Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


September 9, 2014

The ethnic nationalities of Burma want a federal democracy. This is the only way they can ensure that their people will be free, and with the right to self-determination.

The problem, though, is that this will require major changes to the country's constitution (preferably a complete redrafting), which the top military generals have said repeatedly that they will not allow. The situation is a stalemate. No constitutional change means no federalism. There is no way around this fundamental truth.

The ethnic nationalities, on the other hand, are not powerless. First, they have revolutionary armies. They can fight to achieve their goal. And secondly, they have something that the military wants: their approval of a nationwide ceasefire.

Given that they appear unwilling at the present time to fight for federalism, their only option is to somehow trade their signatures for the constitutional change. At the moment, they are being pressured heavily to sign without this change, with only the pledge that it can be discussed at some point in the future. Some ethnic leaders, such as Mutu Say Poe of the KNU, are even ready to sign right now, without any sort of guarantees at all.

In this type of situation, there are really only two options. The first is to hold fast and not sign, with the result that the stalemate remains. The second is to sign without the constitutional change enacted, meaning that the ethnic resistance groups will have failed to achieve their goal and will effectively have surrendered. Once they sign, the political dialogue will go nowhere. The floodgates to corporate development will open wide, and the ethnic turncoats and regime propagandists will receive their reward.

There is, however, one other factor that can change this calculus: President Obama's upcoming visit to Burma in November for the East Asia Summit. Obama, who is receiving tremendous criticism in the United States over the failings of his foreign policy, views Burma as his one major success. But, this success is not complete if the ethnic nationalities do not sign the ceasefire. There has to be a semblance of peace, even if it is false. Obama is not concerned about real freedom and democracy for Burma. He just wants the appearance of democracy, and for this the ethnic groups must sign. Then, the remaining American sanctions can be dropped, and U.S. companies will be free to invade. No one will care, much less remember, that Burma does not yet have true peace, or democracy, and that the people of the country, starting with the ethnic groups, are still being horribly abused.

This situation - the coming presidential visit - implies that the ethnic nationalities are under great pressure to sign, and in fact this is the case. Intensive public and behind the scenes pressure is being applied. But in reality the ethnic groups are in the driving seat. It is the military regime and Obama who are in trouble. If the ethnic groups don't sign, the regime has little that it can do - sixty-five years of civil war have already proven that it cannot defeat the ethnic armies in combat. Furthermore, Obama will lose his victory. Both will lose face.

The ethnic nationalities may not realize it, and the traitors and propagandists are doing everything they can to hide the fact, but they have all the leverage. They should hold out at a minimum until November, and make the regime and Obama really sweat. If they do this, the U.S., Europe and the rest of the international community will turn their diplomatic pressure on the generals, to try to force them to relent and agree to change the constitution. Furthermore, if the generals persist and refuse, the ethnic armies can then say: It's not us. We will sign, and even someday give up our arms, but only when the aspirations of our people are fulfilled.

Writing as someone who has a background in corporate dealmaking (Citibank Mergers and Acquisitions in London), I can say that business negotiators, who are ruthless, use similar opportunities for leverage all the time, and without a second thought. Burma's ethnic rebels should do the same.

The nationwide ceasefire is a negotiation, and right now the ethnic nationalities hold all the cards. All they have to do is recognize it, maintain their determination, and call Obama's and the dictatorship's bluff.