by Roland Watson
October 2001

Note: this is a successor paper to one distributed in the Autumn of 1999. It has a refined and expanded structure and is updated to current events. (It’s conclusion, however, remains unchanged.)

Introduction to chaos theory

There are two different types of change. The first is continuous, and this is change within a system, to a part or parts of a system. Such change is equivalent to development. The second type of change is discontinuous, and this involves the transformation of a system as a whole. Such global system change is distinct from development. It constitutes evolution.

The change of a social system from dictatorship to democracy can never be accomplished continuously. The reason for this is that dictatorship is too strong. Through the inheritance of political and economic power it perpetuates itself. It is a system in equilibrium. For change of such a system to occur, a break is required. The equilibrium must be disrupted. Such a break is termed a phase transition, and it is characterized by chaos.

One example of discontinuous social change was East Timor. The shift there to democracy required chaos in the form of armed rebellion. However, even this was not enough. Change in East Timor only occurred through the disruption which developed in Indonesia as a whole. In effect, East Timor was a part of a larger system, and its freedom, its break from this larger system, was dependent on events in it.

A system is in equilibrium if it has established a measure of stability. The system either is at rest, or it is following a periodic cycle. However, if energy is applied to it, it is forced to adapt. If possible, it absorbs the additional energy without altering its fundamental structure. Or, if it is unable to do this, it creates a more complex form of order to accommodate it. In the science of chaos, it has been shown that such developments in order often occur via bifurcations.

If the energy addition is sufficiently great, the system can no longer absorb it in an orderly fashion. A threshold is passed, and turbulence - chaos - ensues. But it has also been shown that such chaos itself is not truly chaotic, not truly random. Patterns are embedded in the turbulence, and these may eventually surface, giving rise to a completely new type of organization, a new evolutionary form. (Order leads to disorder, and then back to order. Also, these patterns are referred to as strange attractors, and they are so-named because it is considered odd that there would be any underlying order in a state of chaos.)

System stability is a continuum. Some system equilibriums are stronger than others. For a weak equilibrium, a small amount of energy - a slight trigger - can lead to turbulence and disruption. For a strong one, great energy, in the form of one major trigger, or many distinct minor ones, is required to initiate a change. (Smaller disturbances may push such a system out of alignment, but not all the way into chaos. Without additional disruption one would expect it to return to its equilibrium.)

Developments in system complexity occur sporadically and unpredictably. For an increase in energy sufficient to lead to a complete system change, one action must follow another, action after action, faster and faster, until a threshold is reached, turbulence ensues, and the phase transition is accomplished.

There are many unknowns associated with chaos, the first of which is the amount of energy required to initiate the phase transition, the beginning of turbulence. Secondly, chaos itself is - of course - unpredictable. Once turbulence starts you cannot know where it will go next, or how long it will last. Because of this, it cannot be controlled. (It can only be experienced.) Indeed, chaos is the opposite of control, hence it involves risk. You cannot predict what the consequences of it will be. Further, while the theory has shown that new forms of order are embedded in the turbulence (such non-randomness would seem to imply a measure of control), there are many possible outcomes once the energy addition is dissipated (the underlying order serves only as a guide). As with water which ceases to boil when you stop heating it, the outcome could be a reversion to the prior state of affairs. The onset of chaos does not ensure evolution. Or, the chaos could be so great that the system which is subject to it fails to adapt, and dies, so again there is no evolution; instead, there is extermination and extinction. (This is evident with the many different species which are now going extinct in response to the environmental chaos created by humans.) And lastly, a real new order, a new form, might evolve.

The main consequence of all of this is that with chaos one must be alert and ready. It may be uncontrollable and unpredictable, but its negative consequences, such as the number of people who will die in a civil war, can be limited if one is prepared to confront such consequences the instant they arise (and where possible seek to prevent them). Further, as the energy subsides and the turbulence dies down, one must be ready to direct and shape the formation of the next social order. For example, for a military dictatorship which falls through chaos, activists and rebels must be prepared to begin implementing democratic institutions at the first opportunity (beginning with the installation of an independent security apparatus, such as a peace-keeping force, to halt the perpetration of atrocities in the residual disorder).

Regarding the energy needed to instigate chaos, one can only keep pushing until the requirement, whatever it might be, is met. But, as steps can be planned, and orchestrated into overall campaigns, it may be possible to accelerate the onset of turbulence, perhaps greatly.

Summary prognosis for Burma

As described below, it is unlikely that Burma will achieve democracy in the foreseeable future: at least five to ten years. The reasons for this include:

- The structures that support the dictatorship are far stronger than those which oppose it.

- There is a mistaken appraisal on the part of the opposition regarding the prerequisites for political change; for example, the current view that pressure should be eased to facilitate the talks between the dictators and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (and also as a reward for the release of a few political prisoners). The correct view is that pressure should be increased, to force the dictators to sue for peace. Indeed, the last five or so years have seen the creation of a vicious cycle. When pressure increases, the dictators soften. Then, when it eases, they accelerate their repression.

- More generally, there is a failure on the part of the opposition to accept that real instability must develop for change to occur, and that, among other things, chances must be taken. There is a belief, one could even call it a faith, that non-violent measures, i.e., activism and diplomacy, will be sufficient.

It is not true to say that violence has never solved anything. Violence as a part of self-defense is fully justified and in many cases, from individual to national, it has succeeded. Even more, if you do not fight for your liberty, you will be a slave (and if we do not fight to preserve nature, it will be destroyed). We would note, though, that the violence must be ethical – it must not involve non-combatants or the use of torture (and associated environmental damage must be minimized). Violence itself is a strange attractor, which is why many political systems established following violent revolutions have failed.

(Regarding the terrorism in America, it was, of course, completely unethical, and it will not solve - or accomplish - anything. In addition, without great care the violence which is part of the reaction to it will itself solve nothing.)

- There is little cooperation among the different elements of the opposition. Part of this is due to technical factors, such as the difficulty of finding a means to surmount the measures imposed by the dictators that restrict communications between forces inside and outside the country. However, another part is psychological: for a variety of reasons, different groups do not want to work together. We must ask, if there is little cooperation now, how can we expect a cooperative atmosphere to exist in a post-transition environment. (Cooperation, or the lack thereof, is another strange attractor.)

- Lastly, a significant element in the opposition – diplomacy by democratic states – has betrayed the cause. Such diplomacy is designed to give the appearance of pushing for democracy, but its real objective is to ensure the perpetuation of the dictatorship. Democracies rarely confront dictatorships; they will not act on principle. In the new global arena, nations compete, and the democracies want to maintain their current economic advantages, and dominance. They recognize that economic institutions in a democratic political system are far stronger than those in a dictatorship. Hence, they prefer – protestations to the contrary – that such nations remain dictatorships. This is why their diplomacy is flaccid, and also why they refuse to rein in their domestic corporations, those which support the regimes.

Chaos analysis questionnaire
(Note: the following analysis can be applied to any form and specific example of dictatorship.)

1. System

- What are the boundaries and general characteristics of the system which is subject to the dictatorship? What system requires global system change?

The subject system is the nation of Burma, which is in many ways an artificial construct, a legacy of British colonialism. It is true that geographically the nation makes some sense, with its mountainous borders on the west, north and east. However, this demarcation incorporated dozens of ethnic groups which previously enjoyed full autonomy, without their agreement. It was an example of forced nation building, the imposition of a decision by a few on a much larger public. Therefore, it is not surprising that resistance immediately sprang up, nor that it continues to this day.

- Is there a larger system of which the dictatorial system forms a part, for which the defeat of the dictatorship is dependent on change in it?

As with East Timor and Indonesia, Burma is part of a larger authoritarian system. The obvious link is with China, of which Burma is a client state, really, with the massive wave of Chinese immigration into Burma which is now taking place, a colony. More broadly, though, Burma forms part of the overall system of Asian authoritarianism, which is anchored in the legacy of Imperial China, the ideals of Confucianism, rigid class structures, and now, in the present day, rigid business structures and their related wealth concentrations. Given that the region (East Asia) forms the largest block of political dictatorship remaining on the planet, it is difficult to see how Burma (and, among others, Tibet, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore) can achieve a functioning democracy without change to this overall system, starting with change in China itself. It is likely that the change to democracy in Burma will require not only a local opposition which is able to generate local chaos, but also the achievement of democracy in China. And the latter, given that the Chinese dictatorship is one of the most entrenched political systems on earth, will itself necessitate great chaos (in China).

- Are there any other global systems which influence the dictatorship, which through their actions increase or reduce its stability?

An additional global system which supports the dictatorship in Burma, and political dictatorship in general, is the now dominant economic paradigm, capitalism, at least as it is currently practiced. To corporations (and, as we saw, to democratic governments, regarding the economic competitiveness of other nations), dictatorship represents the ideal political system. It is stable, and with sufficient incentives – bribes – monopoly market positions can be acquired. Not only must the proponents of democracy in Burma oppose China, but also an economic system which considers it acceptable, even opportunistic, to do business with mass murderers.

Also, as a final extension of the concept of embedded systems, political systems, and also economic systems, form part of, and are subject to, overall social systems, of which dictatorship is one form. (Dictatorship encompasses both politics and economics.) Similarly, social systems fall within the system of humanity, which in turn falls within the systems of this planet and the universe. It is arguable that for dictatorship and inequality to be defeated once and for all, we, the human species, will have to evolve.

2. Equilibrium

- How strong is the dictatorship; what is the stability of its system equilibrium?

On the basis of the preceding arguments, and also in consideration of the fact that there is no effective internal opposition – groups are repressed, divided, and also poorly armed – one would have to conclude that the strength of the dictatorial equilibrium in Burma is exceedingly strong. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine why the dictators would choose to leave.

- What specific forces - power structures - maintain the equilibrium and give it its strength, both within the dictatorial system itself and within such other global systems? What attributes, policies, practices and conditions contribute to its stability?

The strength of the dictatorship derives from its own actions and also from those of external parties. For the latter, the dictatorship receives great support, both direct and tacit, from its neighboring nations. (This is a reflection of the fact that they are all authoritarian to one degree or another.) As mentioned, though, China is the linchpin. China has a critical vested interest in seeing that democracy in Burma does not take hold, since, among other reasons:

- It would lead to great pressure on China to reverse its violent annexation and occupation of Tibet. China will do everything in its power to fight such a precedent being established locally, to any extension in its area of direct influence of the global trend of dictatorships falling like dominoes.

- Such pressure would also be a huge challenge to the Chinese dictatorship itself, and a great boon to the efforts of Chinese democracy activists.

- It would have a significant effect on China's present and future access to the Indian Ocean.

Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia (and Burma) form a distinct least developed niche within ASEAN, and all of them are dictatorships. Albeit without the same immediacy as China, they have no desire to see Burma become a democracy.

Thailand’s relations with Burma are complex, if not schizophrenic, but on balance they greatly favor the dictatorship. Ironically, while the Thai public are taught to hate Burma, the Thai leaders, such as Chavalit Yonchaiyudh, are the best of friends with the dictators and strike profitable deals with them (including the power plant at Mong Yawn, and also, for a number of influential Thais, drug deals). Thailand is a perfect example of a democracy (or pseudodemocracy) which benefits from the perpetuation of dictatorship in another nation. Even more, now that the Thai Constitutional Court has succumbed to political pressure and failed to expel Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from office, the democratic reforms in Thailand itself have been destroyed and Thaksin, and his wealthy supporters, are positioned to establish their own form of “legitimate” dictatorship, along the lines of that held by Hun Sen in Cambodia and Mohammed Mahathir in Malaysia.

On the positive side, Thaksin, personally, does appear sincere about fighting the influx of drugs from Burma, including, although the government denies it, through providing military assistance to some of the groups which reside along the border.

Bangladesh suffers a large refugee problem due to the repression in Burma, and hence it would benefit from a change to democracy there. But, because it is a weak state, and beset by an internal power struggle, it is not in a position to have a great impact on this.

In India, government attention is reserved for political in-fighting, national development issues, and the conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir. The nation’s historic, and weak, pro-democracy in Burma stance, though, has ended. India now pursues a pro-dictatorship policy to satisfy geopolitical concerns: to contain the growing Chinese influence in Burma, and because of anxieties about its own rebel groups, such as the Nagas, in the Northeast. (The regional house of cards left by the British is showing many signs of strain.)

Regarding the local grouping, ASEAN, its policies, including non-interference and constructive engagement, are wholly supportive of the Burmese regime.

For the West, including the United States, Europe, and also Australia, as we have seen, they talk tough but do little. If it is not in their backyard, they are unwilling to act. For example, there has been no response, at all, to the call from the International Labor Organization for sanctions against Burma to punish it for its widespread use of forced labor. Finally, for Japan, with direct aid restarted, including for large-scale projects such as dams, and with a massive corporate presence in the country, it is obvious that the government has no desire to see a conversion to democracy.

Another major source of support is international business, including companies from Japan, China, ASEAN, and the oil and gas and apparel industries. Trade with the nation has increased rapidly this year. And, supranational institutions, such as the United Nations and the World Bank, await the chance to reengage the dictatorship and to provide financial assistance. They do not recognize that any variation of the carrot and stick approach, including constructive engagement (free carrots, no sticks!) will not work with the SLORC/SPDC generals.

The dictatorship’s other source of strength is its own behavior towards the people of Burma. The regime has been isolationist for the last thirty-nine years. It has avoided all foreign influences which might instigate forces – social trends – which would undercut its power. The current dictators continue to follow the policies of Ne Win. They have no great desire to open up to the world, even given the financial rewards this would entail. They are grateful for the funds and assistance that they are getting from the drug dealers, oil companies, Japanese and regional multinationals, and China, and this is sufficient to satisfy their main goal: to keep the army happy (or, if not happy, at least not rebellious) so they can stay in power. By keeping their external contacts to a minimum, and largely restricted to other unethical institutions and individuals, they limit the pressure to which they can be subjected.

However, the effects of trade, even at a minimal level, have accumulated as the years have passed. The rewards of the trade have been centralized – they go to the dictators and their cronies – and this is leading to the beginning of a class division by wealth. The types of inequalities so ingrained throughout Asia, and most of the world, are now being institutionalized in Burma as well. Coupled with this is the open-door policy of recent years to China, and the rise of a Chinese merchant class in the north, particularly in Mandalay. The foundations of a high-middle-low class structure have been laid, with the dictators at the top, those with a link to them and the Chinese merchants in the middle, and the vast majority of the population at the bottom.

The other internal factor which keeps the dictators in power is their repression, which itself includes many elements. They have been particularly adept at using the technique of divide and conquer, striking ceasefire/autonomy deals with some ethnic groups to free military resources to battle others. This has extended so far as to grant the Wa their own nation within a nation (in exchange for a share of their drug-trading profits). Divide and conquer has also been used in other ways, such as with religion, to turn the majority Buddhists against the Muslim population in the west (through the incitement of riots and the destruction of mosques), and with the Karen, against Christians in the east (through the cultivation of the DKBA). Further, all pro-democracy groups, starting with the NLD and its allies, have been banned and their leaders imprisoned. Also, all other sources of dissent have been silenced. Universities have been closed, and then reopened only after relocation to remote, controllable, areas. And, of course, there is no independent judiciary.

For the media, free media has for all intents and purposes been eliminated. (All permitted media is propaganda.) The only free media in Burma is small and scattered, and its providers are subject to the greatest of risks. In addition, foreign video media is excluded. Therefore, any attempts at internal rebellion can be quickly shut down before they are publicized widely and used to fuel further internal dissent and external pressure. Rangoon is not Jakarta. (And Burma is not East Timor. The latter had a greater media presence, a well-organized rebel army, and, most importantly, the presence of a large trigger, the shift to democracy in its colonial oppressor - which also viewed it as an expensive mistake. Burma will not win democracy along the lines of an East Timor model.)

The final element of the dictatorship’s repression, which can also be termed its self-containment strategy, is its ruthlessness. The generals of Burma will kill, rape and torture anyone who gets in their way. Indeed, they have a policy, particularly in the hills, of identifying and then killing the family members of all whom oppose them.

3. Change

- If change requires a period of chaos and a phase transition, what are the different types of energy additions through which such chaos can be generated, and how much energy (how much chaos) is needed?

There are three different types, or sources, of energy additions relevant to Burma:

1. Internal rebellion, including such things as demands for change, and actions in support of this, by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD; popular uprisings due to the deteriorating economic conditions experienced by the general public; combat instigated by rebel groups; and a coup by dissident army officers.

2. External activism, directed at cutting off the dictatorship’s funding, arms supply, and international legitimacy.

3. Diplomacy and other actions by the governments of other nations, including sanctions and direct support for the people of Burma, for the latter through the provision of funding, arms, training, communications assistance, and also military intervention.

Because the equilibrium is so strong, a great deal of chaos will be required to instigate a change. For example, the assassination of a few leading generals has been shown to cause minimal disruption. Even a full blown conflict between military intelligence and the army would probably not be sufficient, since whichever side was able to dominate would be able to assume absolute power.

- What are the sources of such energy: the different groups, both internal and external, which are in opposition to the system’s own power structures?

The specific opposition to the dictatorship includes:

Internal: the NLD, and those groups which are still fighting, such as the Karen, the Karenni and the Shan. There is no significant internal opposition from students, religious groups, free media, or the general public.

External – activists: a widespread network of Burma democracy groups, but for the most part with only a small number of engaged individuals, and limited public followings. Also, there is little planning and cooperation between the groups. Further, some groups are now institutional; no longer focused on creating change but instead dedicated to securing their next year’s funding.

External – diplomacy: for all intents and purposed – none. The few, infrequent steps which have been taken over the years have reduced the dictatorship’s legitimacy and flow of funds to a degree, but the generals have adapted to this. As their decision to use oil and gas money to buy MIG-29s demonstrates, they, personally, are feeling no pain. Further, those steps which are being pursued, now, such as the import sanctions bill in the U. S. Congress, are greatly outweighed by the overtures of China, Japan, Thailand, India and Russia. With friends such as these, the dictators can confront any opposition. Lastly, it is extremely telling that the special envoy from the United Nations is the hand-picked representative of another dictator.

- What specific steps or triggers could exert pressure on the system’s supporting power structures such that they break, and such that the overall system fails and chaos ensues?

Given the above, and current conditions on the ground in Burma, it is difficult to see what can be done. The possible triggers may be listed, but the odds of their occurring are very small.

- Public actions by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD.
- Demonstrations and strikes in the cities, including with the involvement of students, monks and workers.
- Sabotage of the pipeline and other such facilities, including dams.
- Offensive warfare by rebel groups; ideally, a concerted and orchestrated assault from all the rebel armies, including those which have ceasefire agreements.
- The assassination of SLORC/SPDC leaders.
- Internal stochastic phenomena, such as the death of Ne Win.
- Far greater, and orchestrated, external activism.
- A break in the solidarity of TotalFinaElf, Unocal, and Premier.
- Recognition that Burma is at war, that it is experiencing a civil war, and that far greater international involvement is required to ensure that it reaches a favorable conclusion.
- Comprehensive sanctions, starting with a widespread response to the ILO call, and including a requirement for disinvestment.
- The disbarment of the dictatorship from the United Nations and other supranational organizations such as ASEAN.
- Military assistance to the opposition, up to and including foreign intervention (perhaps using the fight against drugs as the justification therefor).
- All of the above, but with China as the target – a similar array of actions directed against the Chinese dictatorship.

- If chaos is created, what is required to ensure that a phase transition to democracy occurs, rather that a reversion to another form of dictatorship?

The nature of the new social order which follows the destruction of the dictatorship will be dependent on the means by which SLORC/SPDC is overthrown and the conditions of the transition itself, including the strange attractors which survive. Under any possible scenario, the development of a functioning democracy in Burma will be an extremely challenging task.

The first reason for this is that the phase transition will require violence. Indeed, violence on the part of the dictators, and through the armed struggle of some of the groups in the opposition (who are acting in self-defense), is already rampant. In a social phase transition, the ethical basis of the means which are used to trigger chaos are incorporated into it. Anger and violence may be more “effective” at creating social turbulence, but they retain a primary role in any subsequent order which arises from it. The practical reason for this is that if chaos is fueled by violence, this normally leads to massive social disruption, and hence great barriers to establishing a new democratic order.

The Burmese public is the victim of great violence, and it has no alternative but to fight back. But as it does, it must discipline itself and maintain the greatest restraint, to avoid mirroring the enemy, and thereby becoming it.

It is a sad testament on human nature and the process of social development that such steps must be taken, and chaos must develop, for change to take place. Dictators are not insane or irrational, but they cannot be reasoned with. All societies which have evolved from dictatorship to democracy have undergone some period of violence, as this is necessary to unseat them. And this violence regularly extends from the actions of the dictators to some of the people who are fighting them. Violence, once unleashed, is almost impossible to contain. Like a fire, it goes on and on until there is no fuel left to burn, until no one on one side is left to fight. And in the process atrocities are committed, including sometimes by the freedom fighters. Indeed, some of them may become (or seek to become) the next dictators.

Another strange attractor, mentioned earlier, is the willingness to cooperate. With the extraordinary cultural diversity which exists in Burma, and few established traditions of multicultural cooperation, the patterns of negotiation and compromise which will be required to restructure the nation may well be lacking. If the transition to a democratic government proves difficult, as it likely will, and power struggles between the different groups break out, there is the risk that some of them may choose to secede. This in turn would lead to a crisis in the nation, the outcome of which would be impossible to predict. In such circumstances, there is a high probability that a collection of nation-states would grow out of Burma, and with entrenched animosities between them.

A third strange attractor is that the social order, both under the dictators and within the opposition groups as well, is hierarchical (and also, to a large extent, patriarchal). The various groups in the opposition have pyramidal power structures already in place, which, without the restraining hand of SLORC/SPDC, will offer the opportunity for manipulation into authoritarian regimes by power-hungry individuals in these groups. Although this is an argument that the dictatorship itself makes, to justify its continued rule, it does have some validity. The Burmese dictatorship, under such a scenario, could evolve into a collection of dictatorships.

There are also many other barriers to a smooth transition to democracy, the main ones of which are listed below:

- The new government must start from scratch. The current regime, including ministry officials, the police, and the military command, is irrevocably tainted. It must be thrown out.
- Social goals must be established, foremost among them that cultural traditions and the natural environment must be protected, particularly from unregulated commercial development.
- Democratic institutions, starting with a constitution, to set the foundation for the rule of law, must be created.
- An equitable power-sharing structure between the central government and the ethnic states must be established.
- Assistance will be required to facilitate the return of refugees and internally-displaced persons. (There is also the question of what will happen to the Chinese immigrants.)
- The social infrastructure, particularly schools and medical facilities, must be rebuilt.
- The Tatmadaw must be shrunk, and culturally integrated, to include the forces from the rebel armies.
- The dictators must be subjected to a war crimes tribunal (perhaps in the Asian tribunal which has been proposed).
- All ill-begotten wealth, belonging to the dictators, their families and business partners, including international investors, should be confiscated.
- Contracts with international investors should be voided.
- There is a large outstanding foreign debt, for which debt forgiveness should be sought.
- And, during the transition itself, there will be a need for foreign peacekeepers, to prevent residual war crimes by the dictators and their supporters.

4. Prognosis

- What is the likelihood that such steps will be taken?

At the present time, the possibility of a triggering of chaos, and a transition, the year-long “dialogue” in Rangoon notwithstanding (after all, it is between a jailer and a prisoner), is remote. However, history demonstrates that opportunities in such situations do regularly present themselves, and only remain to be grasped. For example (and the earlier comment about media control also notwithstanding), SLORC/SPDC would be hard pressed to react viciously to new large-scale internal non-violent action, such as strikes and protests. The word of any violent crackdown, and also images, would get out (e.g., through smuggled photos and video tapes, and also from satellite photography). The dictators no longer have the freedom of action that they enjoyed in 1988. Any massacres would put the nation firmly in world public consciousness and toughen the spines of even the weakest, most two-faced politicians, such as in Japan. (This is particularly the case given the current global environment, in the aftermath of the terrorism in the U.S. There would be no tolerance at all of such a crackdown.)

- What is the likelihood that the dictatorship will be defeated?

Very slim; for the foreseeable future the probability is less than 10%. (We would note here that we mean a defeat with no possibility of a return.) For Burma to become a democracy external pressure will not be enough. Change will require action both inside the country and out, but of the two the former is far more important. The people of Burma, from all of its different groups, must work together and fight for this goal. However, they have been divided – the army against the public, the Burmans against the hill groups, and the hill groups against each other – and conquered. The general public is cowed. It appears unable, psychologically, or practically, to resist. As Southeast Asia recovers economically, engagement with the dictatorship will grow, and the generals’ position will achieve even greater strength. And, support from China will be unwavering. (China itself has recently received a major, two-fold, international seal of approval: permission to join the WTO, and the gift of the Olympic Games.) One wonders not so much what it will take to accomplish change, but if it is even possible.

The dictators of Burma - Ne Win, Than Shwe, Khin Nyunt and Maung Aye - will only leave when they are forced to go. And since in this process they will have a high risk of losing their wealth and their lives, they will fight hard, and resort to any tactic, to see that it does not happen. The force necessary to expel them will therefore have to be very great.

- What are the other possible outcomes, including a probability assessment for each?

The goal of the generals is to bring about a non-transition, through which they retain their wealth, and power, and are shielded from prosecution for their crimes. They are attempting to organize support for this, including through village and veteran organizations, and they have the funds to pay for it. Such a change is not without precedent in the region, witness Cambodia, and without firm resistance to it they may well succeed. In practical terms, the most culpable individuals could embark on a temporary exile to Beijing, with a few lower level officers and officials sacrificed to prosecution. The bulk of the power structure would survive, as a final strange attractor, awaiting its rebirth.


© Roland O. Watson 2001-3