The Difficulties In Building A Unified Front Against Myanmar’s Military Regime

On Friday the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Myanmar, as well as a condemnation of its military’s seizure of power in February. The resolution was not unanimous by any means with over thirty-five nation abstaining. Predictably, China and Russia were two of them. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, yet they do carry a considerable amount of political weight provided that a majority of world and regional powers support their passage. In this case aside from China, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand were the other Southeast Asian nations that abstained. Belarus was the only nation to oppose the resolution.

Myanmar’s foreign ministry rejected the UN resolution, calling it a document “based on one-sided sweeping allegations and false assumptions.” The government has also sent a letter of objection to the office of the UN General Secretary.

Despite the resolution, a growing number of nations in Asia are reluctant to apply financial pressure on the regime in Myanmar. Stringent measures such as these run the risk of increasing China’s regional influence. India and Japan in particular have factored this into their respective policies regarding Myanmar. For the United States, the positions some of its allies in Asia have taken on Myanmar undermines its broad policy of defending democracies. This policy has become a keynote of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. India and China have also avoided joining Western democracies applying sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human-rights abuses in Xinjiang.

It appears the United States will have to face the fact that a united front against the military regime is simply not possible in the current climate. In principle, there’s minimal opposition to the theme of defending democracies and ensuring the safety of democratically elected regimes. However, once economic and geopolitical realities enter the equation, lofty principles take a back seat for most nation-states. Preventing China’s regional influence from rising, for example, is considerably more significant to New Delhi and Tokyo then punishing the military regime in Myanmar.

Apparently, this is something the Biden administration has overlooked

28 February, 2021: Myanmar Update

This weekend has seen the crackdown in Myanmar intensify. Police and security forces confronted peaceful demonstrators at protest sites across the country. The use of lethal force has been reported by the UN human rights office, which claims to have received the information from highly credible sources. In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, a large demonstration was confronted by police. The police charged at unarmed, non-violent protesters and when the protesters moved to reassemble, the police started using more heavy-handed tactics, according to an Al Jazeera journalist who witnessed the scene. Reports of police opening fire at other points in Yangon were soon published on social media outlets. Although most news outlets were unable to confirm the claims, or number of casualties, the UN human rights office has reported that at least 18 protesters have been killed over the weekend.

On the geopolitical front, Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations was fired by the nation’s military rulers after a speech he gave at the UN General Assembly on Friday. Tun urged the international community to use “any means necessary to take action” against the military to “ restore the democracy.” Tun concluded his remarks by saying he was representing Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government.

The Saudi Military Option

9393484839

As Iran’s role in the ARAMCO attacks becomes clear Saudi Arabia finds itself at a critical moment. Iran was responsible for the attacks against Saudi oil facilities over the weekend. Drones and missiles were launched from sites inside of Iran. US sources have confirmed it, and provided more detailed information on the locations of the sites. There is no question.

Now, the Saudis must decide how to respond to a clear act of aggression on the part of Iran. Understandably, Riyadh is moving cautiously. However, given the circumstances of the moment, it may need to pick up the pace and reach a decision sooner than it would like. Iran and Saudi Arabia’s biggest ally are engaged in a high-stakes geopolitical chess match and for better or worse the Saudis are positioned right in the middle. Iran can needle the US by launching attacks against Saudi Arabian targets, either through its Houthi proxy, or on its own, as we are seeing. The United States cannot launch an attack against Iran on Saudi Arabia’s behalf. Especially not now with the UN General Assembly week beginning today. Timing is everything.

This might explain why the Saudis have elected not to respond militarily yet. Retaliating against Iran as the world meets in New York would be a mistake, plain and simple. Riyadh is buying time, claiming it needs to examine the evidence and reach its own conclusions regarding the attack. But if it waits too long to respond, Tehran will be emboldened, and assume it will not be held accountable for its actions. Another attack will be made against the kingdom, inevitably forcing the United States to respond with military action. Where the crisis goes from that point is anyone’s guess.

General Assembly week also provides Saudi Arabia the opportunity to quietly prepare its forces for a military option, should one be ordered. At present, the Royal Saudi Air Force is oriented towards operations in Yemen. Given that the RSAF would be the main force used in a military effort against Iran, it requires time to shift its focus and prepare for operations against Iran. Those preparations could be underway right now, quietly of course. Should this be the case, expect any Saudi military response to occur within hours of the General Assembly drawing to an end on 30 September, 2019.

Tuesday 19 September, 2017 Update: Trump Addresses the United Nations

7897967876546

President Trump’s first address to the UN General Assembly came at a point in time when a sizable portion of world leaders have been wondering what shape America First foreign policy will take. They received an answer this morning, and as an added bonus the world was also given an brief glimpse at the pillars of a potential Trump Doctrine. The US President’s speech contained blunt language and was missing the diplospeak and doubletalk that is common in world leaders’ addresses to the General Assembly.

North Korea was the main talking point. First off, to be clear, his referring to Kim Jong Un as ‘Rocket Man’ once again did not belittle, or minimize the urgency surrounding the North Korean nuclear crisis. Trump made it clear that the US will welcome UN efforts to bring an end to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. He followed up by letting it be known that if the crisis continues on its current trajectory, the US may be forced to “totally destroy” North Korea. Trump’s words were not an idle threat, or a rambunctious boasting of US military capabilities. Should North Korea launch an ICBM at US territory successfully, Trump will have no choice but to turn North Korea into the world’s largest sheet of glass. The North’s UN ambassador did not watch the speech in person, unfortunately. He opted to leave the chamber before the US President began speaking.

Iran was also in the crosshairs today. Trump dismissed the nuclear deal between Iran, the US and other world powers. Just as he did on the campaign trail last year, Trump blasted the deal as an embarrassment to the US and hinted that it will be revisited in the future. In fact, the Trump administration is currently reviewing the deal and next month the president plans to announce his intentions with regards to its future.

Venezuela was another target of Trump’s criticism. He hinted of a coming expansion of the already wide economic sanctions now in place on Venezuela if Nicolas Maduro continues to impose authoritarian rule. He did not repeat an earlier threat to consider military action as such a move would not receive support from most Latin American allies of the US. Nevertheless, by affording Venezuela as much attention as North Korea and Iran, Trump made it clear how important the US considers the crisis in Venezuela to be.

World leaders and journalists at home will spend the next week dissecting the speech in an attempt to determine what Trump was saying between the lines. The effort will prove to be an exercise in futility. Today’s address was clear, concise,  painstakingly honest, and made an indelible impression on America’s allies and enemies alike.

 

Sunday 17 September, 2017 Update: The Rohingya Crisis

435345453

Following her release from house arrest in 2010 Aung San Suu Kyi was a gold plated darling of the Western political world. Politicians from around the world journeyed to her home country of Myanmar to talk with Kyi, and of course, to be seen with her. Kyi’s name became synonymous with women’s rights, and pro-democracy movements. In April, 2016 she became the state counsellor of Myanmar, a position similar to a prime minister.

So imagine the irony when some of the same people who championed her cause in the past began accusing her of ethnic cleansing last week.

Kyi is under increasing pressure to halt the army offensive that has uprooted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and forced them to flee across the border to Bangladesh and beyond. The Rohingya people are a minority group in Myanmar, made up of roughly 1 million men, women, and children. The majority of Rohingya are Muslims and most live in the northern Rakhine State. They have been pushing for their own nation-state for decades without success. The government has cracked down on Rohingya civilians following the start of a renewed insurgency last year.

The current crisis was sparked by attacks on police stations in northern Rakhine by Rohingya militants, which killed twelve security personnel. Myanmar responded with a military offensive that has reportedly resulted in burned out Rohingya villages and attacks on civilians. The purpose of the offensive is to drive them out of Myanmar. So far, that is what has been happening. Bangladesh is feeling the pain from a surge of refugees across its border since late August. The nation is taking steps to limit the influx of Rohingya and has placed restrictions on their ability to travel around Bangladesh. The hope of the Bangladeshi government is that the Rohingya will be permitted to return home in the near future.

Judging by events over the last week or so that does not appear as if it will happen. Myanmar has shown no signs of letting up on its efforts to drive the Rohingya out. Even with international pressure increasing, Kyi is not backing down. She will not be attending the UN General Assembly session and has blamed the global media for working to increase tensions with biased news coverage that portrays Rohingya entirely as persecuted civilians. It will be interesting to see if any resolution comes out of New York this week and whether or not Kyi will bow to international pressure and stop the military offensive.