October 12, 2007
An epic struggle is underway.
The people of Burma and their supporters from the people of the world are pitted
against the SPDC, the political leaders of the international community, and
business interests. The first round, the last forty-five years, including the
crisis period from 1988 to 1990, went to the SPDC (and its predecessors SLORC
and BSPP). The second round, the beginning of the current crisis, with the courageous
leadership of the 88 Generation Students and Burmas monastic community,
went to the people. However, this stage was not decisive. The SPDC was able
to regain the initiative. This occurred largely because other nations, in deference
to the status quo of the international political system, which now exists exclusively
to serve the interests of development and multinational corporations,
refused to help.
The current situation is that Than Shwe has been emboldened by the fact that there was no international response to his crimes. (I mean a real response: action, not just impotent complaints.) He now realizes: I can do anything. I can arrest and kill monks; commit ethnic cleansing and even genocide against Burmas ethnic nationalities; emplace North Korean ballistic missiles and target them at Thailand; and buy Russian and North Korean technology to make atomic bombs. Nothing and no one will stop me.
He has therefore increased his repression, and launched both a program of nighttime arrests people in Burma are now being disappeared, and the beginnings of a new forced labor gulag system. He also covered up the initial crimes from the crackdown, by cremating bodies, again at night, and clearing out ransacked monasteries.
Some commentators are saying that the uprising is over. This is ludicrous. They want it to be over. It is not over until Burma is free.
Than Shwe is wrong. The people of Burma will stop him, with support from the people of the world. The SPDC attacked the general public. It declared war on the country. It is an occupying army, in its own land. The people have a right to defend themselves. They have a right to be free.
The public will have to escalate. Anything associated with the SPDC, including anything or anyone that gives it support, is a legitimate target. Excepting the junta and its soldiers, though, the people should stick to their practice of non-violence. There should be no risk to life.
The endgame that will bring about freedom is in concept quite simple. The army must mutiny. Dissent within the ranks is insufficient. It exists already. This must grow until soldiers, specific individuals and units, decide that enough is enough and join the people. They must turn their guns against Than Shwe and the other top generals.
There is no way to know how close we are to this point. We need to create more pressure, as much pressure as possible, to be sure that we reach it. There are a number of different ways this can be achieved:
1. The people need to keep demonstrating, and calling on the rank and file soldiers to join them. If public demonstrations are now too risky in Rangoon, they can be held elsewhere. Than Shwe shut down Rangoon, but he cant shut down all of Burma. He sent his most loyal storm troopers to the capital, and they fired as ordered, but in other locations the response from local commanders was measured. Opportunities to protest do exist, even if they are only secret strike demos, which are organized by anonymous leaders and which take place at a specified time and place and for a limited duration. While small, they make it clear, most importantly to the general public, that the resistance is still alive. Also, Than Shwe cannot in fact arrest all the monks. At some point most of them will be freed. The monks can and should march again.
If at all humanly possible, the people must continue to protest. This puts pressure on the international community to change sides, and it is the best way to create division within the Tatmadaw.
2. The people should engage in a wide variety of non-compliance activities, both passive and aggressive. Refusing to watch Myanmar TV is a passive measure. Monks refusing the alms of soldiers is another. Launching a general strike, if only in a particular city, and where all the merchants close their shops, is more aggressive. It is also informative to consider the types of activities that were suggested by the CIA to the people of Nicaragua, when the United States attempted to launch a popular revolution in that country.
3. Another approach is to topple the Burma Army from within, by encouraging massive desertions. The KNU has put out such a call. The problem is that they dont have the resources to offer anything in return, e.g., payment for the guns that the deserters bring. Even with this hurdle, though, such calls should continue: all over the country.
An analysis by the resistance, of all Burma Army battalions and related militia, and in consideration that most are significantly under strength, has concluded that total Tatmadaw forces are approximately 200,000, not 400,000 as claimed. Tens of thousands of these troops are child soldiers who were press-ganged. Morale, even before the crackdown, was very low. In the last year there were 9,000 desertions, compared to 8,000 regular recruitments. This reportedly made Than Shwe angry, and it explains the increased incidence of new reports of boys being forcibly recruited.
The U.S. is now spending hundreds of millions of dollars to resettle Burmese refugees. For a small fraction of this amount ($1-2 million), we could topple the SPDC, and all the refugees could simply go home. Dictator Watch is well positioned to organize a funded money-for-guns surrender program.
4. Similarly, the ethnic resistance groups should launch attacks against the Burma Army. This has already occurred with the KNU and KNPP. For many years these groups have been in a defensive posture, limiting their activities mainly to the protection of their people. This was not, though, as is believed, because they are weak, but mainly in response to pressure from the Thai government. There is no on the ground reason that the resistance armies cant launch a wide variety of offensive guerrilla attacks, against Burma Army units and facilities.
In addition, this extends to the Armys allies including the USDA and also the ceasefire groups. For the latter, foremost the UWSA, DKBA, KIO and NMSP, if they do not renounce their ceasefires, they are arguably legitimate targets as well.
As with the people of Burma, the non-ceasefire ethnic forces are outraged over the atrocities that Than Shwe has committed. They also recognize that the current situation represents what is truly the opportunity of a lifetime. They can and should engage in offensive operations, not only to hurt the SPDC, but to encourage and show allegiance with the general public: Were with you. Together we can win this fight, and then establish a peaceful and democratic society.
The above tactics, if pursued relentlessly, will be sufficient to get the top officers to turn on each other. They will trigger a coup. Alternatively, Than Shwe, realizing that the end is near, will flee with his wife and family.
5. The final option would be some form of international military intervention. This includes such things as a peacekeeping force, assistance to the ethnic rebel armies, and targeted strikes on junta leaders. While such an intervention is unlikely, this does not mean that the people of Burma should not request it. Such a request would put the world on notice: We are sacrificing ourselves for freedom. We want more than empty words as your response. We want action.
In the article, The Logic of Military Intervention, I examined the preconditions for such an intervention. These include that the oppressed population must itself ask for help. To this end, if you are Burmese and you would like the international community to intervene militarily, please sign the following petition. It is appropriate if other people who support the idea sign as well.
We understand if some people may not want to support an intervention. That is your right. Please recognize that there is an element of psychological warfare to this. An intervention is Than Shwes greatest fear; hence, we threaten it. He has no way to evaluate if the threat is real or not.
Than Shwe is a master of psychological warfare, and we must match his efforts. He offered to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and has now appointed a minister to contain her. (She should set the conditions: that she is only willing to meet if everyone who has been arrested is set free!) He also invited Gambari, and demanded that the U.S. representative visit Pyinmana. Than Shwe took these steps solely as a means to bring about the end of the protests. They were completely insincere. And, together with his assault on the monasteries, they worked. The people stopped marching, and instead diplomats talk.
We cant rely on talk. We cant depend on diplomats. They will not help. For years, diplomats have asked the question: Why dont the Burmese do more to stand up for themselves? But when the people did take to the streets, what happened? Where were the diplomats? The U.S. in particular was woefully unprepared, and had no response.
Diplomats, including from the U.S., are in the enviable position that they can talk strong about Burma, in the full knowledge that, because of the Security Council vetoes of China and Russia, nothing will happen. This is a self-serving charade that gives the people of the country false hopes. It they are not going to do anything tangible, they should shut up! In effect, they are the enemy too.
Also, they are worried. Corporate financial interests are in a precarious position. Just look at the media assault from Singapore, which has repeated word for word the SPDCs propaganda. George Yeo, the Foreign Minister, said that the end of the SPDC means civil war. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Burma must restore stability and normalcy. What he means by this is a return to passive acceptance by the people of SPDC rule, and through which Singaporean businesspeople can continue to profit off the blood of the Burmese. (He expects the Burmese to accept dictatorship, just as the Singaporeans do, and who also face arrest if they protest.)
China is doing its part as well. It viewed Gambaris failure as a positive step. Now the international community wants him to go back in November.
If the world truly wanted to help, there would be an effort begun, right now, to amend the U.N. Charter to delete the Security Council veto. This will never happen, though, because the principal power players are content with the status quo. This is also illustrated by the fact that such a change was not even envisioned in former Secretary General Kofi Annans end of term assessment. The Millennium Challenge Goals do not include to confront repression and dictatorship and to establish world peace. They also exclude consideration of any of the changes at the U.N. itself that must be made if such goals are to be achieved.
The United Nations should be shut down. It prevents action on many terrible problems, not only Burma. Its agencies that do fulfill useful missions should be spun off into independent NGOs.
Outside of Burma, the main thing we can do is boycott the oil and gas companies, and India and China. For the last, Beijing needs to realize that the longer this goes on, the more both the Olympics and Chinese exports will be hurt. An increasing number of people will hear about the repression in Burma, and Chinas paramount role. More and more shoppers will complain to their merchants: I dont want China. Manufacturers will begin to source elsewhere.
Once this takes off, it will be impossible to stop. Made in China will become something that shoppers actively avoid. (One can recall the similar fate of Made in Japan in the 1960s, on the basis of shoddy quality, which characteristic Chinese goods share.) It is therefore in Chinas interests to turn against the SPDC, and as quickly as possible.
Two suggestions that recently made the rounds, and which we can all work to implement, are as follows.
- At demonstrations, hand out Free Burma, Boycott the Beijing Olympics bumper stickers. It is easy to make some at a local copy shop, and not that expensive.
- Send protest emails to the following addresses. We want to flood these inboxes with millions of messages. In the subject line, type ticket order, ticket query, ticket request or ticket information, so they are not automatically deleted.
There are many other contact emails listed on the Olympics website as well. No one would complain if there was a denial of service attack against the website, either.
The situation in Burma will remain in turmoil. This isnt going to go away. The people are still starving. And, many individuals have realized that if they dont win freedom now, they might never get another chance. They are willing to make every conceivable sacrifice. With the above plan, their sacrifices will not be in vain. Notwithstanding the efforts of Than Shwe and his international allies, Burma will be free.