In a War Without Precedent, Is Myanmar’s Military Headed for Defeat?

It is fair to say Myanmar’s political stage has been turned upside down. The Myanmar military’s political ploys are no longer effective, and the regime is short of ideas on how to create a new political landscape.

By Admin 31 Dec 2023

In a War Without Precedent, Is Myanmar’s Military Headed for Defeat?

Written by Ramar Kyaw Saw
It is fair to say Myanmar’s political stage has been turned upside down. The Myanmar military’s political ploys are no longer effective, and the regime is short of ideas on how to create a new political landscape. The junta’s attempt to use the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and a new election as a way out of the current political crisis seems to have failed.

Military dictators never really try to solve the problems facing the countries they claim to lead. They only care about maintaining their grip on power. With support from China, successive military dictators did as they pleased in Myanmar. China and Russia have also provided diplomatic support on the international stage. Today, however, it appears that Beijing only cares about its national interests, neglecting the Myanmar military.

Given the fact that the regime has lost one town after another along the Chinese border, it is obvious that China has turned a blind eye to the fighting in northern Shan State. The regime has also been shunned by the majority of fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). But the junta leaders are still too stubborn to accept the reality.

So-called nationalists, who are stooges of the regime, staged anti-China protests in downtown Yangon and outside the Chinese Embassy last month, accusing Beijing of selling weapons to ethnic armed organisations. It was the first protest against China since the 2021 coup, and came after junta forces suffered heavy losses in attacks involving China-made drones in northern and central Myanmar. The protest is a tacit admission that the Myanmar military is struggling on the battlefield.

Myanmar’s border trade with China is halted as the regime has lost control of border towns, and the junta’s income has been slashed as a result. It has vented its anger on civilians, imposing draconian travel restrictions. The regime has used travel restrictions as a strategy to curb resistance attacks, but family members of junta personnel are suffering from sky-high commodity prices too.

What’s more, it is routine for the regime to target civilians whenever it suffers military defeats, and the past few weeks have been no exception. Suffering defeats on various fronts, the regime has been carrying out indiscriminate bombing raids and artillery attacks on civilian targets.

The regime has lost one base after another, and it appears that the regime has become too weak to resist attacks by ethnic armed organisations. Previously, junta troops would carry out assaults on resistance bases. But currently, they can only muster a defensive posture from their bases, as their combat forces have been severely depleted.

Given the fact that the regime is collecting data about university students who have undergone military training as members of the University Training Corps, the regime may soon resort to conscription to prop up its foundering armed forces. Meanwhile, regular and border guard police, as well as militia groups, all of which can be said to be auxiliary forces of the Myanmar military, pose little threat to resistance forces.

The morale of the Myanmar military has been at an all-time low, and their combativeness has declined as they simply struggle to survive. Despite air and artillery support in the fighting in northern Shan, Karenni and Arakan states, and Sagaing Region, junta troops have been badly demoralised and many are not willing to fight anymore.

On the other hand, the National Unity Government (NUG) is also trying out its own propaganda, making it seem as if the victories won by the ethnic armed groups with their members’ blood, sweat, tears and lives were only achieved thanks to the NUG’s grand designs. The NUG is still a novice when it comes to politics, and still has much to learn when it comes to managing its relations with Myanmar’s long-established ethnic armies.

The fighting in Arakan State continues to intensify, and has spread to urban areas. During clashes in downtown Pauktaw that began on November 16, junta troops used local residents as human shields, but the AA attacks resulted in many regime casualties and forced them to abandon their bases. AA fighters were able to defeat the junta soldiers and evacuate those who were taken as human shields.

The strategy previously used by Myanmar’s military leaders to cease fire with one ethnic armed group and then pivot to attacking another group is no longer useful today. The motivations of the ethnic armed forces and those who oppose the regime in mainland Myanmar are no longer based solely on ethnicity and ideology, but rather are aimed at the fall of the military junta.

Due to the unprecedented scope of the armed rebellion against its rule, the Myanmar military has not been seen sending reinforcements from one place to another, and has been forced to work with the forces it has in place. It can only “reinforce” with artillery strikes and aerial support.

Although the ethnic armed forces have an advantage over the Myanmar military in ground battles on their turf, they will need to be careful about the regime’s tactics. For example, the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Community Party of Burma (CPB) were able to establish territorial rule, but they were thwarted by the tricks of the Myanmar military. As unity is strength, the revolutionary groups must focus on working together at this time to destroy the military dictatorship. Past military dictators’ divide-and-rule playbook cannot be allowed to succeed this time. 

As the balance of the war shifts, the regime will continue to perpetrate inhumane acts, so the people will need to live with great caution to secure their lives and property. Even though the Myanmar military is branding every organisation that opposes it as a terrorist organisation, in reality, the people are aware that it is only the junta soldiers and their subordinates (Border Guard Forces, police, militias, etc.) who are terrorising the people.

In some circles, the revolt against Myanmar’s latest iteration of military dictatorship is viewed as the final fight; a decisive battle for the future of the country. May it come at minimal cost for civilians, and those with guns whose intentions are noble and true.