Burma: A bridge too far?

By Michael J. Maran

Published: Nov 12, 2012


President Obama with Vice President Joe Biden (Photo: whitehouse.gov)

Enthusiasm for the recent return to civilian governance in Burma appears to be eroding rather rapidly given the prevalence of violence attributed to racial, ethnic and religious cleansing in various parts of Burma especially in the Rakhine state which has a substantial Muslim population. The displacement of over 90,000 IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in the Kachin state resulting from the resumption of hostilities between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army as well as the surge in opium cultivation in the Golden Triangle have given rise to a sense of despair and déjà vu among the entire population.

Chafing under such conditions, it became even more bewildering that the outside world, especially the United States should join in the mad rush to get a piece of the spoils obtaining therein. Even Obama is to visit Burma this month!

The United States has invited the Burmese army to participate in the 32nd annual combined Cobra Gold joint exercise co-hosted by US and Thailand next year. The invitation is ill-conceived, albeit based on what could be America’s regional re-alignment concept in the Asia-Pacific region. In the wake of the seeming liberalisation of the Thein Sein goverment, it must be indeed tempting to get a foothold as rapidly as possible by all means. Does America not understand that a subtle, yet determined effort is being made to de-fang the hated military in the new Burmese political narrative? The consequences of such participation could damage what new visions that country might have in the comity of nations. It will destabilize the entire region.

“Gwi ju, wa hkali hkru” as the Kachin saying goes. We do not particularly relish being roosted like flees as the dog sizzles! Engaging, legitimizing and resurrecting the Burmese military, even as the civilian government is attempting to de-fang the institution is most unfortunate.

The PRC will view this development as provocative, encircling their country with regional military alliances. Participation in the military exercises will be construed as anti-Peoples’ Republic. Tension will mount between Burma and the PRC and further mistrust and suspicion between China and Burma will ensue.

Caught in between, the Kachin freedom movement under the aegis of the Kachin Independence Army will have its activities severely curtailed. As it is, the Chinese suspect the Kachins as being under US influence, perhaps due the active Kachin cooperation in the China-Burma-India theater and the OSS against Imperial Japan during WW2.

The lessons of Vietnam produce Americans’ distaste for a land war in Asia. Should such inhibitions persist, Burma is a huge red herring to be shunted.

American missionaries are greatly appreciated for the advent of Christianity which about 99% Kachins predominantly profess today. Their faith endures even as Christian churches are burnt, desecrated, evangelization halted, and their women raped.

We discourage actions that may be too quick to capitalize on Burma’s transition. America, think before you travel that Bridge Too Far or to Nowhere!


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Kachinland News’ policy.

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