Bring out the big guns against the Myanmar military
The revelation that the US has charged two Myanmar nationals for allegedly plotting to assassinate the Myanmar ambassador to the UN over his opposition to the February coup is the merely the latest news on the military junta to cause international outrage.
As Washington’s UN envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield noted, the alleged plan to murder or remove Kyaw Moe Tun fits an increasingly common pattern whereby authoritarian regimes try to silence political opponents wherever they may be in the world, though this attempt appears both over-ambitious and amateurish: Myanmar simply does not have the capacity to act in this way abroad, as Russia or North Korea could.
What is most striking about this incident is just how half-baked the whole premise seems. Myanmar’s military leaders are denying any involvement or knowledge of the plot. Of course, they would. But there are simply no other plausible suspects. Really, who else in the world would care one way or the other about the Myanmar ambassador to the UN? Every other political player in Myanmar right now is aligned with the anti-military opposition, and Kyaw Moe Tun has been the opposition’s most internationally visible voice. Of course, the military leaders are the only plausible suspects.
So under what scenario would the assassination of the pro-democracy envoy on US soil be of any benefit to a junta desperately seeking international recognition of its takeover? There is no obvious good outcome that comes to mind. Most likely, the would-be assassins would have preferred to avoid carrying out the deed; the optimal scenario would have been to force the ambassador’s resignation. Would they have actually carried out the murder if the envoy refused to resign? This will remain a matter of speculation, but it does appear to be the case.
... the US State Department must deploy the big guns — the harshest sanctions on the Myanmar military along with more active support for the pro-democracy opposition National Unity government. If we shy away from a robust response this time, we have every right to expect more crimes of this nature will be planned and carried out on US soil.
Perhaps, then, the calculation, if there was indeed any calculation underpinning this insanity, was that the military government’s international standing was so low that nothing could lower it further. They further likely believe that this kind of excess will not prompt a stronger international retaliation against the junta and its domestic interests. Perhaps the idea was that the military simply has nothing to lose and so could exact “revenge” against the ambassador for his “betrayal,” while also deterring future dissidents.
This highlights two issues. The first is that the junta must be desperate if it has no better idea than this kind of reactive lashing out. The military leaders really did not expect to find themselves so deep in the hole seven months after the coup when they still have to maintain control over the country by brute force. Meanwhile, everything else is going wrong, and they have no support or sympathy, either domestically or internationally. They are truly isolated; but they have crossed the Rubicon, so if they are to survive as a political force, they must stay on the offensive.
The second issue is that the international community, especially Western countries, needs to start punishing these kinds of actions properly.
Assassinations and associated types of violence keep happening on our streets because while the courts deal appropriately with the pawns on the ground who carry out the attacks, our political response toward the states and leaders who direct the strikes is all but nonexistent for fear of disrupting diplomatic relations or “disturbing the peace.” This has to stop. If the root causes of these attacks fail to suffer any consequences for their actions, these crimes will keep happening.
In this case, the US State Department must deploy the big guns — the harshest sanctions on the Myanmar military along with more active support for the pro-democracy opposition National Unity government. If we shy away from a robust response this time, we have every right to expect more crimes of this nature will be planned and carried out on US soil.
• 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