The West appears to have a blind spot concerning the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. Despite billions of dollars of military aid being provided to Ukraine, those same countries have barely reacted to Myanmar’s Feb. 1, 2021, military coup. This lack of response is highly concerning and sends a strong message that the West has particular preferences regarding intervening in international affairs. Meanwhile, it’s becoming more apparent that more needs to be done regarding this coup before Myanmar’s situation worsens. Countries worldwide must follow through with substantial and meaningful action to de-escalate tensions, hold those responsible for abuses accountable, and guarantee protection for all citizens in Myanmar.
As of 2021, the situation in Myanmar is complex and volatile. In the wake of a military overthrow of a democratically elected government, the international community has been mostly silent on how to respond. This response is markedly different from other recent conflicts, such as Ukraine, where the West quickly condemned Russia’s involvement and called for greater international action. Let’s investigate why this difference exists between these two situations.
The National Unity Government (NUG) in Myanmar is fighting for political freedom in the Southeast Asian country and has faced challenges in building enough awareness of its cause. Despite the current struggle, it has been able to mobilize numerous people who have put their lives on the line to push for democratic reform. Additionally, they have been actively trying to gain weapons from Western countries sympathetic to their plight. Unfortunately, many major powers have remained silent on the situation, leaving NUG more limited than desired when defending themselves against military brutality. Despite this limitation, they remain determined to fight for a fair democracy.
Lack of Visible Iconic Leader
Ukraine’s struggle for stability and international recognition has long been a contention. Despite the increasing attention from the international community in recent years, the country still needs to become a respected leader in global politics. This is mainly due to the lack of visibility of an iconic leader that incites worldwide confidence and trust in Ukraine’s political landscape. Volodymyr Zelensky, the current President of Ukraine, has made some bold attempts at gaining success, yet his efforts have fallen short amid continuous internal instability. With an enduring presence on an international stage, Zelensky can unite domestic and foreign constituents to support Ukraine’s national objectives. Therefore, Zelensky must be given more opportunities to demonstrate his leadership potential to succeed in preserving Ukrainian sovereignty and become an influential role model for future generations.
One reason for the difference in response could be the lack of an iconic leader in Myanmar similar to that seen in Ukraine with Yulia Tymoshenko. In Ukraine, Tymoshenko provided a visible target for Western governments and media outlets to rally behind and galvanize public opinion against Russia’s involvement in the conflict. Unfortunately, this kind of leadership was absent from Myanmar’s situation, leaving Western governments needing a focal point or figurehead to rally around.
Complexities Within Myanmar Making it Difficult for the West to Intervene
Another possible explanation lies in the complexities present within Myanmar itself. The country is divided by language, ethnicity, religion, and politics, which makes it difficult for outside forces to intervene without risking further destabilization or exacerbating existing tensions. As a result, the West may have adopted a ‘hands off’ approach to not escalate an already tense situation into something even more dangerous and unpredictable.
The Myanmar military and government also have a long history of human rights abuses against minority groups. This has made it difficult for Western governments to trust the leaders of Myanmar and cooperate with them in resolving the conflict – instead, they are left to consider other options, such as economic sanctions or diplomatic pressure. Ultimately, this means there is no clear solution to the crisis in Myanmar, as no one party holds all the cards.
The current situation is a reminder of the complexities inherent in tackling intractable conflicts and how easy it can be to get stuck in a cycle of perpetual violence. Until trust and dialogue can be established between the warring groups, there is little chance of meaningful progress. International organizations such as the United Nations and non-governmental organizations like Human Rights Watch are essential in advocating a peaceful resolution. Still, ultimately it is up to the people of Myanmar to reach an agreement that will bring lasting peace. Until then, the human cost of this conflict will continue to devastate innocent lives and communities across the country.
Damage to Aung San Suu Kyi’s Reputation
In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi—the de facto leader of Myanmar who once enjoyed broad support from both inside and outside of her country—has come under increasing scrutiny due to her role (or lack thereof) during this crisis. Her silence towards domestic criticism and calls from abroad had damaged her reputation and led some observers to question whether she was still capable or willing to lead her people out of their current predicament.
Without Aung San Suu Kyi at its helm, any potential international intervention risks losing much-needed local political support amongst Burmese citizens and buy-in from other regional actors, such as China or India, who are deeply vested in ensuring stability in their neighborhood.
Myanmar VS Ukraine
The international community’s response towards Myanmar has been distinctively different than that seen with other recent conflicts such as Ukraine due mainly to a variety of factors, including an absence of an iconic leader analogous to Yulia Tymoshenko; complexities within Myanmar making it difficult for outside forces to intervene without further worsening existing tensions; and damage inflicted on Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation due her inaction during this crisis. All these considerations must be considered when thinking about potential future action by the international community if it hopes for successful outcomes in resolving this crisis diplomatically rather than through military force. While there are no easy solutions available right now, we can take solace in knowing that all options remain open should they become necessary.
Ultimately, the turbulent history of Myanmar provides further challenges for Western countries to comprehend and make sense of the country’s ongoing strife. With a tumultuous past that stretches back thousands of years and incorporates both internal and external factors, the situation in this Southeast Asian country is nothing if complicated. This means it is far more difficult for global powers such as the United States to create a simple interpretation or clear-cut narrative associated with the conflict, as achieved in Ukraine’s fight against Russia. For Myanmar, there is no easy solution to progress out of its struggles; however, international involvement would assist all parties in understanding each other better for a peaceful resolution.
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