Throughout 2022, when Cambodia was chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the nagging questions inside the corridors of power were fairly straightforward. Is Myanmar a failed state? Why negotiate with a junta that has little or no control over the country?
Those questions were put on hold as Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen attempted to negotiate the bloc’s Five-Point Consensus with junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, creating a veneer of public respectability for all parties until Phnom Penh passed the ASEAN baton to Jakarta.
Indonesia has since indicated a tougher stand and as atrocities have escalated, including four massacres allegedly committed by the military this month, such questions are again being posed.
This author’s last Myanmar story published by The Diplomat was about the Tadaing massacre and had barely been posted when word came through of yet another atrocity.
This time, the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) released details of the killings of 29 civilians on March 11, including three monks, at Nam Nein Village in Pinlong Township, Shan State, near its southern border with Karenni State.
A coroner, who declined to be named, investigated the killings and told an NUG press conference that many of the dead had been tortured before being shot at “very close range” and that people were “in great suffering… this is a serious inhumane war crime.”
The NUG also claimed that the junta was attempting to ignite a religious conflict by blaming the deaths of Buddhist monks on the NUG’s armed wing, the People’s Defense Force, and has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to expand its current in-country investigations.
The U.N.’s special rapporteur for Myanmar, Tom Andrews, then told The Guardian in regard to Russian arms sales to the junta that “the same types of weapons that are killing Ukrainians are killing people in Myanmar.”
More importantly, he said that under the junta’s rule, Myanmar is a “failing state” and would likely get worse. The U.N. envoy for Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, then told the U.N. General Assembly that “there is no prospect for a negotiated settlement” to the crisis.
Worthy acknowledgments not before their time.
There is no strict definition for a failed state, but it is usually defined as a state that has lost its effective ability to govern. That includes its people, territory, its ability to maintain infrastructure and exercise control over its economy.
A briefing paper released last September by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar found the military does not have effective control and could only claim to have stable control over 17 percent of the country’s territory.
It found that the NUG and resistance groups had “effective control” over 52 percent of Myanmar while the military and opposition forces were actively contesting the remaining 23 percent.
Adding further fuel to the argument is the Fund for Peace,which publishes an annual Fragile State Index (FSI). It scores states on 12 factors and 100 sub-indicators and then raises the alert on states that are at the tipping point of becoming failed. It stops short of labeling a state as failed.
Yemen, Somalia, Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic took out the worst five FSI spots, respectively, in 2022 as teetering on failed, with scores of between 111.7 and 108.1.
Myanmar occupies 10th place with a score of 100, after Chad and Afghanistan.
Obviously, last year’s score did not take into account the travesties in Myanmar committed over the past three months – including the ability of human traffickers to ply their trade at will – nor mounting arguments that the military should not be engaged by the international community.
As a failed state, Myanmar’s membership with ASEAN could be suspended and negotiations restricted to the NUG while enabling the U.N., or more likely a Western coalition, to intervene and impose no-flight zones, further sanctions, and secure safe havens within the country.
Then the ICC would be in a better position to execute warrants for the arrests of Myanmar’s senior military leaders for war crimes and quite probably, genocide. It would still be a risky enterprise but also one of Min Aung Hlaing’s own making.