Security integration in Myanmar - Past experiences and future visions [EN/MY]
Major developments in Myanmar’s peace process have brought to the fore a critical debate about the future of the country’s security sector. In October 2015, the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), which ruled the country for decades and retains significant political powers, signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with eight ethnic armed organisations (EAOs).
The NCA is yet to be signed by more than ten other EAOs and so is still far from ‘nationwide’ in practice. Nonetheless, the deal is significant because it has committed all sides to undertaking political dialogue towards the establishment of a federal system of government, as long demanded by most EAOs but resisted by the Tatmadaw.
Additionally, an agreement has been made regarding a dual process of security sector reform (SSR) and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR), referred to in the NCA as ‘security re-integration’. This raises important questions about what a transition from a de facto unitary structure to a more federal security structure in Myanmar would look like, and how EAOs might be incorporated into it.
This discussion paper aims to support an inclusive and evidence-based approach to SSR in Myanmar and to help contextualise the ongoing discourse and upcoming negotiations. It is based on desk-research of existing open-source materials, supplemented by the authors’ many years experience of researching security issues in Myanmar. The paper was written to inform all stakeholders involved in, or supporting, the peace process about Myanmar’s previous experiences with SSR and future visions among the major stakeholders: the National League for Democracy (NLD), the Tatmadaw and Myanmar’s multiple EAOs. It examines previous attempts at security integration, considers the current state of play in relation to the political context and peace process, and reflects on the positions and perspectives of key stakeholders regarding the future structure and governance of Myanmar’s security sector.
From the 1960s through the late 2000s, the Tatmadaw initiated multiple programmes to convert EAOs into paramilitary forces under its command, typically offering EAO leaders security and business concessions in return for their military cooperation.i While dozens of units have been formed over the decades, such programmes have also often led to new conflicts, EAOs have splintered or tensions have arisen between EAOs and the Tatmadaw. In 2009 while still in power, the Tatmadaw demanded all of the country’s 40 ceasefire EAOs to form Border Guard Forces (BGFs), under direct Tatmadaw control, which led to a wave of new and renewed conflicts that still persist today. Furthermore, BGFs and other paramilitaries have poorly-defined roles and are often primarily focused on business activities.
The concept of integrating EAOs into the state security forces is therefore not new and has a complex history. Nevertheless, there are hopes that the current peace process will achieve better negotiated and more sustainable arrangements.
Since signing the NCA, political dialogue has been broadly structured around a threeway discourse between the Tatmadaw, EAOs and the National League for Democracy (NLD) – led by Aung San Suu Kyi – which has been in power since March 2016. Each of these stakeholders have widely divergent positions on what forms ‘federalism’ and ‘security integration’ should take.
The Tatmadaw – a powerful and well-established institution, deeply entrenched in Myanmar’s political and economic life – holds firm to its perceived role as defender of the nation’s sovereignty and integrity. Its vision for the future of the armed forces is primarily focused on the accelerated modernisation of its capabilities, and it has often emphasised the need for EAOs to enter a process of DDR or simply to come under the command of the existing Tatmadaw.
The NLD has been long focused on the need for democratic reform of the Tatmadaw, for it to relinquish its political role and come under civilian control, and for it to rebuild trust with the people. Nevertheless, Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly voiced a personal commitment to the Tatmadaw, as it was founded by her father,ii and has indicated it remains a crucial institution of the state.iii While Aung San Suu Kyi has loosely given support for the EAOs’ long-held demand of a Federal Union Armed Forces, the NLD has given little indication of if and how it envisages the integration of Myanmar’s numerous EAOs into a reformed Tatmadaw.
EAOs vary greatly in their size, history, and interests, and in their positions on SSR. For a core bloc of pro-federal EAOs, the demand for the reform of the armed forces along federal lines has been of paramount importance since at least the late 2000s, and remains their central SSR principle. Informed by the experience of the state’s previous attempts to convert EAOs into BGFs, the EAOs will continue to be sceptical of any SSR process that they regard to be redeploying their capacities to serve the Tatmadaw, unless there is comprehensive decentralisation of the state, including the military.
To develop a lasting solution to the interlinked political and security complexes that drive armed conflict in Myanmar, all three of the main stakeholder groups – the Tatmadaw, NLD and EAOs – will need to develop a shared vision of security integration. Reconciling the divergent perspectives outlined above – or even identifying where there is common ground – will be far from easy, and will likely become a long-term and incremental endeavour.
While much more research is needed to fully understand these dynamics and to make well-informed policy recommendations, this report concludes with some broad reflections on what the major challenges and key questions will be going forward. It also recommends some particular topics on which further research and learning work could be carried out.
Saferworld will publish a companion paper that focuses on comparative models and experience of federal models of security and security integration to equip Myanmar’s stakeholders with knowledge that will help them to participate constructively in discussions about the future of Myanmar’s security sector.