Op-Ed / Asia 1 minutes

Myanmar Is Fragmenting—but Not Falling Apart

Why Outside Actors Should Work More Closely With Nonstate Groups

The conflict in Myanmar, now in its fourth year, has claimed thousands of civilian lives and displaced more than three million people. Since toppling the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, the military junta under General Min Aung Hlaing has failed to consolidate its authority. Over the last seven months, the military has suffered a succession of humiliating defeats at the hands of opposition forces.

Myanmar is undergoing fragmentation: large parts of the country, including most of Myanmar’s international borders, are now under the dominion of various ethnic armed groups. These groups are expanding control of their ethnic homelands and building autonomous statelets. But this does not necessarily mean the country is headed for a catastrophic collapse with the kind of chaotic intergroup violence that has played out in other fractured states, such as Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

At the same time, fragmentation has greatly diminished the prospects for building a federal union in Myanmar. Doing so would require regional rulers to cede partial authority to a central government and nonstate forces to disarm, both of which are extremely unlikely. Rather than trying to forge a grand political solution to the current conflict, outside actors should accept the messy reality. Given the most probable alternatives—a protracted war, a consolidation of military rule, or both—decentralized control of disparate parts of the country may be the least ruinous outcome.

The full article can be read on the Foreign Affairs website.

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