The Perils of Not Punishing a Pariah: Myanmar’s Challenge to the International System?

The recent string of violations of Bangladesh’s airspace, and the increasingly hostile posture of Myanmar, bodes ill for the geopolitical stability of the region. In the last decade, Myanmar had recurringly infringed the norms of international relations, prejudicing the stability of the region. In the absence of any persuasive actions by the international community to hold Myanmar accountable, the country as personified by the brutal military Junta is ratcheting up tensions in the region, with inexorable implications for the geopolitics of the region.

The recent violations by Myanmar need to be construed in the context of precedents of such transgressions by Myanmar, that emboldened the county to unleash its brutality and violence without any restraint. The Rohingya crisis marks the genesis of Myanmar’s increasingly hostile posture, which had been further sharpened in the subsequent years. These precedents of illegal actions had instilled confidence in the country regarding the lack of accountability in the international order. This has grievous ramifications for the stability of the region.

It is pertinent to understand the political structure of the country. Despite fleeting bouts of democratic movements, the politics of Myanmar has been predominantly dominated by the military. Even in the wake of the restoration of democracy, which witnessed the emergence of democratic norms, however, Army wielded the whip hand in civilian affairs, further consolidating its clout through apportioning constituencies for itself. The unrestrained power of the army in the country translates to the fact that democratic norms hold little sway in the country, and the whims of the violent army often call the shots. This was manifested in 2017, when the military junta unleashed its brutal persecution on the Rohingya, an ethnic community that had endured marginalization for decades, culminating in the forcible displacement of the  Rohingya. This spawned one of the most strenuous refugee crises in the contemporary world. Although Bangladesh had extended its succor to the Rohingya refugees, the initial burst of international exuberance and urgency regarding the crisis soon petered out. This meant that Bangladesh is shouldering the straining burden of sustaining Rohingya refugees. Although sporadic assistance from the international community had been rendered, nonetheless it had only been paltry and pales in comparison with the burden that Bangladesh is enduring.

The response of the great powers regarding the Rohingya crisis had been driven by parochial geopolitical calculations that were at stake, disregarding the poignant humanitarian exigencies. Besides, despite stern utterances and idealistic euphemisms, the actions of the great powers in resolving the crisis were abysmal. Oftentimes, the Rohingya crisis had been discounted due to the remoteness of the crisis from the immediate geopolitical interests of the country. This meant that the Rohingya crisis had been transmuted into a protracted crisis, and in the intervening period, the lack of convincing international actions further crystallized Myanmar’s aggressive demeanor. The failure of the international community in undertaking robust and persuasive actions against a pariah state like Myanmar continues to embolden the country and manifestations abound in the recent activities of the country.

The democratic government as spearheaded by Aung San Suu Kyi had been toppled out of power, through a coup orchestrated by a formidable junta. This arbitrary usurpation of powers contravenes international norms and is against the democratic ethos that much of western countries uphold. Besides, the existence of a military that hinged on arbitrary power prejudiced regional stability. Furthermore, the scruples of the democratic countries in averting the blatant violation of the international norms, don’t wield similar sway in terms of non-democratic countries. Hence, it was evident that the seizure of power by the military would ensure a grave violation of international principles.

As if vindicating the premonitions the analysts hold regarding the repercussions of the rise of the military to the state power, the series of airspace violations by Myanmar authorities attest to the perils of letting a pariah without punishment. While Bangladesh has been touted for its pacific posture, nonetheless repeated instigations might prejudice the stability of the region. It had been evident from the Ukraine-Russia crisis that, a conflict anywhere in the world reverberates across the world. Hence, the conflict doesn’t remain limited to any specific geographic frontiers, and the whole of humanity needs to bear the brunt of an aggressive state.

Moreover, the repeated airspace violation points to the fact that the failure of the global powers in holding Myanmar accountable, had emboldened Myanmar in undertaking such action. However, in the context of the increasing prominence of the Indo-Pacific region in the global geopolitics, and the geographical centrality of Myanmar in the region, the military regime of Myanmar and consequent aggressive actions of the country are inimical to the interests of the international community. In this context, the aggression of Myanmar should prompt the international community in undertaking decisive actions in resolving the protracted crisis.

[Photo by Mil.ru, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

*Sam Harris has earned an M.Sc. with distinction from University of Leiden, majoring in Governance of radicalism, extremism and terrorism. His area of interest lies in the intersection of religious identity and politics in the South Asian region. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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