Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

The way forward in Myanmar


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rohingya crisis

Mains level : Paper 2- Factors to consider while dealing with the situation in Myanmar

The article discusses the five lessons from past experiences as the international community frames its response to the military coup in Myanmar.

Coup in Myanmar

  • After Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept the polls by winning almost 80% of the vote, Myanmar’s military staged a coup and declared a state of Emergency for a year.
  • Myanmar, which started a fragile transition to democracy 10 years ago after decades of brutal military dictatorship, is back in the hands of the Generals.

Lessons for the international community

1) Benefits of sanctions

  • The developments in Myanmar will invariably bring back the old debate around the prudence of sanctions.
  • Notwithstanding the western sanctions before 2010 [during military rule], China, Thailand and Singapore were the key trading partners of Myanmar.
  • The present reality is no different.
  • Singapore was reportedly the largest foreign investor in Myanmar in 2020, accounting for 34% of the overall approved investment.
  • Given that the military has been able to economically withstand sanctions by striking deals with Asian countries in the past, sanctions are unlikely to bring any major political change.

2) Accountability for crime against humanity

  • As political changes got underway in 2010, many generals were on the radar of the international community for perpetuating a regime of human rights abuses, quietly vanished from the scene.
  • This bred a culture of impunity.
  • During the 2017 Rohingya crisis, senior military officials brazenly exploited social media to mobilise public support for brutality against Rohingyas.

3) China’s influence

  • Three, a critical international player in Myanmar is China.
  • The international community, particularly the West, has to factor in China’s multi-layered influence on Myanmar.

4) Revival of past international mechanisms

  • Many international mechanisms comprising Western and Asian countries that were formed to coordinate strategies on Myanmar were disbanded after the 2015 election.
  • That the changes in Myanmar were irreversible was the standard thinking.
  • Relevant actors should be brought on a common platform by reviving past mechanisms.

5) Increasing the engagement with domestic stakeholders

  • The expectation that Myanmar will see a nationwide protest against the military after the coup should be examined with the geographical extent of Bamar, Myanmar’s largest ethnic group, who support the National League for Democracy.
  • The minorities in the country form around 35% of the population.
  • In the current scenario, the military will continue to exploit ethnic and religious fault lines.
  • Engagement with domestic stakeholders, including ethnic minorities, especially from the north, should be pursued by the international community.

Consider the question “As military hinders Myanmar’s transition to democracy, what are the factors that should be considered by the international community as it form the response to the situation in the country.”


There is one consistent lesson, that no change is irreversible, particularly in a context where military leadership scripted the meaning of democracy, and domestic forces and geopolitics continuously fail to deter its actions and impulses to rule.

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