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Tipping the Scales in Myanmar’s Civil War

The determined resistance of Myanmar’s people has prevented the military junta from consolidating its 2021 coup, leaving roughly half the country beyond its control. With the civil war having reached a stalemate, the international community should step in, recognizing the civilian government and delivering weapons to its armed wing.

BANGKOK – Conflicts within and between countries take many forms, but they are always about power. That is as true for the brutal military coup that toppled Myanmar’s elected government two years ago as it is for Russia’s war against Ukraine. But while Ukraine’s plight has dominated world headlines and attracted billions of dollars in military equipment and other assistance, Myanmar’s subjugation from within has gone largely unnoticed by outsiders, and the civilian opposition has received little support.

To be sure, Southeast Asia is a coup-prone region. Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines all endured “coup eras” before settling on roughly democratic trajectories, albeit with autocratic characteristics. Thailand has endured two putsches since 2006, and has yet to achieve a political bargain that can break the military and monarchy’s joint hold on power.

But Myanmar tops the lot. Its generals seized power in 1962. While direct military rule eventually gave way to constitutional dictatorship, it was not until 2011 that the military junta was officially dissolved and a nominally civilian government established. Even then, however, the miliary, under General Thein Sein’s leadership, retained key levers of power.