The Belligerence of Myanmar: How Should We Hold It Accountable?

The mounting bellicosity of Myanmar has heightened tensions in the South and Southeast Asian Region. In particular, its recent provocative military acts on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border which started in mid-August this year, have shaken the stability of the region, thus jeopardizing existing efforts to solve the ongoing Rohingya crisis. The belligerent act of Myanmar has also increased the possibility of a larger conflict that could break apart the country itself and undermine the whole region’s interest.

The international community should and must step up its effort to hold Myanmar accountable for its belligerence and put a stop to the Myanmar military’s aggression, atrocities, and violations of human rights. To do so, we need a collective effort of the international community and constructive actions from the international and regional institutions.

Background

The turmoil of Myanmar after the coup in 2021 has created chaos inside and outside the country. Though the latest fighting in the northern part of the country started in the early months of this year, the Myanmar military started its provocative acts along its border with Bangladesh from mid-August onwards. According to sources, the Myanmar military has been fighting the Arakan Army – the military wing of a strong autonomist group that was in a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar military during the last year.

In the latest incident on Sept. 16, the Myanmar military fired three mortar shells – killing a Rohingya boy aged only 17 and injuring six others inside the Bangladesh territory on the Tombru border of Naikhyanchari in Bandarban district. This violation of international law and crimes against humanity by the Myanmar military was the latest provocative act among several other rounds of border and airspace violations of Bangladesh’s territory. Though Bangladesh has strongly protested each time and chose the path of diplomacy over the path of force to deal with the situation, it seems Myanmar has no intention to stop its belligerent actions as it continues to blame its internal autonomist forces for the violations.

Role of the Key Regional Players

China is the closest neighbor of Myanmar in terms of trade and investment. It is also believed that Beijing provided strong support to the Myanmar military when the latter forcefully toppled the democratically elected government in 2021. As a result, to hold Myanmar accountable for its belligerent acts, it is imperative that Beijing withdraw its unwavering support for the country.

Policymakers in Beijing should not forget the event of 2015 when four farmers in the southwest border region of China were killed by the bombings of the Myanmar military. In addition, new conflicts in the region mean hurdles for trade and businesses, which go against Beijing’s key interests. Therefore, Beijing should not patronize such a rogue state which would destabilize the region and harm Chinese interests. It should cooperate with the rest of the international community to maintain order in the region.

India is also a close neighbor of Myanmar and plays an important role in the region’s security. Adopting an appeasement policy towards Myanmar will threaten regional peace and haunt New Delhi’s own security. Therefore, it should acknowledge the belligerence of Myanmar as its northeastern states are already feeling the heat of the renewed conflict on the other side of the border. There is a new influx of ethnic Myanmar nationals who crossed the border to seek shelter in the northeastern states of India. It is therefore becoming more important for New Delhi to play its key role in ensuring peace and stability in the region, hence holding Myanmar accountable for its violations and crimes against humanity.

The United States also has a key role in Myanmar’s case. To maintain order in the Indian Ocean region, it should prioritize the issue with utmost importance and rally its ally in the region to impose intense sanctions against the Junta government. Washington should also use its close diplomatic channels with countries like Japan and ASEAN member states which have major investments in Myanmar to gradually decrease their financial involvement to stop the flow of cash to Junta leaders who are disrupting democracy and rule of law in the region.

Role of Multilateral Institutions

Myanmar is a member state of ASEAN – the largest multilateral institution in the region. Since the genocidal crimes against the Rohingya people and their mass influx into neighboring Bangladesh, ASEAN has remained silent and inactive to hold Myanmar accountable for its crime. ASEAN also failed to address the people of Myanmar when the military junta took over the power by toppling the democratically elected government in 2021. In addition, in the last two years, the institution also failed to hold Myanmar accountable when it violated the border and airspace of Thailand – another member state of the ASEAN. Though the recent border and airspace violation of Bangladesh by the Myanmar military has caused international criticism, it again failed to receive major attention from ASEAN. And such appeasement policy of this regional institution has helped Myanmar avoid any direct consequences for its violations of international rule and order. In such a scenario, ASEAN must rethink its policy toward Myanmar and use its institutional means i.e., strip off its ASEAN roles and duties as an initial step for the permanent suspension of membership to reprimand the Junta-led government.

Nevertheless, in a recent report, the UN Human Rights Office said, “States must do more to cut the Myanmar military’s access to revenue and arms supplies to halt its repression of the people.” The report urges to ‘impose targeted financial sanctions on the Myanmar military and its economic interests as well as arms embargos, while at the same time highlighting that such measures must respect human rights and that efforts must be made to mitigate foreseeable socio-economic impacts.’ It has also mentioned that some states continue to supply arms and engage militarily with the Myanmar Junta government. In this case, the United Nations and its organs could advocate for more targeted sanctions and imposing a global arms embargo on the Myanmar military for its crime against humanity and violations of international borders with neighboring states.

In a nutshell, the international community should step up its effort to hold Myanmar accountable for its belligerent acts before it is too late. And key regional states like China and India should no longer patronize such a rogue state which would undermine their own interests. In addition, ASEAN member states must abandon their appeasement policy toward Myanmar to strengthen peace and stability as well as ensure sustainable development in the Southeast Asian region. Lastly, a collective effort of all the mentioned actors is needed to castigate the Myanmar military and establish stability in the region.

[Photo by Mil.ru, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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