw, including referring them to the International Criminal Court for prosecution of human rights abuses and other crimes. The UN should initiate a global arms embargo and economic sanctions that target industries and businesses owned by the Tatmadaw, in addition to criminal prosecution.
If China continues to block UN and international efforts to address the Tatmadaw’s coup d’état, they should be condemned and ostracized. Participating countries should be encouraged to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. In addition to political accountability, there should be economic consequences. China’s trading partners could seek new sources and initiate joint ventures in other countries around the world. Precious global resources that China is so aggressively devouring, should be sold to the countries that condemn the fraudulent, tyrannical Tatmadaw regime.
The United States should take the lead by supporting joint ventures and indigenous firms in the US and Latin America to produce items currently coming from China. This will diminish economic funding of China’s military, while reducing the flow of illegal immigration into the United States.
Russia has made efforts to expand their relationship with Myanmar, aware of the Tatmadaw’s concern about excessive Chinese influence. If Russia blocks efforts to sanction the Tatmadaw, they should face harsh political and economic consequences from the international community. Other countries backing the illegitimate Tatmadaw regime should face similar economic and political penalties.
Attacking the Tatmadaw Economic Empire
The Tatmadaw economic empire dominates Myanmar, controlling and profiting from an extensive range of legal and illegal business ventures. The United Nations and international coalitions can initiate enhanced sanctions against the companies that are totally or partially owned by the Tatmadaw or by specific Generals and their relatives and cronies.
The Tatmadaw reportedly have total or partial ownership of over 140 companies, operating two large conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL). Individual military officers can buy into these firms, with the number of shares they can obtain increasing with their rank. Tatmadaw leaders and associates have collected billions of US dollars on lumber, jade, and other commodities by driving out indigenous tribal populations. Additionally, Tatmadaw Generals and their cronies are provided with monopolistic control of specific imported consumer goods.
The Generals have become quite wealthy, especially Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, a multimillionaire, who has used his power and influence to place family members into lucrative businesses, including some with no-bid contracts. The Tatmadaw has utilized brute force, harsh policies, unethical alliances, and unwarranted incarceration and torture to maintain their power and profits.
In addition to targeting Tatmadaw businesses and investments for sanctions, there are numerous criminal investigations that can be initiated.
The Tatmadaw have reportedly carried out massive embezzlements through currency manipulation at companies they own or control. They use the official Myanmar exchange rate of 7 kyats per US dollar for accounting and reporting purposes, when their firms are being paid at the international market rate, which has increased to 200 times the official Myanmar rate. On 29 March 2021, the international rate was 1,410 kyats per US dollar.
It’s a highly lucrative scheme. For example, international payments to the Tatmadaw natural gas company would be posted at the official, but ludicrous, Myanmar rate of 7 kyats per US dollar. This is just 3.3 percent of what they would have received. The bulk of the payment – 96.7 percent – is siphoned off, deposited into overseas banks, with Singapore being their primary financial market.
Reportedly, the junta’s biggest gains come from natural gas exports, generating billions of US dollars in illicit profits. In just one of the cases about twelve years ago, the Tatmadaw siphoned off nearly US$5 billion in income from the Yadana natural gas project that was run by Total Exploration and Production Myanmar (TEPM) and Chevron affiliates.
A few days after the coup, the United States was able to block the Tatmadaw from moving US$1 billion from one of the banks they use in the United States. Millions of US dollars that the Tatmadaw flush through banks overseas are cycled back to purchase real estate in Myanmar, driving up property values. When the properties are sold, the tainted money is cleaned, entered as “legitimate” income from real estate transactions.
The Tatmadaw also profit for renting land to international developers. In a recent Y Complex development in Yangon, the Tatmadaw will collect about US$100 million in rent over 50 years from Japanese firms, funneling the money through intermediary subsidiaries within the regime’s companies. They do this to avoid civilian oversight regarding total monies received and the amounts paid to the Generals, and their relatives and cronies.
Tatmadaw controlled firms have also been implicated in money laundering schemes for themselves and other organizations. Much of Myanmar’s money laundering revolves around the lucrative narcotics trade, which includes opium, heroin, and a variety of amphetamine type stimulants (ATS), from yaba pills to ice (crystallized meth).
There have been reports of corruption of some Tatmadaw military and government officials, fueled by the lucrative narcotics trade in Myanmar. Some of these details appear in agency reports and the press, and others were obtained through interviews in ethnic controlled trafficking regions during the last 35 years. If Tatmadaw officials, relatives, and cronies can be tied to narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and numerous other criminal activities, they should be indicted and pursued by international enforcement agencies.
Prosecution for Targeting Ethnic Populations for Profit
The Tatmadaw have carried out vicious documented attacks and atrocities against ethnic Myanmar groups for 73 years, burning and looting villages, destroying crops and livestock, kidnapping civilians for forced labor, savagely raping and mutilating young girls and women between the ages of 7 and 70, and indiscriminately slaughtering men, women, and children. In addition to countless documented reports from humanitarian organizations and the media, I’ve gotten numerous first- and second-hand reports from victims, witnesses, and former Tatmadaw soldiers that I’ve interviewed in the ethnic tribal areas of Myanmar.
The Tatmadaw and their cronies want control of the lumber, mining, jade, natural gas, and other resources scattered throughout the ethnic tribal areas of Myanmar. Prior to launching attacks against the Karen tribe that captured their primary base at Manerplaw in 1995, the Tatmadaw signed lucrative logging contracts with firms in Thailand. These contracts gave Thai firms logging rights in the contiguous, autonomous Karen State of Myanmar, once the lawful indigenous residents were driven out.
The Tatmadaw’s ongoing war in the Kachin State revolves around their seizing jade mines and other commodities. The Tatmadaw and their cronies own and dominate the jade trade, with much of it going to China and Thailand. Myanmar is the world’s largest supplier of jade, generating over US$31 billion a year, though Tatmadaw bookkeepers can log the receipts at a fraction of the actual sales and profits, skimming off the balance. The Tatmadaw use forced labor and shoddy safety precautions resulting in periodic mine disasters, including one at Hpakant jade mine (Kachin State) in 2020 that killed over 170 people.
The Tatmadaw’s brutal attacks against Rohingya Muslims in 2017, included gang rapes, mutilation, murder, and the destruction of villages and livestock in a clearing operation that forced over 700,000 residents to flee the country. A UN report documented the torture, rape, and murder of Rohingya children by the Tatmadaw army. Human Rights groups used satellite images to document hundreds of Rohingya villages that were destroyed after the 2017 offensive. Reports have revealed that 45 companies paid the Tatmadaw over US$10 million following the commercial clearing operation that enabled them to seize land in the Rakhine State and exploit the natural resources.
General Min Aung Hlaing and the Tatmadaw have repeatedly referred to the Rohingya Muslims as “Bengalis,” dismissing claims of citizenship to generations who were born in Myanmar. The Rohingya trace some of their roots back 300 years to the Arakan State of Burma, which the Tatmadaw renamed Rakhine State in the 1990s. Additional Rohingya residents came in from Bengal during the British Colonial era, beginning in the mid-19th century. The Tatmadaw justify expulsion by claiming the Rohingya are not natives, ignoring centuries of residency by their ancestors.
The Karen, Kachin, Rohingya, and other ethnic groups fought alongside British and American soldiers against the Japanese during WWII. The British promised the Karen, Kachin, and Rohingya autonomous states after the war. Aung San, leading the Burmese National Army, fought for the Japanese during most of WWII, attacking soldiers and civilians of ethnic populations supporting British and American forces.
The International Criminal Court and Human Rights Agencies should be funded and directed to investigate and document the extensive human rights violations against Myanmar’s ethnic minorities and targeted populations. The respective incidents, along with the individuals and units involved, should be identified, with indictments and prosecution against the individuals, their commanders, and the collective Tatmadaw hierarchy. They should be held accountable and pursued with the same dogged determination that tracked down Nazis and other war criminals.
International courts should levy criminal charges and determine compensation to be paid to individuals and their families that have been unjustly killed, wounded, mutilated, raped, robbed, imprisoned, put into forced labor gangs, or suffered other crimes initiated by the Tatmadaw. Cases of genocide against all ethnic populations, from the Karen and Kachin to the Rohingya, should be pursued publically, with criminal and class action indictments and settlements through post-WWII Nuremberg type trials. Many of the Tatmadaw members – at all levels – should be incarcerated.
Follow the money, the blood stains, the screams, and the corpses to target all of the companies and countries that are encouraging and funding human rights abuses and genocide in Myanmar’s ethnic territories and throughout the country. The top officials of the companies that are complicit in human rights abuses and genocide – through donations, commercial agreements, and incitement – should be investigated. If there is cause for indictment, they should be relentlessly pursued and prosecuted, stripping them of their wealth to pay damages to the victims, and incarcerating them in prison so they might better appreciate what was done to indigenous populations.
Coup Within a Coup
The Myanmar army is deeply divided by class, with the Generals acting like Kings at the top, while the enlisted personnel are treated like serfs, subject to degrading levels of abuse and inequity. Officers line up below the Generals in the upper class, while NCO’s reign supreme in the upper tiers of the lower class.
The Generals are motivated by excessive greed and entitlement as they expand their wealth through a multitude of legal and illegal enterprises totally or partially owned by the Tatmadaw. Lucrative stock options in these firms provide additional long-term wealth, with an opportunity for rewarding positions in Tatmadaw companies or the USDP when they retire from the military. Some Generals and other officers get additional cash infusions from a variety of illicit activities, including alliances with criminal groups, narcotics traffickers, and unsavory developers using the Tatmadaw to drive off legitimate residents so the natural resources can be exploited and sold.
The Myanmar soldiers are treated like cannon fodder, miscellaneous ordinance to be used by the Generals to control resources, decimate indigenous populations, and occasionally serve as scapegoats in show trials to deflect the blame for appalling human rights violations that were ordered by the Generals, when videos of atrocities are leaked to the press.
The morale within the rank-and-file of the military is dismal, due to ongoing abuse, low pay, and unjust requirements. For example, due to its sordid reputation, the Myanmar military has problems attracting sufficient enlistments to keep units fully staffed. While specifics vary between units, in some cases a soldier will have to bring in one to three recruits before they are allowed to take their earned leave to visit their family.
This accounts for the increase in child soldiers, amputees, and marginally adequate slot fillers within the ranks of the Myanmar army that collectively remains understaffed. While insatiable levels of power and greed motivate the Generals, intimidation and fear – for themselves and their families – keeps the rank-and-file in line.
Myanmar and the Tatmadaw are a country and a military that are in dire need of a coup d’état within a coup to oust the sordid cartel of unscrupulous Generals, gut the cronies and criminals and militias attached to the Tatmadaw, and restore the democratically elected civilian leaders to their rightful positions.
There are numerous ways a coup d’état within the Tatmadaw regime might occur. There is enough resentment among officers and enlisted ranks to initiate and support a coup, should the situation present itself. In addition to removing the oppressive tyranny they live and work under, the military revolutionaries could dramatically improve the quality of life and future opportunities for virtually everyone in Myanmar.
Accountability, Payback, and Withdrawals
Accountability for the Tatmadaw’s decades-long reign of tyranny and terror can be extracted as military officers, family members, and their cronies and associates face a level of justice that they will not be able to intimidate or buy their way out of. Myanmar and international courts and policing agencies can coordinate efforts to seize Tatmadaw-linked scoundrels anywhere in the world, so they can be extradited back to Myanmar to face initial sentencing and fines before giving them to the international courts or other jurisdictions for additional criminal sentences and consequences.
The international courts and agencies can help identify and seize billions of US dollars in illicit Tatmadaw-linked bank accounts and investments that have been squirreled away around the world. These assets can be used to pay fines and reparations to individuals and communities that were unjustly impacted by Tatmadaw tyranny. The balance of the Tatmadaw’s illicit assets can be put back into the coffers of the Myanmar government to provide much-needed programs and services for the population.
This enhanced option can be used to decimate the Tatmadaw – and their supporters – or it can be used as leverage to make the Tatmadaw reverse the coup and negotiate a just settlement. If they resist, additional efforts can be taken to weaken and break them. This is why it’s imperative to engage China, Russia, and other countries supporting the Tatmadaw regime to leverage their help in pushing for a solution. The Tatmadaw junta, consumed by their vices, are without honor, merit, or legitimacy. If the Tatmadaw brutally massacre protesters and refuse to relinquish power, all facets of the second option, along with additional harsher operations, should be initiated.
#3 NEGOTIATED SETTLEMENT
The third option is a compromise to initiate a faster solution to stop the violence and restore limited democratic rule. This can only be obtained if the consequences of the second option are in play. The Tatmadaw will remain unmoved by traditional sanctions and penalties, even to their own detriment. It’s in their psychological DNA and their gluttonous pursuit of power and wealth. The Tatmadaw will increase their violence and siege mentally up to a point. There are fault lines of vulnerabilities that can be identified and exploited to generate desirable results if they are wrapped within face-saving options that quells their greatest fears.
At its core, the third option will have the Tatmadaw release Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD officers, and everyone affiliated with the anti-coup efforts that has been incarcerated. All criminal charges against these people will be dropped. Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials will be restored to their democratically elected positions. The Tatmadaw retain their 25 percent share of seats in the Assembly of the Union – at least initially – and they retain control of their economic conglomerates.
Subtle strategic safeguards and changes should be negotiated, utilizing the pressure – not force – of the arsenal within the second option. The Tatmadaw will have to compromise on core issues that implicitly undermine a democratically elected government. A balance should be struck between Tatmadaw concerns that initiated the coup and the public’s concerns regarding the instability of a limited democracy.
Moving forward, a democratically elected government must be allowed to initiate amendments, legislation, and criminal policies upon receiving a more realistic majority of the votes within the Assembly of the Union. Currently, more than 75 percent majority is needed, enabling the Tatmadaw to block amendments, legislation, and criminal reforms by unjustly seizing 25 percent of the seats, in addition seats held by their political wing, the USDP.
A quick way to resolve this is to lower the mandatory requirements of passage to something between a simple majority and two-thirds of the votes. This change should become effective during 2021. The Tatmadaw’s allocation of holding 25 percent of the seats in the Assembly of the Union, regardless of actual support, should be phased out over a reasonable period of time. Based upon the November election, the Tatmadaw are only entitled to about seven percent of the seats, those held by the USDP.
The massive levels of corruption that permeates Myanmar must be addressed. The harsh consequences in option two can be negotiated, but the excessive corruption has to stop. Much of the stolen money – held in banks and investments around the world – should to be returned to the lawful government of Myanmar. These funds are needed to address the pressing priorities of the country and the needs of the population.
Criminal prosecution of Tatmadaw officials for corruption and financial irregularities can be negotiated. Modified pardons might be part of the settlement, along with the ability to retain some of their wealth, but this is all negotiable. The alternative is to indict and incarcerate them, while stripping them and their families of all their illicit wealth.
A Three Tier Chess Game
The Tatmadaw are a series of riddles contained within an enigma. The complexity of having to intuitively “feel” your way through some aspects of Tatmadaw reasoning requires the participation of specialists who can identify hidden drivers and obscured pressure points.
Enhanced negotiations with the Tatmadaw are like playing a three-tiered chess game in which the moves on the primary game board are influenced and driven by the unseen positions of pieces on the board below, as well as unknown restrictions represented by pieces on the board above.
Identifying and addressing these two tiers of Tatmadaw reasoning – psychological and historical drivers below and primary fears and considerations above – will better enable the Coalition to select their arsenal and tools, craft their initiatives and responses, and establish the contextual framing and environment in which the collective groups are able to forge a creative compromise that restores the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, while addressing the Tatmadaw’s core concerns.
In these type of cross-cultural negotiations – especially with subconscious drivers and considerations – the exact negotiated point may be accepted or rejected, depending upon how it is presented and framed. This is a case where form equals content to achieve desired results.
These mico-moments and details are often ignored by Western negotiators, who put all of their focus on a few major points, perceiving other considerations as insignificant details that can be worked out by underlings at a later time. On this point, it’s important to grasp that while the perceived approach of two cultures may appear similar, generations of enculturation and experiences, mixed with intense pressures and rigid conformity from within the Tatmadaw regime, significantly shape the methodologies that are needed and the interpretations and actions that are in play.
In a public arena, the Tatmadaw leaders will be compelled to remain defiant as the junta’s psychological DNA rejects accountability and perceived neocolonial pressure. In that mindset, the Tatmadaw will remain stiff-necked and unyielding. They will risk the potential consequences of metaphorically playing Russia Roulette with their future, in which the 6-shot cylinder of the revolver in play has one, two, or three bullets, indicating the respective power and resolve of their opponents.
The objective of enhanced measures is to replace the revolver with an automatic pistol. Chamber a round, remove the safety, and give them a moment to reconsider your recommendations before they are required to pull the trigger. Part of the strength of the third option, the negotiated settlement, is to ensure the Tatmadaw hierarchy, China, and other key supporters, have seen the gun and know of the chambered round that will come into play if they fail to reach an agreement.
There have been suggestions that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) facilitate negotiations with the Tatmadaw. They are positioned to play a role, but have never shown they have the strength of will to employ the appropriate leverage. This is compounded by at least three of their ten member group having similar military regimes, four including Myanmar.
The courageous population of Myanmar continues to protest against the Tatmadaw’s coup d’état of the democratically elected government. Much of the international community has condemned the coup, while others temper their comments, from expressing “grave concern” to evasive apathy. Each day that passes, as more innocent civilians are killed, the Tatmadaw become more empowered by the perception of global impotence in the face of evil.
The military forces of Myanmar have been carrying out horrific mass atrocities against their ethnic populations for 73 years, mixed with the periodic slaughter of other citizens during coups and uprisings. The extensive carnage that awaits the civilian masses protesting the coup in Myanmar can be prevented if enough countries choose to do the right thing. The faces of the innocents to be slaughtered for challenging the brutal Tatmadaw junta can be seen across the print and electronic media.
Over 500 protesters have been killed and over 3,000 incarcerated, including some who were beaten and tortured to death by sadistic Tatmadaw henchmen. Thousands may perish as the Tatmadaw repeatedly slaughter civilians in a brutal effort to silence the voices of freedom, crush dreams of democratic rule, and extinguish the protestors’ hope of a better future for themselves and their descendants.
The ticking clock is a death watch. The Tatmadaw will determine the date and time of the alarm unless the international community intensifies their efforts to forestall the carnage and negotiate a settlement. The world will know when the alarm goes off, as the repeated sounds of automatic weapons and the screams of the dead and dying permeate the electronic media. If this image be too dramatic for some, submit your complaints to the teenage protesters who were shot in the head by Tatmadaw snipers, who executed these kids with impunity.
*James Emery, a cultural anthropologist, has coved issues around the world. He has traveled into Myanmar through Yangon and in cross-border trips to ethnic tribal territories to conduct interviews and research on insurgency operations, narcotics trafficking, human rights abuses, and other issues. He may be contacted at [email protected]