Myanmar’s potential collapse would have regional repercussions

Myanmar’s potential collapse would have regional repercussions

Myanmar’s potential collapse would have regional repercussions
Above, a member of the Myanmar security forces mans a checkpoint in Yangon on July 19, 2022. (AFP)
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Myanmar, a nation marred by decades of internal strife, is teetering on the brink of collapse. The ongoing civil war, fueled by deep-seated ethnic tensions, has reached a critical juncture and the government’s ability to maintain control is rapidly diminishing. At the heart of this conflict is the Three Brotherhood Alliance, a coalition of ethnic armed groups challenging the authority of the Myanmar government. As the nation grapples with this internal strife, the repercussions extend far beyond its borders, casting a dark shadow over the entire region.

The military rulers are facing the consequences of their oppressive actions and the situation is turning grim. It is one thing to use force against unarmed civilian protesters or villagers armed only with rudimentary weapons like hunting rifles and bows and arrows. However, the dynamic shifts dramatically when opposing forces possess modern weaponry.

The regime is disintegrating at an alarming pace. Entire battalions are surrendering, holding onto their arsenal of weapons. These troops are weary of supporting a military apparatus where lower-ranking soldiers sacrifice their lives to sustain the lavish lifestyles of the military’s upper echelons. These leaders indulge in the spoils they have looted from the national treasury.

The Three Brotherhood Alliance, composed of the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, has emerged as a formidable force. These ethnic armed groups, representing various marginalized communities, have united against the central government, seeking autonomy and recognition of their rights. Their grievances are deeply rooted in historical marginalization, discriminatory policies and a lack of political representation.

The Myanmar government’s response to these ethnic aspirations has been heavy-handed, exacerbating tensions and driving these groups further toward armed resistance. The junta’s actions, including human rights abuses and the forced displacement of communities, have galvanized support for the Three Brotherhood Alliance among marginalized ethnic populations.

The implications of Myanmar’s potential collapse are dire, both for the nation itself and the broader Southeast Asian region. A power vacuum in Myanmar could pave the way for increased regional instability, with ripple effects that may reverberate across borders.

Innocent civilians are suffering and the international community must not turn a blind eye to their plight

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

First and foremost, the humanitarian toll of the conflict cannot be understated. Innocent civilians caught in the crossfire are suffering and the international community must not turn a blind eye to their plight. The UN and regional actors must work collaboratively to ensure the protection of civilians, facilitate humanitarian aid delivery and strive for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The collapse of the Myanmar government could also have severe economic consequences for the region. Myanmar’s strategic location, nestled between India, China, Thailand and Bangladesh, makes it a crucial player in regional trade and geopolitics. A destabilized Myanmar may disrupt vital trade routes, impacting the economies of neighboring countries and potentially triggering a domino effect across Southeast Asia.

China, with its significant economic and strategic interests in Myanmar, would undoubtedly be affected by the nation’s collapse. Myanmar serves as a key component in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, providing it with a gateway to the Indian Ocean. A power vacuum in Myanmar could disrupt Chinese investments and projects, leading to economic losses and potentially challenging its regional ambitions.

India, too, shares a long border with Myanmar and has historical ties with some of the ethnic groups involved in the conflict. The Indian government must carefully navigate its response, balancing its concerns for regional stability with the imperative to address the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country. The risk of the conflict spilling across borders is a pressing concern, requiring proactive diplomacy and collaboration with international partners.

Thailand, another neighboring country, faces the prospect of an influx of refugees fleeing the violence in Myanmar. The Thai government must prepare for the potential humanitarian crisis on its doorstep and work with the international community to establish mechanisms for refugee assistance and resettlement.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional organization committed to maintaining peace and stability, cannot afford to remain passive in the face of Myanmar’s impending collapse. The bloc must leverage its diplomatic influence to facilitate dialogue between the warring parties, urging them to seek a peaceful resolution through negotiation and compromise. ASEAN’s role in mediating conflicts within its member states is crucial for maintaining regional stability.

International actors, including the US and the EU, should also play a proactive role in addressing the Myanmar crisis. Further sanctions and diplomatic pressure may be necessary to compel the government to engage in genuine dialogue with ethnic armed groups, with the ultimate goal of achieving a sustainable and inclusive peace.

Myanmar’s collapse would be a tragic outcome for a nation that has struggled with decades of military rule and internal conflict. However, the international community must recognize the broader implications of this crisis and act decisively to prevent further escalation. The Three Brotherhood Alliance’s grievances cannot be ignored and a lasting solution must involve addressing the root causes of the conflict, including ethnic discrimination and the denial of political representation.

In the face of this looming crisis, regional cooperation and international intervention are imperative. The collapse of the Myanmar government should serve as a wake-up call for the global community to unite in its commitment to peace, stability and the protection of human rights. Failure to act now could have far-reaching consequences, not only for Myanmar but for the entire Southeast Asian region.

• Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the director of special initiatives at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington DC. X: @AzeemIbrahim

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view