November 11, 2007:
A recent attempt to overthrow
the dictatorship in Myanmar (Burma) failed. Quick police action against
civilians, and Buddhist monks who organized and led the demonstrations,
resulted in about 200 dead, over a thousand injured and at least 3,000
arrested. It all began two months ago, Buddhist monks, mobilized popular unrest
over an increase in the price of fuel. The unrest was suppressed with by
arrests, raids on monasteries and shutting down cell phone and Internet
Similar disturbances in 1998 resulted in violence
that left over 3,000 dead (mostly demonstrators). The military are not just
killing people, but very effectively shutting down any organization the
demonstrators have. The army and police have planned for this sort of thing
better than the demonstrators. The Burmese dictatorship is one of the most
efficient on the planet. The generals who run the country not only organize
well inside Burma, but also make sure that their larger neighbors don't
International calls for neighboring China, India
and Bangladesh to lean on the military dictatorship in Myanmar brought forth,
very little. China announced that it had said some diplomatically appropriate,
but essentially harmless, things to the generals running Myanmar (Burma).
Actually, the Myanmar dictatorship, and the Chinese one, have gotten along well
for decades. First, in a joint campaign to shut down the heroin production
along their common border. The main reason Afghanistan is now producing most of
the world's heroin, is because Burma and China worked together to eradicate it
in their mutual back yard. More recently, there are the Chinese companies that
are developing Burma's natural gas deposits, with energy starved China being
the main customer.
India has been quiet about the pro-democracy
demonstrations in Burma (Myanmar), which borders India's restive northeastern
tribal areas. Both India and Burma have problems with the tribes on their
mutual border, and, although democratic India dislikes the military dictatorship
in Burma, both nations have been increasingly cooperating against the tribes in
the past few years.
India, and Bangladesh have made an informal deal
with Myanmar to drive rebels from each others borders. Over the last few years,
the three countries have worked out these deals, to rid themselves of rebel
groups that had been driven to the border, and only survived because they could
flee across the border and set up camp until the troops hunting them were gone.
For decades, Myanmar's neighbors avoided such cooperative relations, as a form
of protest against the military dictatorship in Myanmar. But now, the need to
deal with various rebel organizations has overcome this distaste. India is also
selling weapons to Myanmar, to obtain a little more enthusiastic cooperation in
the anti-rebel department.
Myanmar has been ruled by a military dictatorship
for the last 45 years. The generals have run the economy into the ground, and
succeeded in suppressing all attempts at establishing a representative government.
They have also managed to maintain the support of a fairly large army. How have
they managed to pull this off for so long? Simple, the generals have
concentrated on maintaining the loyalty of the officers and senior NCOs in the
armed forces. This is done by making the military a well paid, by Burmese
standards, profession, and select carefully from among those who apply to be
About one percent of Burma's 50 million people are
in the armed forces (including paramilitary intelligence and security secret
police type organizations.) The secret police keep an eye on the troops, and
the troops keep an eye (and often gun pointed at) the people. Myanmar only
spends about a billion dollars a year on the armed forces, most of that going
to pay and living expenses of infantry troops.
All this goes to show that military power is more
than high tech weapons and using a lot of firepower. Having friends in the
right places has a power greater than masses of trigger-happy troops.