By Kyle Sweitzer
“The U.S. taking active involvement in Myanmar works against the United States’ fastest growing rival and helps the nation reinstall freedom and peace to a collapsing state.”
Anniversary of Revolution
February 1st, 2021 was a dark and fearful day for the country of Myanmar. A year later, the military coup which overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy still propagates fear as the nation devolves into an aftermath of chaos. The Tatmadaw, or armed forces, took over after Suu Kyi’s second 5-year election, despite a landslide victory, claiming the election to be full of mass fraud. Myanmar’s instability, however, presents an opportunity for the United States to balance power against China and restore peace to the deteriorating nation.
The Tatmadaw under Prime Minister Gen. Min Aung Hlaing took power, disbanded political parties, barred Suu Kyi from reelection because of her English husband, and continues to escalate violence in the region. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports 440,000 people have been internally displaced in the last year adding to the already 370,000 people who fled their home in previous years.
The country is deteriorating into chaos as widespread flash mobs and protests against the Tatmadaw’s takeover have become more violent. Reports of 1,500 dead civilians are slowly causing people to label Myanmar as a state in the middle of a civil war. Multiple bombings by the resistance parties and suppressed state control over media coverage are hallmarks of such a civil war.
Where Does the United States Stand?
So, who does the United States support? President Biden’s administration has condemned the violence on all sides and has only given $1.5 billion since 2012 whilst committing to mild sanctions. The Tatmadaw has suppressed freedoms and resorted to lethal force against their own population. Reports of violent putdowns of protestors and guerilla fighters bombing state buildings have become normalized and absent in U.S. news. Many parts of Myanmar are all-out warzones between resistance fighters and the military.
Suu Kyi is also suspect. The Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, she has valiantly fought to give freedom to the people of Myanmar, drawing similarities to a figure like Lech Walsea in Poland. However, she remains suspect because of her defense of the Tatmadaw’s actions against the Muslim Rohingya people in 2017, going so far as to “deny allegations of genocide.” Even if genocide has not incurred, there is still a significant risk to the vulnerable and exposed 600,000 Rohingya people who fled to Bangladesh and are housed at the largest refugee settlement in the world, Kutupalong.
A Real(ism) Solution
In an effort to balance against China, Myanmar is a crucial state for the U.S. to support to be able to compete against the growing regional hegemon north of Myanmar. China only can benefit from the catastrophe of their southern neighbors, while increasingly siphoning oil and natural gas from the region.
The United States does not need to force democracy on the already unstable region. The United States needs to enforce stability and pass the buck of China to a friendly U.S. Myanmar. The United States has needed to transfer to international relation’s realist theory after the Cold War. The realist theory recognizes that every nation seeks survival and security in an anarchic world and will behave in a manner to ensure these things.
The United States too often overspends sparse resources in the name of spreading liberal democracy, seemingly in vain. Afghanistan serves as an example of this. Myanmar should not be a nation-building mission, but it is of crucial importance for U.S. opportunists to use realism theory and offshore balance against China.
Offshore balancing is when a great power, like the United States, checks a potentially hostile power, like China, using favorable regional powers, like a secure Myanmar. Offshore balancing does not necessarily mean sending thousands of U.S. troops to Myanmar or even practicing isolationism. Offshore balancing is a way to intervene by balancing assets without getting tangled in nation-building for twenty years. It is a strategy of burden shifting not burden sharing. China has already experimented with offshore balancing in the Middle East, while the U.S. is playing catchup since abandoning such a philosophy in 1990.
If Myanmar falls, China can only benefit from one less competitor in Asia. China is the largest growing threat to U.S. national security and the nation’s survival. The U.S. taking active involvement in Myanmar works against the United States’ fastest growing rival and helps the nation reinstall freedom and peace to a collapsing state.
Kyle Sweitzer is a senior at Grove City College studying political science and national security. He is excited to start his second year at the Institute for Faith & Freedom as a student marketing fellow. This past summer, Kyle was an emerging leader working in programs and development at The Acton Institute, a think tank in Grand Rapids, MI.
Kyle serves on the executive team on orientation board and serves on student government as Senior Class President. He is also a member of Alpha Epsilon Chi, a men’s housing group on campus.
Kyle enjoys researching into issues in national security and criminal justice.