Malignant Mutant Malfunctioned Myanmar Military: From Protector To Perpetrator – OpEd


The Myanmar’s modern military, originally celebrated as a liberating force against colonial rule and was established in 1941, was affectionately known as the Tatmadaw, which translates to “Royal Armed Forces”. This title, signifying national glory, shifted negatively after 1962 when General Ne Win’s coup d’état began an era of over six decades of military dominance. This period, defined by authoritarian governance and self-serving priorities, is widely considered the darkest chapter in Myanmar’s history.

Myanmar’s modern military origins dated back to December 28, 1941, with the formation of the Burma Independence Army (BIA) by the Thirty Comrades, led by Aung San, which aimed to terminate British colonial rule. The force underwent several changes, becoming the Burma Defense Army (BDA) in 1942 and then the Burma National Army (BNA) in 1943. Finally, BNA and anti-fascist resistance forces covertly formed the Patriotic Burmese Force (PBF), realigning with the Allies to oust the Japanese on March 27, 1945, known as Anti-fascist Resistance Day. (1)

General Aung San, the architect of Myanmar’s modern military, articulated the Tatmadaw’s code of conduct at the Military Academy’s first inaugural graduation on March 13, 1944. He advocated for a Tatmadaw dedicated to serving and protecting the nation and its people, regardless of ethnic and religious backgrounds, not to serve the interests of any individual, group, or political entity. He emphasized that Tatmadaw should be the servant of the country, not the other way around. Tragically his assassination on July 19, 1947, curtailed his vision, and over time, the military became a symbol of corruption and power misuse. 

After declaring independence on January 4, 1948, Myanmar was engulfed in civil war. The democratic government was eclipsed and eventually toppled by the military under General Ne Win on March 2, 1962. Ne Win, under the disguise of defending unity and sovereignty, dictated Burma single-handedly, instituting a new constitution in 1974 and establishing the Burma Socialist Program Party. His rule was notorious for totalitarian, isolationist practices, and civil clashes with Communist insurgents and ethnic factions, known collectively as a multi-color insurgency.

The military’s economic dominance advantaged Ne Win and his favorite officers, but strategies such as nationalization, spurning foreign investment, and the black-market economy, along with the costly civil war, led Southeast Asia’s once most prosperous country to become one of the world’s least developed countries. The fiscal catastrophe and harsh quelling of student demonstrators sparked the 8888 Uprising, where the military executed at least three thousand protesters.

In the aftermath of the 1988 upheavals, Ne Win stepped down but orchestrated another military junta led by General Saw Maung, who was purged by General Than Shwe in 1992. The era from 1988 to 2010 was characterized by poverty, inequality, corruption, and global seclusion. Than Shwe engineered a façade of quasi-political reform to convince the West to withdraw sanctions and debts. He first rewrote the 2008 constitution to ensure the military’s tight control over the governance, granting the commander-in-chief exclusive control over the National Defense and Security Council, military finances, and operations. (1) General Min Aung Hlaing, a superstitious mediocrity, was appointed top commander by General Than Shwe, who was known for his reliance on astrological adviser than merit.

The military junta held a controversial election in 2010 and dissolved, installing a surrogate political party and the retired General Thein Sein as president. The National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi triumphed in 2015. The military operated as a state within a state and undercut the civilian government, including the disruption of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement signed in 2015, committing ethnic group atrocities, and monopolizing major enterprises as the president has no command role over military. Feeling threatened by NLD’s landslide victory in 2020, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, nearing retirement and fearing for his privileges and the cherished 2008 constitution, staged another coup on February 1, 2021, alleging unproven electoral fraud. This action re-affirmed military rule and dashed democratic hopes.

Despite international condemnation, the military, now pejoratively called Sit-Tat, brutally suppressed peaceful protests with human rights violations and acts against humanity. The crisis escalated to atrocities against civilians, including arson, air raids targeting civilians and school children, weaponization of COVID pandemic, and humanitarian emergencies. An exodus of foreign investment occurred, and they were swiftly seized by military elites and their families, and cronies. A deteriorating economy, compounded by military mismanagement, culminated with a 160% depreciation of Myanmar Kyats,a surge in prices up to 500%, and a foreign currency shortfall. The GDP per capita was estimated to be 13% below 2019 level, leading the country into a failed state. (2)(3).

Myanmar has now entered a violent new chapter. Sit-Tat faced fierce oppositions from both established ethnic resistance organizations (ERO) and newly formed Local Defense Forces (LDF) and People’s Defense Force (PDF) under National Unity Government (NUG).

On October 27, 2023, the two-year stalemate was broken by Operation 1027 in northern Shan State. The unprecedented success of Three Brotherhood Alliance turned the tide with concurrent wave after wave of offensives by resistance forces in Karenni, Karen, Rakhine, Chin, Kachin and Shan States, wide swathes of central Myanmar including Sagaing, Magwe, Mandalay, Bago, and southern Tanintharyi regions and urban guerrilla attacks in Mandalay and Yangon. (4)

Since October 2023, 4,000 troops of Regional Operations Command (ROC) in Laukkai, Shan state have surrendered; more than 5,500 troops have been killed or captured, including 11 brigadier generals; and more than 30 towns have been taken by the resistance. Since the coup, the junta has lost no less than 30,000 soldiers, 2,500 out of 5,280 headquarters, bases and outposts around the country including 2 Military Operation Command headquarters (MOC 16 in Hsenwi, Shan state and MOC 9 in Kyauktaw, Rakhine state) and 30 battalion bases, 4 helicopters and 3 jet fighters, scores of howitzers and 50 armored fighting vehicles. (5)(6)(7)(8)

The series of military defeats were contributed by a lack of public support, incompetent leadership due to corrupt promotion systems based on loyalty rather than merit, declining morale, depleting munition, and a manpower deficit, estimated at 70,000 combatants, spread thin across a multi-front war. On February 10, 2024, the weakened forces due to casualties, desertions, defections and detentions resorted to forced conscription, leading to widespread evasion. (9)

In the face of international isolation, the junta sought to strengthen ties with China, its top trade partner and arms supplier. However, Operation 1027 indicated a change in China stance. To counterbalance, Min Aung Hlaing bolstered relations with Moscow which was eyeing an increased role in Indian Ocean. Visits to Russia, including a meeting with President Putin in 2022, the annual attendance at the armed forces parade by Russia deputy defense minister and two joint naval exercises, should alert both Beijing and Washington DC. 

In a March 27 speech, the chief blamed the civilian government and foreign influence for his failures and issued unrealistic threats to crush the resistance. He insisted on legitimacy and maintaining strategic control through sham elections to sway like-minded regional powers and ASEAN members. He aimed to divide opposition groups and revived foreign peace brokers for insincere peace talks as a lifeline. Any international proponents of engagement should be cognizant of the manipulative skills of the Myanmar military. (10) Remembering Sit-Tat’s history, EROs must not forget the bitter experiences of their tumultuous relationship. It is vital that the military relinquish political power, accept civilian oversight, and forgo impunity for war crimes. 

The military dictators maintain a delusional belief in divine right akin to royalty, wielding unlimited power and claiming ownership of the country’s resources while enjoying authoritarian rule without consequence. The military elite unrepentantly involve themselves in politics, clinging to power indefinitely. Contrary to its purpose as protector and servant of the people, the military has become an impediment to Myanmar’s pursuit of liberty, democracy, and prosperity. The people of Myanmar must persevere, and the international community must stand firm in support, ensuring that sacrifices for freedom and justice are not in vain. 


  10. 10.

Nicholas Kong

Nicholas Kong is a Myanmar democracy activist.

3 thoughts on “Malignant Mutant Malfunctioned Myanmar Military: From Protector To Perpetrator – OpEd

  • April 4, 2024 at 7:34 am

    As a follower of your articles past and present… I have a few questions. Any updates on your last article with the military decision on youth conscription. Could you provide any insight or speculation of the dynamic relationship of Russia and China with its support of the military when it becomes a bigger failed state? As a western observer I can only comment that our news of Myanmar is very limited. Need more articles… Thank you.

  • April 4, 2024 at 8:43 am

    Thank you for your keen interest and good questions.
    The forced conscription is already effecting the families. There will be no official report available. As expected, the junta propaganda media will show the enthusiasm of the youths (like DPRK). The military spinners are insulating to the world to believe their nonsense. Although the target date was set mid April, 5000 recruit per month, the crush courses were conducted in the training camps. Corrupt administrators are asking for ransom to evade the draft. Those who can afford may get away while the have-nots fall for victim. The level of combat readiness with 2-month crush course will be good enough for human shields. We shall see more abuses like lack of payments and inadequate food and supplies for the new recruits.
    Regarding China, Beijing is pushing for the cease fire at the border. But AA in Rhakine State and KIA in Kachin state are unlikely to comply. It is obvious that Xi’s refusal to meet MAL is a clear signal of lack of confidence in him as a legitimate leader. But Beijing must be careful not to exacerbate anti-China sentiments by continuing the hedging games. My worry is forced mediation for “ peace talk through current ASEAN chair.
    Russia will have more straight forward approach with “ Nothing to lose” attitude. 1. Putin needs friends. 2. No border shared between the two countries. 3. Arms sale is helping Moscow’s coffer. 4 Russia set the eyes on Indian Ocean.
    I believe MAL is spinning his chips between the 2 once-adversaries.


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