Radical US solution to Rohingya crisis not a sane move

Radical US solution to Rohingya crisis not a sane move


During a June 13 hearing on the US State Department’s budget for South Asia, Rep. Bradley Sherman, Chairman of the Sub-committee on Asia Pacific of the Congress, submitted a proposal to address the genocide in Myanmar’s Rakhine state against the Rohingya by reapportioning Rakhine from the sovereign authority of Myanmar to Bangladesh. That is, the US congressman is proposing to redraw the borders of ostensibly sovereign states in Southeast Asia.

From a very particular point of view, this might look like a sensible and most pragmatic solution to an ethnic conflict that shows no sign of abating. The congressman even invoked the parallel of the Sudanese Civil War, where the US supported the secession of South Sudan from the government in Khartoum. And, if people are utterly uninterested in peaceful coexistence and commingling, then it might just seem that the most pragmatic way of keeping the peace is to segregate the two warring populations and put an internationally recognized and guaranteed border between them.

From any other point of view, however, one would hope that a US congressman might be more cognizant of the futile enterprise of a Western superpower trying to impose border arrangements on foreign states.

Myanmar naturally, and — I can’t believe I am about to defend the Myanmar state — correctly, reacted with dismay to the proposal. What the congressman might not have expected is that Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also condemned the suggestion as wrong and shameful. The Rohingya themselves are also not interested in any such plan. From all the conversations I have had with Rohingya refugees in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, not one of them had any sympathy for something like an independent Rohingya state, let alone simply being annexed into another country — even a country that has generously received and offered them refuge in the hour of their greatest need.

The fundamental evil here is the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya from their native Rakhine state by a hostile Myanmar government. It must, therefore, be for the Rohingya to ultimately articulate what they would recognize as adequate restitution for that crime against their humanity.

One would hope that a US congressman might be more cognizant of the futile enterprise of a Western superpower trying to impose border arrangements on foreign states

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

And the Rohingya, showing maturity and wisdom, want exactly the sensible thing: They wish to be able to return to the country of their birth, Myanmar, and they wish to be recognized as full citizens who belong there by right. They have suffered for decades, with successive governments having delegitimized their existence and their history as a distinctive ethnic and religious group in Rakhine state.

Perhaps the US believes that “radical solutions” can be put on the table to be used as leverage, to force Myanmar into a more sensible compromise to start moving toward addressing the humanitarian disaster they have imposed on the Rohingya.

But, if that is the case, any such threat has no credibility. Myanmar is, more and more, a de facto client state of China. China would therefore veto in the UN Security Council any US proposal along these lines. And, if the US intended to take unilateral action and invade the region to impose their will by force on the ground, it is doubtful China would hesitate in stationing troops to safeguard the Chinese investment in the Belt and Road infrastructure they have been building in the area to connect to the port of Sittwe. This precludes a US occupation in just the way that Russia blocked US ground operations in Syria.

I do believe stronger international intervention is required to compel Myanmar to comply with international law on this issue. For example, China should be persuaded to join a common effort by the international community to create a region within Myanmar where the Rohingya could be protected by international forces under a UN mandate until Myanmar shows it is prepared to recognize the Rohingya as rightful citizens and integrate them fully into the state in which they were born.

So there is plenty of room and much need for radical solutions backed by the full force of the international community to resolve this crisis. But the US unilaterally redrawing the borders of sovereign states is not a sane solution and not what is required.


Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a Director at the Center for Global Policy and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017). Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim



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