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By John Manly

Sophomore, GW

Myanmar has experienced nearly endless violence since its independence. It now seems that once aspiring developing democracy is “winding the clock back and rerun the politics of the past decade” to the oppression of militarism. Therefore, the United States with its interests of limiting Chinese expansionism and the preservation of liberal idealism, must offset this push by Myanmar’s Tatmadaw Party to regain authoritarian control of the country. This should be done exclusively with soft power measures which includes encouraging international pressure, assistance to opposition groups, and eventually negotiation between the military and the civilian shadow government of the NLD. This will ultimately lead to an increase in US influence within the region simultaneously achieving United States strategic interests with limited if any negative expenditure of United States political capital. 

The increasing prominence of the Indo-Pacific Security Concept makes Southeast Asia a vital sphere of influence in containing the hegemonic ambitions of the Chinese. According to a Council of Foreign Affairs working group, the Chinese government is creating a “China-dominated regional order” by establishing vast trade networks and interference in the affairs of their neighbors. If the Chinese are successful they will be able to dictate the diplomatic affairs of their neighbors, while simoustousley hindering the United States. 

Furthermore, the destruction of democracy will cause a domino effect of militarism in the area, hindering not only the United States but the entire stability of the liberal world order. While this can be seen as mere speculation, the recent erosion of democratic norms throughout the world such as Hong Kong, Thailand and the Philippines indicates this as possible. If the United States remains quiet, authoritarianism will continue to spread, providing an atmosphere that fosters an inhumane ideology.  

 As the world has continued to experience a rise of populist nationalist governments, the establishment of another despotic regime will encourage other militarists to move towards power. In a time where the values of democracy are questioned from West to East, the preservation of democracy is essential if the United States wishes to regain its title of the “leader of the free world.” As authoritarian politics expert Lee Morgenbesser claims, the actions of the Burmese Military “abruptly ends Myanmar’s faulty and fragile push towards democracy over the last decade,” leading to the retrenchment of authoritarianism. It is for these acute interests that the neglect and isolation of the United States from the events defining the Myanmar crisis would ultimately hinder the United States’ role in the world.

While the importance of United States leadership and interests regarding the crisis cannot be understated, it is important to acknowledge the ineffectiveness that hard power actions, such as military operations, would have in Myanmar. Coercion is not suitable for building a democracy and fostering support from the freedom-loving citizens of Myanmar. As Dr. Gray of Strategic Studies Institute claims, “all too often, military force seems to fail as an instrument of policy” in the 21st Century. On the other hand, soft power “is more compatible with the culture of a principally liberal American society” and its egalitarian values. This makes soft power measures much more preferable than aggressive actions which would disillusion the peaceful pro-democracy movement. This can be done by diplomatic dealings with ASEAN, the UN, other global powers, and the civilian shadow government encouraging the local population to sustain its resistance to the military. These tactics will undermine the military regime and empower the protestors. This time tested strategy can be compared to the soft power tactics used by the United States during the Cold War such as supporting the Solidarity Movement in Poland. If implemented correctly this formula will provide an unique opportunity for the international community and the United States to strengthen the democratic movement and prevent the military leaders from finding legitimacy among other authoritarians. Essentially, political isolation of the military through soft power is the key in foundering this regime.    

In conclusion, the United States should become actively involved in ardently supporting

democracy in Myanmar because of its  interests in containing China and preserving stability in the liberal world order. The U.S. must not retreat into ill-advised isolationism or use of hard power which would ultimately undermine the United States’ already questionable international reputation. Instead, the United States should rely on carefully constructed soft power measures to achieve its goals in Myanmar. An effective use of soft power will prevent the dictatorship from trying to re-establish itself, allowing Myanmar to once again be a beacon for democracy in Southeast Asia. 


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