The research has exhaustively explained all of the relevant Hybrid War variables in Myanmar, and will now transition to its final section in forecasting the various scenario branches that this type of conflict could take. Before proceeding, it’s useful to refresh the reader’s memory and reemphasize the conditions under which a Hybrid War could be initiated in the country. The study began by remarking that Myanmar is rapidly moving towards a pro-Western political leadership and a de-escalation of its civil war, both of which are anticipated to make it a more valuable member of the Chinese Containment Coalition and a more stable partner for India and Japan’s unipolar transnational connective infrastructure projects. In the present framework, there’s no urgent need for the US to provoke a Hybrid War in Myanmar because everything is smoothly proceeding in line with its grand strategic interests.
Regardless, geopolitics is of such a nature that unforeseen events regularly occur, and two of the most likely that could happen which would move the country closer to any of the following Hybrid War scenarios are a sudden outbreak of hostilities between the civil war factions and/or Suu Kyi pragmatically partnering with China. The first is self-explanatory, with the natural threat being that the presence of so many (semi-)independently active parts makes the entire conflict resolution process in Myanmar very difficult to manage, thus creating an inherently chaotic situation which gives rise to a plethora of negative possibilities. It’s impossible for any single actor or even a strategic coalition of them to exert full and dominant control over all of the disparate elements in this construction, leaving open the chance that something could ‘go wrong’ and offset their plans.
Pertaining to Suu Kyi, she’s also one of the elements that might become unpredictable. China’s ‘wining and dining’ of her last year proves that Beijing has decided to invest in her personage, indicating that it might also be seeking to apply its own policy of ‘personal enrichment’ as a means to rival the US’. Furthermore, China understands the scale of the strategic threat that it’s facing in Myanmar, and it wants to find a way to actualize the Myanmar Silk Road so that it can compete with India’s ASEAN Highway and safeguard its privileged position in the country. If Suu Kyi makes any move in this direction and the US was unable to diplomatically or economically convince her otherwise, then it’s foreseeable that Washington would take steps to initiate Hybrid War pressure against her, likely via the reverse formulation of this concept.
To explain, it would probably exploit the preexisting Unconventional Warfare tension in the country to provoke a conflict or series thereof that undermines Suu Kyi’s “peace” credentials and pushes her to utilize the ‘hated’ military that she previously and so publicly despised. This would immediately damage her ‘pro-democracy’ reputation and ‘expose’ her as being ‘just another politician’, demystifying the popular ‘legend’ that has meticulously been constructed around her. The implication of this would be that many people could quickly come to the conclusion (whether independently or guided by pro-Western media and “NGOs”) that for as revered as she and her family name are in Myanmar, Suu Kyi is simply an incompetent leader that is not capable of properly administering the country as its ‘grey cardinal’. This manufactured sentiment could then in turn be used to ‘legitimize’ a Color Revolution attempt against her and/or her presidential proxy, ironically threatening her rule in almost the same way as she threatened the military’s over two decades ago.
This last part of the study therefore begins by examining the multitude of Unconventional Warfare scenarios that could possibly unfold in Suu Kyi’s Myanmar before concluding with the Color Revolution ones. The reader would do well to note that any of these could occur as a stand-alone scenario or as part of a large sequence of events, so it shouldn’t be inferred that the following eventualities are in any way indicative of a rigid order. Having laid out the preconditions under which Myanmar could be thrown into a cycle of Hybrid War madness (incidental outbreaks of chaos and/or the purposeful undermining of a perceivably ‘pro-China’ Suu Kyi), it’s finally time to explore some of the ways in which this could foreseeably play out.
It’s forecasted that Myanmar’s internal political rearrangement is imminent in one form or another, and this forthcoming process is expected to be rife with the potential for multisided political and/or physical conflict between its participants. The differences that each of the parties have in envisioned territorial allocation and administrative responsibilities could lead to an outbreak of violence within the ranks of the competing rebel groups and/or between them and the government. The reader should be made aware that the rebels are not cohesively unified and often fight amongst one another, despite many of them nominally belonging to the umbrella United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). As a case in point, this ‘united’ front tactically splintered when some of its members signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, raising serious questions about whether it’s more of a rhetorical and symbolic entity than a politically and/or militarily practical one.
Another area of expected disagreement between the participants of Panglong 2.0 (the name that the author has given to the forthcoming internal political rearrangement process) will undoubtedly come down to the nature of the changes that are to take place, particularly whether they are to be symmetrical (applied by all in the same fashion) or asymmetrical (varying depending on the actor and circumstances). The former doesn’t require any further explanation, whereas the second one needs to be elaborated on in brief. It’s possible that the constitutional amendments or new constitution that Panglong 2.0 attempts to implement could result in a blend of autonomy and federalization, with the determining variable for each region’s particular applicability to either likely coming down to its military strength to enforce its preference (i.e. threatening to renew hostilities or demonstrating its capability to do so if its demands are not met in whole or in part).
Into The Blender:
A complex mix of decentralization and devolution could conceivably be experimented with in Myanmar, with three possible political categories of administration being created, the most powerful of which would be the federal one. It seems likely at this point that federalization will be enacted to some extent or another owing to Suu Kyi’s own predisposition to this concept and the stated purpose of the UNFC, but the question of course comes down to how it’s applied in practice to each constituent entity. For example, all of Kayin State might become a unified federal unit, whereas Kachin State might include a broadly autonomous prefecture within its eastern portion over which the Kachin Independence Organization would have administrative sovereignty. Although sure to be a contested proposal by any means, it realistically presents the most peaceful compromise solution to the ‘jade war’ and might prevent the reoccurrence of hostilities between the military and the rebels there if it’s agreed to.
In Sagaing Region, the territory might receive its own federalized status or become part of a supra-territorial one that incorporates some or all of the Bamar-majority divisions (which will be explained shortly), but no matter what its ultimate designation is, there’s a chance that the Naga could retain their sub-autonomous Self-Administered Zone within it. Fusing all of the categories together, the whole of Shan State might become a federalized unit, but within it there might be various autonomous and sub-autonomous territories, possibly represented by the Wa and Pa’O respectively, for example. Depending on the political viability of either of these possible solutions and the will of the local people, the granting of autonomous or sub-autonomous status to the Bengali “Rohingya” in Rakhine State might also be one way to de-escalate tensions between them and the majority Buddhist Rakhine community, although there’s the chance that simply even proposing this might be enough to enflame nationalist Buddhist organizations and unwittingly provoke yet another wave of pogroms.
Probably the most underestimated conflict scenario in all of Myanmar is that between the ethnic Bamar themselves, principally in terms of the disagreements that they may have over the most equitable internally political rearrangement for their regional communities. It doesn’t in this example whether it’s a symmetrical or asymmetrical redivision of the country, since all that’s important is that this process is formally pioneered in the first place (Panglong 2.0). It’s a certainty that the Bamar ethnic majority will want to retain its prevailing role over federal affairs, acceding to a few concessions when necessary (e.g. if pressured by military-strategic considerations) but overall seeking to control the political redistribution process so as to preserve its prior influence. It’s impossible to speculate at this point on the specifics of the parliamentary procedural and economic-sovereignty reforms that would accompany the devolution of the Myanmar state, but no matter what they end up being, the Bamar will definitely try to maneuver themselves into an advantageous position within this framework, although herein lies the potential for an intra-ethnic dispute.
If the reader recalls the very beginning of the Myanmar research, they’ll remember that it spoke about the existence of two separate but important kingdoms on the country’s territory before its eventual 1541 unification. The northern Ava and the southern Hanthawaddy had their respective capitals in Mandalay and Yangon, and while civilizationally similar to one another and essentially having morphed into a composite whole by this point in time, strategic differences have slightly emerged between them in the present day that could set the stage for a vicious period of self-interested Bamar bickering when the country finally redistributes its internal political responsibilities.
The northern Bamar-populated territory (“Ava”) is expected to occupy a highly profitably position along India’s ASEAN Highway and could foreseeably have an interest in hoarding the transit fees that China must pay for its Energy Corridor all to itself and within its relevant Mandalay and Magway Regions. Additionally, the latter region, Magway, is also home to a lot of oil deposits and might not want to share this revenue with other parts of the country. To address the southern Bamar-populated territory (“Hanthawaddy”), this part of the country has a burgeoning service sector and a magnet for foreign investment in Yangon, the Thilawa special economic zone and maritime access to the global economy, and large offshore energy deposits, all of which might also make it reluctant to subsidize other ethno-regional groups or even its fellow northern-residing Bamar.
The possible rush for the northern and southern Bamar to secure their own region’s perceived economic self-interests could lead to a natural or (“NGO”-/media-) provoked situation where this ethnic group’s two separate historical-regional identities are resurrected into competing or complementary federalized units. If this eventuality is actualized, then Naypyidaw would also probably break off into its own federalized territory and come to represent not only the geopolitical middle ground between the centrally located Bamar and the peripheral minorities, but also the central point of convergence between the tentatively titled Bamar federal states of Ava and Hanthawaddy.
Shan State Civil War (Intensifies)
This scenario is actually ongoing at the moment, although it’s not yet at the point where it represents an imminent Hybrid War threat for the country. Shan State has always been marked by its diversity of identities and localized entities, and as Myanmar moves closer to re-federalizing itself, it’s very possible that some of these internal actors will come to blow with one another as a means of settling their internal disputes prior to the formal territorial redivision under Panglong 2.0. Right now it hasn’t gotten to the point of being a Hobbesian conflict, but the current clashes that are taking place in the state could very well set it on that trajectory. What’s happening nowadays is that the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), otherwise known as the Shan State Army – South, has been attacking the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in the northern part of the state. The strategic situation is complicated by the fact that the RCSS is a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, whereas the TNLA generally operates within it constitutionally designated Pa Laung Self-Administered Zone.
The Plot Thickens:
The source that was hyperlinked above mentions that the TNLA is accusing the military of assisting the RCSS, which if true, would signify that the authorities are using their Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement partners as proxies in punishing their recalcitrant counterparts. There’s no way to independently verify if this is true or not, meaning that the research will consider both possibilities in parallel – that the RCSS is working hand-in-glove with the military, and that it’s acting on its own initiative. Should the latter be true, then this would definitely raise the risks of the forewarned threat of Hobbesian conflict, since it would show that the military is incapable of exercising influencing restraint on the ceasefire signatories. The lack of control and weakness that this would presume could encourage other rebel groups to militantly act in pursuing their own self-interests as well, which could then lead to the multilateral unravelling of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and return the country back to square one. On the other hand, if the military has in fact ordered the RCSS to attack the TNLA and/or is implicitly supporting them in this campaign, then it raises the question about just how far they’ll go in punishing the non-signatories to the ceasefire.
Cross-Border Asymmetrical Warfare:
Assessing the state of play in Shan State, it’s reasonable to wonder whether the RCSS, if they’re successful in what might be the military’s proxy campaign against recalcitrant rebels, might order their surrogate to attack the United Wa State Army (UWSA, assessed by some to be the “largest and best equipped” rebel group in the country) and/or the Kokang-region Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), both of which had put up tough resistance in the past and are crucially located right next to the Chinese border. If the last flare-up of violence between the military and the MNDAA is any indication, then a repeat of this situation and/or military-UWSA clashes could generate a humanitarian crisis that spills over the Chinese border. The brief and contained 2015 Kokang Conflict resulted in anywhere between 60,000–100,000 refugees crossing into China, making one wonder just how many more locals would flee abroad in the event of a longer and more multilateral conflagration in that part of Shan State. In fact, if the US were to be involved in provoking such a humanitarian crisis, then it could very well attempt to unleash what Kelly M. Greenhill has termed as a “Weapon of Mass Migration”, or in other words, the purposeful utilization of transnational human flows to achieve specific geopolitical objectives. In this specific context, one of those goals might be to destabilize Yunnan Province in anticipation of opening up a third asymmetrical warfare front against Beijing to complement the existing ones in Tibet and Xinjiang (with Hong Kong capable of being counted as a battlefield as well).
Faced with the Fifth Generational Warfare being waged against it, China might have no choice but to launch a limited humanitarian intervention to stem the refugee tide and secure its border, which could easily lead to mission creep and drawing the People’s Liberation Army deeper into Shan State’s complex civil woes. Any Chinese military involvement in Myanmar would definitely result in a flurry of international (Western) condemnation and harsh rebukes from the ASEAN member states, especially those such as Vietnam and the Philippines which have preexisting territorial disputes with China. It can be assumed that this prospective event would be used against China in a similar way as Russia’s involvement in Crimea had been in order to accelerate the New Cold War in this respective region, ‘isolate’ Beijing from its neighbors, and ‘justify’ enhanced American military activity along its borders. Assuming that China won’t intervene in an intensified Shan State Civil War no matter what the humanitarian and “Weapon of Mass Migration” consequences are, that still doesn’t preclude a large-scale outbreak of destabilization inside of Myanmar. The renewal of fighting between the military and/or (its proxy) rebels and the Wa and/or Kokang groups, whether prior to or during Panglong 2.0, would most probably spark a chain reaction of violence that would render the previously signed ceasefire worthless (no matter how many groups had or hadn’t agreed to it by that point) and throw the country back into multilateral mayhem.
A Tempting Target:
There’s a high possibility that Rakhine State will once more descend into riotous tumult sometime in the future, so long as the inter-identity tension between the majority Buddhist Rakhines and the minority Muslim Bengali “Rohingya” remains unresolved. This demographic situation is the predicted vehicle through which the US could prompt a scenario aimed at destabilizing the China-Myanmar Energy Corridor and the prospective Myanmar Silk Road. Rakhine State is also important to the US and its allies simply because of its coastal location, which could make it easier for them to directly interfere in any eventuality that may arise, an option which is considerably more limited when it comes to Shan State. The basic gist of the Hybrid War scenario in this part of Myanmar was already discussed in the prior relevant section, but it’s worthwhile to revisit and expand upon it in order to get a fuller picture of exactly what might transpire.
Muslim Bengali “Rohingya”
Not counting foreign provocateurs such as “NGOs” and other agents of destabilization, there are three main players that could predictably take part in any raucousness in Rakhine State, and each of them has a background that predisposes them to violence. Granted, there are peaceful and ‘neutral’ individuals in each category, but for the intent of the study at hand, only the most likely conflict elements within each group will be briefly described. The Muslim Bengali “Rohingyas”, for example, have a history of waging jihad against the state, and some of them are strongly suspected of retaining their terrorist ties. The familiar and cross-border ties that many of them still have with Bangladesh also predispose them to the type of Islamic extremist sentiment that has taken the country by storm lately and threatens to turn it into Bangla-Daesh.
On the other hand, the Buddhist Rakhine also have a fair share of violent radicals within their ranks, as was evidenced both by 2007 Saffron Revolution and the anti-“Rohingya” pogroms, both of which discredited the naïve presupposition that all Buddhist followers are inherently peaceful. In fact, the Buddhist Rakhine could be assessed as being the most likely of Buddhist to commit further violence, owing to a combination of their previously demonstrated actions against the “Rohingya” and their fierce sense of identity separateness from the rest of Myanmar (i.e. the historical legacy of Mrauk U).
The last of the actors that could get sucked into a three-way brawl in Rakhine State is the military, which of course is the only state-based participant of the bunch and the one with the greatest firepower and crowd-control capabilities. It’s already proved its worth in crushing the “8888 Uprising” of 1988 and the 2007 Saffron Revolution, yet it also has a track record of not intervening decisively enough to stop the previous bloodletting in Rakhine State. One of the theories is that the military was tacitly in favor of the Buddhist Rakhine mobs and wanted to use them to indirectly carry out punitive action against the Bengali “Rohingya”, but no matter whether that was the case or not, the clashes resulted in the UN declaring this minority group “one of the most excluded, persecuted and vulnerable communities in the world” and turning them into a poster example of victimization and possible “humanitarian intervention”.
All Against All:
There are two scenarios that could unfold when it comes to the future outbreak of violence in Rakhine State, and both of them would unquestionably involve the participation of all three players:
All that it takes to set Rakhine State aflame once more and reinitiate the communal bloodletting of the past couple years is a simple provocations on behalf of either of the two demographic groups, no matter how minor the act in question might seem at the time or in terms of the larger perspective. Whether the military allows the violence to continue for a little bit like before or if it decides to intervene right away in stopping it, there’s no doubt that the central authorities will somehow get physically involved in separating the two groups sooner or later.
The most uncertain variables in all of this are the scale and intensity of the intercommunal clashes, and if either or both of the identity groups had planned in advance for this moment and received training and equipment from elsewhere in the country or abroad beforehand (which seems most likely in any case), then it’s possible that the destabilization might be much more severe than the military anticipates and lead to a situation where it either loses full control over the state or is forced to resort to heavy-handed measures to restore order.
Both of these possibilities would result in plenty of negative international (Western) media attention, with the first one increasing the call for an “humanitarian intervention” while the second would probably lead to a new set of sanctions against the authorities. In a way, the military is caught in a strategic catch-22 because there’s no ideal way for it to respond to these circumstances without some sort of negative international (Western) repercussion, which might cynically be the entire point if the US wants to ‘set up’ Suu Kyi and precondition the domestic and international audiences into accepting a Color Revolution against her ‘gray cardinalship’.
The second scenario in which all three sides could come to blows in Rakhine State is if one of the non-state actors (the “Rohingya” or the Rakhine) began agitating for enhanced representation within the country, be it sub-autonomous status for the Bengali “Rohingya” or autonomy/federalization for the Buddhist Rakhine. Depending upon the degree of their political agitation, the demonstration could provoke a counter-reaction from the other identity group and/or evolve into an anti-government uprising. Per the former, this would likely lead to the communal bloodletting that was just described above, while the latter might skip that to a large extent and jump straight to the military crackdown.
Whether the state intervenes due to an outbreak of inter-ethnic conflict (no matter if it began as an anti-government demonstration or started off as a pogrom) or an anti-government uprising, its eventual response could unintentionally exacerbate negative attitudes towards the authorities on the side of one of the conflicting groups. For example, the Bengali “Rohingyas” might allege that the state was too violent in its actions against them or once more allowed the Buddhist Rakhine a ‘grace period’ to attack them with impunity, either of which could embolden their community to make a globally publicized stand against the government and put the authorities in an uncomfortable and constrained position vis-à-vis international (Western) opinion about them and their actions.
On the other hand, the Buddhist Rakhine might become upset if the government doesn’t do enough in its crackdown efforts (assuming that the Bengali “Rohingya” are to blame for the provocation) and is perceived as pandering to the minorities in order to curry favor with its new international (Western) “partners”. This would infuriate the nationalists and might push some of them such as the Arakan Army to redirect their attacks against the military, and, just like the Bengali “Rohingya”, exploit the international (Western) media in order to back the government into a corner and increase the odds that their demands are met in full or in part.
The authorities would then be caught in a major dilemma, not only because they’d fear what their external financial patrons would think about their possible militant reaction to all of this, but also because they’re aware that their actions might lead to public protests against them elsewhere in the country and the initiation of a nascent Color Revolution. Furthermore, acceding to the protesters would create a precedent that people in other parts of the country could follow in attempting to squeeze concessions out of the establishment, showing that all that’s needed to get the government to back down is to stage a high-profile incident in front of the international media. If the military reacts, then it would probably lose some of the crucial international economic support on which it’s come to depend, and the resultant reimposition of sanctions or threat thereof could circularly also be enough to spark the same type of Color Revolution that they want to avoid.
The greatest challenge for the authorities comes down to whether or not they can properly respond to intercommunal tensions and/or an anti-government uprising in Rakhine State without further aggravating already strained center-peripheral relations. This is a very difficult balancing act and one which is inherently susceptible to failure. The radically divergent visions of each of the three conflicting parties ensures that only the strongest one will be able to achieve their goal, and while on-paper statistics would indicate that this should naturally be the military, the essence of Hybrid War suggests that the Bengali “Rohingyas” or the Buddhist Rakhines have their own particular set of advantages that could decisively tip the odds in their favor. Actually, it seems as though the supposedly weakest of the bunch, the Bengali “Rohingyas”, are the ones with the greatest asymmetrical potential because of the realistic possibility that their ethno-religious cause could be used to justify a “humanitarian intervention” in creating “Rohingyaland” a la what happened in 1999 to create “Kosovo”.
The South Asian “Kosovo”:
The author previously published an in-depth scenario study about the prospects for the US and its allies to create a “Rohingyaland” out of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, using the ‘convenient justification’ of a “humanitarian intervention” to facilitate their geopolitical designs. It’s recommended that the reader review that piece in detail if they’re interested in the specifics for how this could come about and why, but seeing as how it’s directly pertinent to the forecasting of Hybrid Wars in Myanmar, the article will be revisited in brief at this moment.
The “Rohingya” Run-Up
To summarize, the gist of the matter is that the reemergence of Bengali “Rohingya”-related violence (whether perpetrated by and/or against this group) could be used as the grounds for staging a multilateral international invasion of Rakhine State for the purpose of carving out a “Kosovo”-like ‘protectorate’. There are a variety of ways in which the international (Western) media could manipulate any forthcoming violence there as a means of painting the Muslim Bengali “Rohingyas” as innocent ‘sacrificial lambs’ that are facing ‘genocide’ at the hands of out-of-control Buddhist Rakhine mobs (whether in fact, perception, or a blend thereof). Complementary to that, they could also overemphasize any economically motivated large-scale human flows from the area as a “refugee crisis” in order to ‘prove’ their assertion and precondition the global public into accepting their narrative, which appears to be what they tried to do with the “Rohingya refugee crisis” of summer 2015 and the one that they’re hinting could also happen (likely on command) later this year as well.
The geopolitical reasons for such an invasion are obvious, as it’s clear that the US and its allies would love to establish direct control over the maritime terminus of the China-Myanmar Energy Corridor and its possibly forthcoming Myanmar Silk Road counterpart. Occupying Rakhine State under the pretense of being “peacekeepers”, the Chinese Containment Coalition would also gain commanding influence over the Sittwe deep-water port that Beijing plans on constructing, thereby preempting any strategic plans that it has of ever using this facility as a reliable non-Malacca access point to the Indian Ocean. Along those lines, the US might then find a way to reappropriate control over this zone to the “peacekeeping” authorities or their local proxy administrators, who might then allow the US Navy to use it as a de-jure or de-facto naval installation. If that happens, then the US would have its first-ever baes in the Bay of Bengal and could indefinitely exercise dominance over this region to prevent the Chinese from ever (re-)establishing a foothold here. Finally, the last geopolitical goal that the US would be pursuing in Myanmar by means of a “humanitarian intervention” in Rakhine State would be to acquire the perpetual ability to blackmail Myanmar under the pane of further “Balkanization”.
By establishing the precedent of assembling an international ‘coalition of the willing’ (likely among select members of the Chinese Containment Coalition, first and foremost India, and possibly some of the “Rohingya refugee”-afflicted ASEAN states) to “humanely intervene” in resolving inter-identity strife in Myanmar, Washington would be sending an implicit message to Naypyidaw that this pattern could be repeated in other violence-prone areas such as Kachin and Shan States, dependent of course on whether or not it gives the “protesters” and/or “rebels” (a.k.a. Hybrid War participants) whatever it is that they’re demanding. As one could venture to assume, this threat is of such an inherent nature that it perpetually hangs over the head of Myanmar’s military elite, who understand that this scenario could theoretically be advanced against them at any chosen time. Therefore, it’s possible that the US could discretely hint about this possibility whenever it wants to ‘tighten the screws’ and put pressure on the country’s decision makers, which if that’s the case or it ever turns out to be, would make the scenario of Rakhine Riots the easiest way to scare Myanmar’s leader’s into compliance with whatever it is that the US proposes.
From Rakhine State To “Rohingyaland”
If it should happen that this scenario is actually carried out in full, then it could predictably result in one of three distinct but closely related outcomes, the ‘least-damaging’ of which would be the occupation of all or part of Rakhine State and/or “Rohingyaland” while retaining Naypyidaw’s nominal sovereignty over them. The next possibility is that Rakhine State becomes ‘independent’ of Myanmar in just as legally faux of a manner as “Kosovo” became of Serbia, and the US’ ‘coalition of the willing’ occupies the entire territory or only the “Rohingyaland” portion, the latter of which might receive autonomous or sub-autonomous status in this newly christened US colony. Finally, the last foreseeable geopolitical outcome of a US-led “humanitarian intervention” in Rakhine State would be the formal creation of an independent “Rohingyaland” in the majority-Bengali “Rohingya”-populated areas of the country. Just like “Kosovo” has turned into an artificial Albanian settler colony and an extension of Tirana, so too could “Rohingyaland” turn into its Bengali equivalent in Myanmar, with Washington holding out the carrot of ‘recognized reunification’ between the two in order to get Dhaka to indefinitely do its bidding. Playing the ethno-religious irredentist card in “Rohingyaland” would be an effective way for the US to maximize its influence over the Bengali political elite, and it could also utilize this tool in order to provoke on-command nationalist disturbances in Bangladesh that could add additional pressure on the country’s politicians’ from below’ (albeit via management from above).
An earlier section of the research introduced the reader to the transnational conflict threat posed by the Myanmar Nagas, hinting that this scenario will later be explained in full. As a reminder, the Naga are a transnational sub-state ethnic minority that straddles the Indian-Myanmar border, and some of them have been opposed to New Delhi ever since India’s incorporation in 1947. The relative anarchy in parts of Myanmar’s frontier played directly into the hands of an Indian-originated group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) (NSCN-K), which exploited the calamitous state of affairs during the country’s ongoing civil war in order to entrench themselves within the local Naga community of northern Sagaing Region. From there, they’ve plotted attacks against India and have been successful in goading it into a high-profile cross-border attack. The Hybrid War scenario that will examined builds off of the transnational destabilizing capabilities of the NSCN-K and shows how it can succeed in provoking an Indian invasion.
The NSCN-K provoked a global headline-grabbing incident when it carried out a terrorist attack in India’s Manipur state in June 2015 that resulted in a cross-border punitive operation by the Indian military. Despite being highly publicized and creating a flurry of chatter in the nation’s press, the raid did little to dent the NSCN-K’s effectiveness and was mostly a symbolic move designed to appeal to India’s domestic audience by showing them that the government would respond in some forceful way or another to the worst attack of its kind in 20 years. Undoubtedly, there was definitely a deterrent component to the mission as well, but it’s evident that New Delhi restrained itself from a full-blown response in order to avoid upsetting the neighbor that it so crucially needs to cooperate with in order to build and maintain the ASEAN Highway. Additionally, India may have also wanted to not get drawn into a cross-border jungle insurgency that might have been difficult to extricate itself from, preferring instead to send a strong message against the NSCN-K and then preemptively fall back to defensively fortifying its international border in guarding against any follow-up infiltration attempts.
One of the reasons why the Indian establishment is so scared of the NSCN-K is because it operates as the leader of an umbrella organization of Northeastern separatist groups called the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW). The author examined the ins and outs of this group last summer in an article about them and their capabilities, concluding that they pose an immense threat to the territorial integrity of India’s Northeast, but only if their disparate members succeed in the tactically challenging task of unifying all of their constituencies under this banner. They’ve been thus far unable to do so, despite having a conceptually inclusive ideology and a similar structural model as Daesh. In hindsight, their shortcomings could likely be attributed to a couple of factors, but principally that the Northeastern Indian identity groups are so mutually distrustful of one another that it’s difficult for their on-the-ground rebel supporters to convince the locals of the necessity to militarily cooperate with one another in order to attain their shared separatist visions. Another, albeit more minor, factor could even be that the regional population truly believes that Modi’s “Act East” policy and the ASEAN Highway will result in a refocusing of New Delhi’s priorities to the Northeast and a possible economic boom that will lift them out of poverty.
Although the UNLFW has yet to evolve into the type of threat that it’s capable of becoming, that doesn’t meant that it won’t ever do so. India’s ASEAN Highway has become the cornerstone of the country’s regional foreign policy and its primary instrument in ‘containing China’ in mainland ASEAN, but this could be endangered if a NSCN-K-led UNLFW insurgency breaks out in the region. Given the fact that the Nagas are the only one of the umbrella separatist identities to have a significant number of cross-border ethnic kin, the soon-to-be-discussed scenario branch will focus only on their role in this possible conflict, and the reader could reference the earlier-cited piece in the preceding paragraph to acquire a more comprehensive view of how this could relate to the other nationalities in the region. Before commencing with that part of the research, however, it’s necessary to first say a few words about the Naga Self-Administered Zone’s political future in Myanmar.
The Political Future Of Myanmar’s Nagas:
The precedent that was established by India during its cross-border counterattack against the NSCN-K indicates that New Delhi is becoming increasingly serious about responding to this group’s attacks on its soil, no matter if it’s reacting for domestic political reasons or to advance a tangible military solution. As Myanmar moves closer to an autonomous and/or federalized model in order to end its civil war, questions will inevitably arise about the status of the Naga Self-Administered Zone. While it’s presently enshrined in the 2008 Constitution, it’s foreseeable that any further change to the country’s internal arrangement (e.g. autonomy and/or federalization) will necessitate either a series of constitutional amendments that fundamentally change the nature of the state or the total rewriting of this foundational document.
In both cases, it’s possible that there might be some revision to the clause guaranteeing the Nagas their own Self-Administered Zone. Two of the possible scenarios surrounding this might be Naypyidaw reaching a secret deal with New Delhi to dismantle the territory’s separate privileges at the most legally convenient time, or that the Myanmar Nagas and their NSCN-K leaders agitate for enhanced subnational representation inside the reformatting state. The former would obviously play against the NSCN-K’s “Nagalim” interests, whereas the latter, if executed at a key time and with professional precision via one or both of the traditional Hybrid War elements (protesters and/or insurgents), could earn them the right to retain their sub-autonomous status or possibly even increase it to a conventionally autonomous one. It should also be said that there exists the possibility that the situation remains static and does not change at all, with the prior clause for a Naga Self-Administered Zone being unaffected by any constitutional amendments or remaining in place in a new constitution.
Sparking The Tinderbox:
“Naga rights” are an explosive issue for both Naypyidaw and New Delhi owing to their transnational nature and international conflict potential, and while neither wants to provoke the separatist groups, they also don’t want to appease them by enacting further concessions. The ideal scenario would be if nothing dynamic occurs, but there’s no guarantee that both countries won’t team up against the NSCN-K in northern Myanmar and/or that this group and its followers won’t create some type of political-military disturbance there. That being said, whether it’s a military attack by the Nagas or their state-based enemies, or an endemically emboldened (and possibly externally provoked) pro-Naga movement, whatever particular provocation it is that sparks this Hybrid War tinderbox will likely lead to very similar on-the-ground reactions in either case.
It’s predicted that the NSCN-K will fight back against any attacks against them, but that they’d be in a stronger position if they were the ones initiating them, which in that event would probably be more so against the Indian military than the Myanmar one. No matter who strikes first or what initial position the NSCN-K finds itself in when the conflict begins, the ethnic militant group might have an interest in exploiting the transnational nature of its cause in provoking an interstate crisis, possibly figuring that this could create enough of a long-term complication for their adversaries to more than compensate for any relative short-term losses that occur as a result. There’s also the chance that the group isn’t even considering this as an offensive or ‘defensive’ tactic, but that it lashes out in this direction anyhow out of sheer desperation if feels that its extinguishment is imminent. This could take the form of actual attacks against India or simply through the sort of (planned or unplanned) “Weapons of Mass Migration” that Kelly M. Greenhill described in her earlier referenced work on the topic.
There’s a very high likelihood that India would directly involve itself in any prospective conflict in or over Myanmar’s Naga Self-Administered Zone, whether it was a preplanned and willing participant or was incidentally dragged into the fray. There’s no way of telling how an Indian intervention in northern Myanmar would unfold, or whether it would be characterized in an aggressive or self-defensive manner by New Delhi’s Western “partners”. However, it is possible to ascertain to a certain degree of accuracy what India’s strategic interests would be in this instance, and in any given order, they’re projected to be as follows:
Secure The ASEAN Highway
This transnational connective infrastructure project will function as India’s umbilical with mainland ASEAN, and it therefore occupies the highest strategic priority for New Delhi. An overspill of intense fighting that temporarily or indefinitely suspends passage along this route or looks ready to do so cannot be tolerated by India. If Myanmar is incapable or unwilling to resolve or contain the threat that Naga violence poses to India’s prized project, then it’s likely that New Delhi will intervene in some capacity in order to safeguard the part of its investment that’s nearest to its borders.
Crush The UNLFW
India regards the UNLFW as an umbrella group of terrorist separatists and wants to see the organization totally destroyed before it reaches its most destabilizing potential. New Delhi also acknowledges, however discretely, that the Naga Self-Administered Zone is functioning as a terrorist safe haven, and it has a vested interest in changing this ominous state of affairs before it’s once again too late. With the UNLFW out of the way, India might then be able to continue its long-standing policy of dividing the separatists between themselves and preempting their reconsolidation.
New Delhi wants to preserve the status quo in the Northeast and prevent the uncontrollable expansion of “Nagalim”. It doesn’t seem likely that the government will allow Nagaland state to formally expand into its neighbors’ Naga-inhabited territories (the most ‘mild’ of the irredentists’ plans), but in the event that it decides to do so, it wants this to be done on New Delhi’s terms, not the NSCN-K’s. The ethno-territorial complexities of the Naga issue make it an exceptionally delicate issue for India to deal with, but taking out the most presently dangerous revisionist organization could go a long way in helping the authorities stabilize the situation.
An explosion of Naga nationalism in northern Sagaing Region and a potentially subsequent Indian intervention there would have Asian-reverberating consequences and would almost unequivocally evoke a negative counter-reaction from China. Beijing is unlikely to respond to a military-Naga conflict, but it would be pressed into an urgent security dilemma if New Delhi got directly involved, in which case it too might formally intervene in Myanmar. China isn’t concerned about the Nagas in particular, but what would rattle the nerves of its decision makers would be India confidently launching an international military operation within close vicinity to its borders and in a geostrategic country of pivotal interest to it. There’s a high likelihood that China would interpret this as a massive power play by its continental rival to cripple Beijing’s influence there, and correspondingly, it might feel pressed to symmetrically respond in kind under similar pretexts in Shan State in order to retain a significant degree of control there and possibly lay the groundwork for constructing a buffer state.
Beijing’s “Humanitarian Intervention”
China is already aware that it’s progressively losing influence with each passing day in what was previously one of its most steadfast geopolitical allies, and an Indian military intervention there (whether unilaterally initiated or in joint coordination with Naypyidaw) would irreversibly weaken its position by completely upsetting the strategic balance that presently exists between the two Great Power rivals. Fearing that the worst is yet to come and that the entire country would either fall under the direct military influence of the Chinese Containment Coalition or rapidly descend into a free-for-all of Identity Federalized states, China could launch its own intervention in Shan State in a bid to uphold its influence there and safeguard its southern periphery. Unlike India, China could attempt to justify its moves on the pretext of “humanitarian intervention”, possibly in helping the ethnic Chinese Wa and Kokang. If this sequence of events transpires, China might only conservatively intervene in these respective sub-state ethnic enclaves or it could more liberally (and riskily) take its campaign throughout the rest of Shan State, depending of course on how far India goes in Sagaing Region and what the Chinese military’s cost-benefit analysis is of the conflict.
To return to one of the main themes that’s currently ongoing in Myanmar, it appears as though the country will inevitably fracture into Identity Federalized units, which in that case could create an opportunity for the US, India, and/or Japan to ‘leapfrog’ their soft and hard influence assets into Shan State and all the way up to the Chinese border. By launching an advance military intervention in this neighboring part of the country, triggered by India’s own anti-Naga campaign in the corresponding Sagaing region, China could block the unipolar forces ahead of time and ensure that they don’t pose as much of a threat as they otherwise could have had Beijing remained passive throughout the entire federalization process. Theoretically speaking, there’s not necessarily a problem with this scenario and it would appear to be in the interests of both Great Powers (albeit to Myanmar’s sovereign expense), but the major issue that could arise is if India interprets this not as a symmetrically defensive reaction to its own military involvement in Myanmar but as an aggressive power play in its own right, which in that instance could spike the security dilemma between the two and dangerously see the nuclear powers maneuvering against one another in the third-country civil war-ravaged battlespace.
‘Race For Mandalay’ And A New Kachin Conflict
It’s difficult to project what exactly could happen next, but it’s reasonable that one of the possibilities is a ‘Race for Mandalay’. It would be logistically challenging for either of them to rapidly project the force and supply lines needed to sustain an effective offensive against Myanmar’s second-largest city, especially considering that the Myanmar military and local population would probably oppose them every step of the jungled way, but all that’s needed is for New Delhi or Beijing to give what is interpreted by the other as a signal in this direction (even unintentionally) to spark a frantic ‘race for keeps’ in Northern Myanmar. If the state starts collapsing amidst this chaos and/or a coordinated uprising of other peripheral ethno-regional groups during this tumult, then it’s possible that the military might tacitly side with one of the two invading armies out of the self-interested concern that they could protect its interests in the post-conflict environment. Less dramatically and probably much more likely in the event of a limited Indian and Chinese intervention against the Naga Self-Administered Zone and in support of the Wa and/or Kokang people respectively, New Delhi and Beijing might begin jockeying against one another for influence over the Kachin State geopolitical fulcrum that rests between them, likely leading to a renewal of hostilities there as part of a proxy conflict between the two Great Powers.
Clash Of Civilizations
Myanmar is at risk of falling victim to a manufactured “clash of civilizations” between its three primary religions, with extremist leaders from each of them capable of leading their respective constituencies to violence against their religiously different compatriots. To recap, Myanmar’s three largest religions are Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, and they can be broadly categorized in the following way:
The Ethno-Regional Connection To Religion:
The oldest religion in Myanmar, its followers are distributed all throughout the country and present in every region. Like with all faiths, the vast majority of its practitioners are moderate and respectful of others, but regretfully there’s been an evident rise in extremist sentiment within this demographic over the past decade. Self-described as the “Buddhist Bin Laden”, Ashin Wirathu was one of the hyper-nationalist Buddhist monks that supported the 2012 anti-“Rohingya” pogrom in Rakhine State. This event inspired likeminded individuals all across the country to unite in forming the “Patriotic Association of Myanmar’, otherwise known as the Ma Ba Tha, a Buddhist nationalist party that’s currently at tense odds with Suu Kyi and her predicted plans to amend the constitution. Looking back, one can trace the origin of this movement to the 2007 Saffron Revolution, when hyper-nationalist Buddhist monks became the vanguard of a failed Color Revolution in Yangon.
Christians comprise a small but geographically significant minority of Myanmar’s citizens concentrated mostly along the country’s peripheral regions. They’re strongly represented among the Chin, Naga, Kachin, and some of the Karen, and they owe their faith to the proselytization practices of American missions over the past two centuries. By and large, this hasn’t ever been a consequential factor of destabilization in Myanmar, although it obviously contributed to yet another sense of separateness that some of these ethno-regional groups feel towards the centrally positioned Buddhist Bamar. In the case of the Karen, it notably led to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army splintering off from the Christian-majority Karen National Union in 1994, but aside from that, the Christian faith traditionally hasn’t been an agent of civil war-relevant developments in the country.
Now that the conflict is beginning to subside and all sides appear poised to launch Panglong 2.0 in the coming future, the threat of Christian vigilante militias is now starting to emerge in Kachin State and upset the region’s stability. The Pat Jasan are an evangelizing Christian group established in 2014, but which only recently initiated an anti-opium campaign that put them at odds with some of the local drug-trading militias. A late-February attack injured a few dozen of them as they were clearing an opium field near the regional capital, propelling the group into the domestic and international spotlight and earning them sympathetic coverage from the US government-financed Radio Free Asia information platform. Projecting ahead into the coming months, it seems probable that the US will continue to implicitly support the Pat Jasan and encourage them to continue their activities, not because Washington is against the cultivation of opium, but because it knows that any further provocations related to the group could present a valuable opportunity for the US to involve itself in the affairs of this resource-rich frontier region.
The last of Myanmar’s three main religions, Muslims are a very small minority of the country’s population and are only relevantly represented by the Bengali “Rohingya” of Rakhine State. The research earlier spoke about the situational particularities of this group, specifically underlining the identity differences between this minority and the Buddhist Rakhine majority. The author himself is not prejudiced one way or another, but the point in emphasizing the separateness between these two groups was to illustrate just how easy it is for provocative actors (whether internal and/or external) to engineer a ‘clash of civilizations’ scenario between them. The reader would do well to recall that the Bengali “Rohingya” have a history of mujahedin insurgency and outright terrorism, and that Al Qaeda, Daesh, and even the Somali-based Al Shabaab are actively seeking recruits from this demographic. The linkage that might be established between some extremist-inclined Bengali “Rohingyas” and the world’s most notorious transnational terrorist organizations is certainly a cause for global concern, and this very realistic possibility contributes to the already highly volatile mix of ‘civilizationally clashing’ elements in Myanmar.
The author is of the stance that any ‘clash of civilizations’ would be artificially instigated as a means of pursuing local, regional, and/or international objectives, and that there is nothing inherently combustible about Myanmar’s varied civilizational arrangement. That being said, the US is obviously cognizant of the country’s religious layout and can manipulate relevant identity tensions as a means of pressuring Naypyidaw, which it has already shown itself more than capable of doing in promoting hyper-nationalist Buddhist aggression against the government in 2007 and the Bengali “Rohingya” from 2012 onwards. It’s for these reasons why it’s pertinent to explore all of the other ‘civilizational conflict’ scenarios that the US might one day construct, as well as explain the chief interests that it would have in possibly doing so.
Muslim vs Buddhist
This scenario was already elaborated on in depth when discussing the Bengali “Rohingyas”, and like the author earlier emphasized, identity differences are very tense in this region and susceptible to any type of malicious manipulation. Aside from the geopolitical reasons that have previously been discussed, the US might want to instigate an interstate conflict between Myanmar and Bangladesh, with the former supporting the majority Buddhist Rakhine and the latter intervening to assist the minority Muslim Bengali “Rohingya”. Broadening the scope of this scenario, China and India might quickly get involved as well to certain varying extents, dependent of course on which of these states the two Great Powers have more influence and interests in at the given moment.
More likely than not, China would throw its weight behind Myanmar because of its strategic interests in Kyaukpyu and the China-Myanmar Energy Corridor that runs through Rakhine State (which could one day evolve into a Myanmar Silk Road if a high-speed rail line is ever constructed alongside it). India might also support Myanmar out of simple pragmatism, or, if its Ministry of External Affairs’ specialists are as clumsy in this situation as they were in handling the Nepali violence that broke out last fall, they might forego their larger geopolitical interests in Myanmar in favor of siding with Bangladesh. Although it might seem odd to infer such a thing, it actually wouldn’t be as unreasonable as some might initially think. India has recently renewed its relationship with Bangladesh and is moving the two towards a ‘renaissance’ of bilateral relations, driven mostly by India’s dependency on its eastern neighbor in facilitating access to its own Siliguri-bottlenecked Northeast Provinces.
New Delhi’s “Act East” policy and ASEAN Highway ambitions would be rendered useless if it couldn’t retain control of the ‘Seven Sisters’, and Dhaka is acutely aware of this massive strategic vulnerability that its greater neighbor has. In parallel, it also understands the disproportionate role that it’s envisioned to play in helping India strengthen its sovereignty there, so it could foreseeably exploit this advantage in swaying New Delhi over to its side in any prospective hostilities with Myanmar. Although this might complicate Bangladesh’s relationship with China, Dhaka is already trying to play off Beijing and New Delhi to maximum economic advantage, so it’s not improbable that its leadership might calculate (whether rightfully or wrongfully) that it could acquire some major benefit from tactically lobbying India’s support in this scenario. This would also be consistent with its unprecedentedly friendly moves towards its larger neighbor as well, but if it goes as far as insinuating some sort of blackmail against India’s by-then Bangladesh-transiting Northeast trade corridor, then it might have the reverse effect and elicit very negative diplomatic-economic consequences.
In general, the outbreak of a Muslim-Buddhist/”Rohingya”-Rakhine conflict in Myanmar is a potential trigger for a larger conflict between Bangladesh and Myanmar, one which could lead to China and India taking sides and escalating their New Cold War competition with one another via their respective proxies. Additionally, it could also invite out-of-regional Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and/or Turkey to support their co-confessionals in Myanmar and bring their state-sponsored terrorist infrastructure to Southeast Asia and the southern gates of China.
Muslim vs Christian
While this is the archetypical “clash of civilization” trope, it’s unlikely to actually play out in Myanmar. The only possible chance of this occurring would be if the Bengali “Rohingya” enter into some kind of conflict with their Christian Chin neighbors, but since neither has any territorial disputes against the other, it doesn’t seem too probable. The border between the two is also very mountainous, so it would be difficult for the Bengali “Rohingya” to lay and sustain any possible claims to it. Additionally, even in the event that Bengali “Rohingya” fighters sought to exploit this geographic factor in order to broaden their possible anti-government insurgency, it’s not expected that their conflict with the Chin would expand past the territorial level and into the religious-civilizational realm.
In any case, if the Bengali “Rohingya” and Christian Chin come to blows with one another, no matter how this event comes about, it would complicate Myanmar’s already tangled civil war situation and might even increase India’s indirect involvement. Assuming that the military is either unwilling or incapable of exercising law and order in the far-flung Rakhine-Chin border area, it’s possible that the Chin might seek the material or logistical assistance of their related Christian counterparts in Northeast India, the Mizo people of Mizoram. There are already concerns in that part of India that the Bengali demographic majority have been infringing on the rights and sensitivities of the native Tripura people in Tripura state, which borders Mizoram, and the perception or actual fact of Bengali “Rohingya” doing the same thing to ethno-linguistically related and co-confessional Christian Chin in Myanmar might lead to a militant coalescence of identity that engenders the transnationalization of what otherwise might have remained a minor mountain skirmish.
If such this scenario, however unlikely it might appear at present, actually makes progress towards happening, then India would find itself in a real geopolitical dilemma. On the one hand, it would be compelled to offer diplomatic support for the Chin-related Mizo population in the Northeast, but on the other, it wouldn’t have anything tangible to gain from doing so. Quite the contrary, India’s involvement in Myanmar (whether diplomatic, covert, or conventional) over an ethno-regional group as obscure and almost totally irrelevant as the Chin would endanger its larger interests in the region and possibly destabilize its entire “Act East” policy without receiving anything worthwhile of measure in return. At the same time, however, it wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘abandoning’ its sympathetic citizens that support their cross-border kin, especially since the cause they’d be engaged in (stopping Bengali irredentism) is one which directly affects India proper via the similar fears stemming from Bengali demographic asymmetry in Tripura state.
Because this situation could quickly develop into a classic Catch-22 for India, whereby it must choose between the lesser evil of subverting its “Act East” plans in favor of supporting an irrelevant identity group or turning a dangerously blind eye to perceived Bengali irredentism, it can be said that the main profiteer from this scenario would be the US, but only in the case that it wants to purposefully force India into this dilemma (e.g. punish it for not joining the Chinese Containment Coalition). Relatedly, if India is tricked into backing its Mizo minority in their cross-border support for fellow Christian co-confessionals and ethnic Chin kin against the Muslim Bengali “Rohingya”, then this would negatively reflect on New Delhi’s relations with Dhaka, which as was explained when discussing the previous scenario branch, is disproportionately important for India as regards the retention of its sovereign administrative-economic influence in the Northeast. Furthermore, if India starts interfering in Myanmar’s civil strife, it can be expected that China might immediately respond by doing the same thing vis-à-vis Shan State in order to not lose any assumed influence to its Asian rival.
Christian vs Buddhist
Conflict between these two confessions isn’t just likely, it’s already a proven state of affairs, although it isn’t presently emphasized as such. The Kachin Independence Organization and its affiliated ‘army’ have been fighting against the Myanmar military for decades, and they’re still one of the many groups that have yet to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. While hostilities aren’t currently ongoing, the two sides are still technically at odds with one another, although it doesn’t seem foreseeable that either of them will militantly reengage with the other any time soon. While a ‘cold peace’ seems to have settled over Kachin State, the risk is that new Christian miltias such as Pat Jasan could function as the ultimate ‘wild card’ in provoking violence between the two sides, despite both of them not appearing interested in seeing this happen.
The danger that Pat Jasan poses is that it’s “formally” not a militia, although it could easily organize itself into one and certainly has the pre-established coordination network to do so. Not only that, but unlike the Kachin Independence Organization, Pat Jasan isn’t ‘accountable’ to the general population, but only to its fellow Christian evangelists. Considering that its Baptist identity ensures that proselytization is a key part of its activities, it can be critiqued that the group overemphasizes its Christian identity in a provocative way that could expectedly put it at odds with minority Buddhists or even moderate Christians. With its latest opium-eradication stunt ending in (unprovoked?) violence, yet as seen by the US government-managed Radio Free Asia’s staunch support of them, it can be reasonably reckoned that Pat Jasan and any other organizations like it are destabilizing agents that threaten to undermine the ‘cold peace’ in Kachin State.
Through one way or another, whether via aggressive proselytization or anti-drug tactics, these types of organizations can initiate a sequence of events that result in a reignition of hostilities between the Kachin Independence Organization and the military, or possibly even between their own Christian militias and the authorities. Even if it’s only between the KIO and the military, Pat Jasan could involve itself in an unofficial support capacity on the side of its ethnic affiliates, but also employing its international Baptist connections to solicit “charitable donations” and favorable international media coverage (like has already happened with Radio Free Asia). Furthermore, its strong Christian identity could lead to it purposefully and inaccurately characterizing any renewal of violence in Kachin State as being a ‘civilizational conflict’ between ‘poor, desperate Christian tribesmen’ and the ‘dictatorial Buddhist military’, pushing a manipulated narrative which would surely resonate in the West and attract considerable media attention to their cause.
The US’ interest in this projected example is to achieve and maintain scenario dominance in mineral- and hydropower-rich Kachin State, or in other words, the capability to disrupt the existing state of affairs when and if it chooses. This strategy pretty much sums up what the US seeks to do in all of the countries that are most vulnerable to Hybrid War. Concerning Kachin State in particular, the US could provoke a return to hostilities there in order to distract the military by forcing them to respond to a redeveloping conflict in the far-flung northern fringe of the country, albeit one in which the economic riches at stake (jade) are far too profitable to be left alone and ignored. If timed in such a way that it coincides with another outbreak of conflict elsewhere in the country, then a renewed war in Kachin State (provoked by Pat Jasan or other unofficial Christian militias) might prove successful in unnecessarily bogging down the military with a peripheral distraction prior to a more considerable armed threat emerging and dealing an unbalancing blow against it. Pretty much, Kachin State functions as an insatiable military distraction that could siphon off valuable time, energy, and focus from the military in anticipation of a preplanned and complementary rebel and/or Color Revolution campaign against it.
Getting Them Mad:
The last Unconventional Warfare scenario serves more as a bridge to concluding the entire research, since it connects the existing possibilities with the forthcoming and final Color Revolution one and can conceptually happen at any moment amidst the course of those events. Still, the possibility of a military coup is a vaguely faint one and not at all likely to be attempted under the current conditions. The high-ranking and influential members of the military have already been co-opted and neutralized by the US’ post-sanctions ‘personal enrichment’ tactic, and many others that weren’t lucky enough to partake in the windfall of insider-connected profits are well aware of the asymmetrical Color Revolution tricks that the US could pull out against them. Nevertheless, despite whatever the rank-and-file trooper might think, what happens in Myanmar’s military, as with all such institutions across the world, is what its leadership believes and chooses to act on, and in this case, the top brass is not inclined at all to interfere in the country’s current political and administrative transition. This bribery-blackmail tactic, however, only works as long as the military leaders are not forcibly swept from power or have their profitable economic positions challenged, because the moment that they encounter a real and systemic threat to their interests, this entire paradigm becomes irrelevant.
To explain, as Myanmar moves closer to Panglong 2.0 focusing on Identity Federalism, many unpredictable developments could occur simply because there are much too many independently moving parts in the world’s longest-running civil war for there to be an entirely smooth post-conflict transition. While the author accounts for the equivalent of a ‘political miracle’ in peacefully resolving all aspects of this war, it’s much more realistic to expect that some sort of difficulties will likely be encountered, ergo the purpose of the entire research in fact. What’s principally important in this examined scenario is to monitor the military’s institutional role and the position of its current elite, since if any relevant changes endanger the economic profits of its ‘personally enriched’ leadership, then there’s a distinct possibility that they’ll push back in some capacity or another if they aren’t discretely sidelined in advance. Granted, there’s also the almost improbable chance that there’ll be an internal military coup by patriotic multipolar elements within this said institution, but that could only happen in reaction to spiraling domestic economic and security conditions, which in any case the military’s top brass would probably already be responding to. No matter if it’s that trigger or the one that was originally examined in which the military’s ‘personally enriched’ leaders lose their power and riches or have them threatened by the prospective Panglong 2.0’s negotiations (e.g. constitutionally separating the military and its current and former representatives from civil-economic affairs), it’s possible that a sequence of events could develop which influences key military leaders to backtrack from their current ‘pro-democratic’ trajectory and revert to directly involving themselves in the country’s political affairs.
Regardless of the pertinent trigger and how the military chooses to respond, the very fact of Myanmar’s military interfering once more in the country’s political affairs would spark an outcry of condemnation from the West and the rest of the country’s new “partners”, possibly even with the threat of a reimposition of sanctions. This could very easily push Myanmar back into the Chinese fold if the sanctioned state of affairs persists for a prolonged time, but it’s practically impossible that that would happen. If the military makes a move against Suu Kyi that’s not approved of by the US, then the guaranteed return to the sanctions regime would have a devastatingly destabilizing effect on its population and almost immediately lead to a Color Revolution. It’s through this means that the US is able to retain scenario dominance in promoting its unipolar vision for Myanmar, but having explained that, there actually exists a very specific scenario in which the US might ironically support a military coup against Suu Kyi, albeit one which is carried out in a very quick and methodical manner.
The research has been emphasizing since the very beginning that the US might initiate a Hybrid War against Suu Kyi if she ever pragmatically interacts with China and proceeds with its Myanmar Silk Road plans (i.e. a high-speed railroad between Kyaukpyu and Kunming along the existing pipeline corridor), so if this happens, then as the saying goes, ‘all bets are off the table’ and a military coup might eventually become a quick and ideal option for quickly disposing of her and her presidential proxy while leaving most of the country relatively intact. Of course, the US would probably attempt an intra-party NLD coup against her and her political surrogate first (whether over or covert), but if that doesn’t work, a military coup might become a move that it would could favor under the right circumstances. For example, an anti-Suu Kyi military coup without any preceding domestic disturbances would, as was just previously written, result in a reactionary Color Revolution and possibly even the temporary alliance of all rebel groups against the government. The pro-federalist fighters would understandably feel that they have everything to lose if the coup is carried out before or during the Panglong 2.0 negotiations, but if Suu Kyi had already squandered the naively optimistic goodwill of the population by this time, either through inefficient administrative mishandling of the country and/or militarily provoking the peripheral rebels (or falling for the US’ traps in doing so), then they might be less hostile to this development.
Furthermore, the reader is likely imagining that any military coup would be a ‘conventional’ or ‘traditional’ one on par with what happened in 1988, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. Much more likely, should a military coup even be commenced, is that it would proceed along the lines of Thailand’s 2014 one. The Bangkok events were marked by a rapid military putsch against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her rapid replacement with a military general, all without significantly disrupting the country or its economy. Of course, Thailand has what can almost be called a ‘political tradition’ of military coups and its society is more preconditioned to such events than any other in ASEAN (or even in the world for that matter), but that doesn’t mean that Myanmar’s military couldn’t replicate this to the most effective extent possible.
As a speculated example, if the US’ anticipated social and structural preconditioning campaign succeeds to the length of convincing the domestic and international public of the perceived need to have Suu Kyi and her presidential proxy replaced, the military could handily carry that out, even if it doesn’t assume power in the aftermath. In fact, if there’s an intra-party NLD political crisis, then whoever her forthcoming rival happens to be could end up being the individual that replaces her via the military’s swift support. The reader should remember once more that this isn’t what some might criticize as ‘political fiction’, but as a scenario branch building upon preexisting and concrete geopolitical facts, namely that Myanmar does in fact have a history of military rule and that the US has a definite interest in subverting any perceived-to-be ‘pro-Chinese’ leader, whether it’s Suu Kyi or anyone else. Considering this, it’s possible that if the US had the intent to do so, then it could synthesize these two factors in promoting a military coup to advance its anti-Chinese interests and retain Myanmar’s position in the ‘Chinese Containment Coalition’. In fact, in that case, and provided that the military carries out a Thai-like coup using the civil society leadership improvisation that was mentioned (i.e. the military acting to replace Suu Kyi and her presidential proxy with a fellow NLD rival), then it’s altogether possible that the US would not reimpose any sanctions against Myanmar, despite whatever face-saving ‘democratic’ rhetoric it would proceed to spew.
Revolting Against The Color Revolutionary Queen:
The final Hybrid War scenario to be examined is ironically the one which typically begins the chain of asymmetrical warfare events. In most cases, an ongoing or failed Color Revolution transitions into an Unconventional War within a varying amount of time, but in the case of Suu Kyi’s Myanmar, the sequence is much more likely to occur in reverse and in response to the government’s failed peace efforts at resolving the civil war. Again, it must be emphasized that although Suu Kyi is unlikely to ever formally lead the country, she’s indisputably recognized as the power behind the President, so when speaking about ‘regime change’ and ‘deposing her’, it’s meant that her proxy of choice will be replaced by someone else’s (possible an anti-Chinese NLD rival or opportunist) and/or she could be pressured to permanently retire from political life and surrender her influence over the government. In this sense, a Color Revolution could be aimed directly against her personally and/or indirectly via her presidential proxy, but in either case, the intent is the same – remove what by then would be ‘pro-Chinese’ political influence in the country in order to reverse a decision to construct the Myanmar Silk Road (a high-speed rail project from Kyaukpyu to Kunming).
Buddhists And Students:
Just like in the past, the most likely elements to partake in this commotion are students and Buddhist monks, with the former being the vanguard during the “8888 Uprising” and the latter playing a determining role in the 2007 Saffron Revolution. Bringing these two regime change elements together is only a matter of time and would be a logical tactical innovation on behalf of the anti-government movement, which was earlier touched upon in the research in the relevant section. To get into the particulars, it’s not known which existing or to-be-created student groups would partake in the forthcoming coup movement, but as for the Buddhist monks, it can reasonably be predicted that the Ma Ba Tha and Ashin Wirathu, the self-proclaimed “Buddhist Bin Laden”, would be actively involved. One should remember that this group is growing increasingly antagonistic to Suu Kyi because they fear that her government won’t do enough to safeguard the traditional role that Buddhism has held in the country for centuries.
Relatedly, they suspect that Naypyidaw might reach a deal with the Muslim Bengali “Rohingya” that could grant them citizenship, accorded legal rights, and their own government-recognized minority status, which in turn could lead to them playing a role in Panglong 2.0, much to the perceived detriment of the Buddhist Rakhine. Once more, the research returns to a common theme that has been emphasized all throughout the study, which is that the conflict between the minority Muslim Bengali “Rohingya” and the majority Buddhist Rakhine in Rakhine State is the most likely variable which could spark a renewed outbreak of violence in the country. For these reasons, any Buddhist monk-led anti-government manifestations anywhere in the country must be closely watched in order to monitor whether they’ll have a demonstration effect on similar actions in Rakhine State, which as was explained, could likely exacerbate tensions with the Muslim Bengali “Rohingya” and unravel whatever erstwhile stability had hitherto been achieved in the country. Furthermore, in and of itself regardless if they spill over into Rakhine State or not, Buddhist monk-driven protests have the potential to magnetically appeal to a majority of the country’s pious inhabitants, misleading them into thinking that the anti-government movement has “normative” legitimacy solely due to the participation of generic socially-respected religious figures within in.
Finally, a less likely but still plausible Color Revolution scenario that could break out in Myanmar involves a “national awakening” among the peripheral minorities and their active involvement in an interrelated but separately functioning regime change movement. In this instance, the civilian representatives of the rebelling ethnic groups start protesting against the government, whether on their own and for local reasons or as part of a coordinated movement organized under the aegis of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). It’s possible that an unplanned protest somewhere could lead to a domino reaction of copycat movements all throughout the relevant state and its rebel neighbors, or that the tactic of peripheral minority protests is specifically applied by the UNFC as it prepares for Panglong 2.0 or in reaction to a government move against their general objectives during this time. Either way, if carried out in conjunction with a supportive media campaign (both traditional and social), and possibly even with the ‘normative’ patronage of a ‘liberal celebrity’ such as George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, there’s a chance that the “national awakening” scenario could become a globally recognized issue that could put tremendous pressure on the authorities. In fact, this model could be strategically deployed prior to or during a state of increased tension between Naypyidaw and the peripheral provinces as a means of deterring a military strike against the rebels, no matter what the pretenses for such an action would be and whether it would be on the military’s own prerogative or in reaction to a rebel provocation.
Continuing along this train of thought, the most likely candidates for participating in and leading this movement would obviously be the Bengali “Rohingyas”, the Kachin, the Shan State minorities, and the Karen. The Bengali “Rohingyas” don’t have any significant civil society support groups within Myanmar that could agitate on their behalf and organize any coordinated semblance of protest, so in this case and due to their particular domestic situation in the country, it’s very possible that the activist stage of any anti-government movement by them would be skipped over in practical favor of an immediate riot. Things are different with the Kachin, Shan, and Karen, since all three of them have associated rebel groups that could either directly organize the ‘democratic’ disturbances or use a front organization to do so on their behalf. Concerning the Kachin and to a certain extent the Karen, it’s likely that any protest movement by these minority groups would incorporate their Christian identity (remembering that only about a third of Karen are Christian, although their most important rebel group, the Karen National Union, is almost entirely of this faith). The Kachin Independence Organization might be reluctant to emphasize this religious quality because it would want to temper the possibility that the uncontrollable and fundamentalist Pat Jasan might hijack their movement for its own purposes, which in that event would probably allow them to receive immediate and substantial “Christian charitable” support from abroad and favorable international news coverage. There’s a possible chance that a Pat Jasan-like organization could also take root in Kayin State, as could a Ma Ba Tha-like group do so in Shan State, but at this moment there’s no documented evidence to suggest that this is happening.
Andrew Korybko is the author of the monograph “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change” (2015). This text will be included into his forthcoming book on the theory of Hybrid Warfare.