Potential Hot Spots: Burma the Impregnable


: Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War 


October 1, 2007: With the crackdown on the protests in Burma, is there  any real chance of the situation changing? Most of the pressure on the  military dictatorship in Burma has been in the form of economic  sanctions. Much of the reliance on economic sanctions reflects a  misunderstanding of just how resilient a dictatorship can be. In the  case of Burma, this is a dictatorship that has gone on since 1962, and  has had changes at the top. As such, this is not going to be an easy  regime to topple, even with the latest crackdown on dissidents and the  death of a Japanese photographer.


The dictatorship in Burma has to deal with the era of Google and  YouTube ­ and videos from those sites are generating outrage in the  West. But Burma's being protected in the UN Security Council by China  (and to a lesser extent, Russia), primarily because it is a customer  for their weapon systems (like the Russian MiG-29 and the Chinese J-7  and Q-5 combat aircraft).


Invading Burma would also be a very tough proposition. The Burmese  Army generates respect from the Thai military (which is no slouch  itself) for its ability to fight in the jungle, and it is large ­ with  428,000 personnel, formed into over 330 combat battalions. Burma also  is getting weapons from Europe as well, particularly T-72 main battle  tanks and BTR-3U infantry fighting vehicles from the Ukraine. It also  has spent the last twenty years increasing its mobility and logistics.  Most impressively, it is an all-volunteer force. Any fight with Burma  will be against people who have chosen to fight for their country, not  conscripts ­ a much tougher proposition.


So, what options are available? Not many. The present iteration of the  Burmese dictatorship is not showing many signs of weakness. Economic  sanctions from the west have hurt, but when Burma's GDP is only $13  billion, and doesn't get much tourism (only 750,000 visitors a year),  and Burma's trade comes primarily from Thailand and China. The  increasing ties with India also help, since the Burmese can now play  India off China and vice versa.


In essence, the situation in Burma is one where the Western powers  have played all of their cards to date, and have nothing to show for  it. Burma has been able to remain afloat, largely by increasing its  trade with neighbors, and the dictatorship is well-entrenched. At this  point, the Burmese dictatorship just has to wait out the West, and  will do so, barring a colossal mistake on its part. ­ Harold C.  Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)


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