Than Shwe’s ‘The Art of War’
covering burma and southeast asia
Friday, May 24, 2019


Than Shwe’s ‘The Art of War’

By AUNG ZAW MAR — APR, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.2

Burmese junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe reviews soldiers during Armed Forces Day celebrations in Rangoon in March, 2007. (Photo: AP)

Burmese generals have long sought to defend themselves from imagined external threats, masking their intense paranoia with a military shield

ARMED ethnic insurgents pose little threat nowadays to the Burmese regime, but that doesn’t deter the generals in Naypyidaw from continually strengthening their military capacity and spending the country’s precious foreign reserves on more sophisticated weapons, such as jet fighters, an air defense system, naval ships and short and medium-range missiles.

Analysts generally agree that the junta’s modern military arsenal is ill-suited for combating guerilla warfare in a mountainous jungle, but is more realistically intended as a defensive shield against an external threat.

Burmese troops march in Resistance Park in Rangoon in 2005 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Armed Forces Day. (Photo: Reuters)
When Gen Maung Aye visited Moscow in April 2006, he told Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov that Burma wished to order more Russian-made MiG-29 jet fighters (in addition to the 12 it had already secured), as well as 12 secondhand MI-17 helicopters. According to sources, Maung Aye asked the Russians to sell Burma the aircraft at “friendship prices.”

At the same time, the deputy chief of Burma’s armed forces also expressed a desire to build a short-range guided missile system in central Burma with assistance from Russia. And the wish list did not stop there.

The Russian military was asked to provide training in the manufacture of guided missiles and to supply a “Pechora” air defense system—a Russian-made, surface-to-air anti-aircraft system.

Unless the regime believes the Karen National Union and other armed ethnic groups are planning to take their insurgency to the skies, it is clear that Naypyidaw envisaged a potential threat from a foreign power.

Most analysts concurred that the Burmese regime—unlike the North Korean government under Kim Jong-il—did not have the capacity, or desire, to obtain nuclear weapons.

That was until 2007, when word leaked that Burma had contracted Russia’s federal atomic energy agency, Rosatom, to help build a 10-megawatt nuclear reactor in central Burma. 

Naturally, Burma claimed that its quest for nuclear energy was not weapons-related. In fairness, the junta had come clean in January 2002 when then-deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win declared that Burma’s “interest in nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is longstanding,” dating back as far as the 1950s.

However, the regime has offered little or no transparency in its development of the nuclear reactor and dissidents in exile charge that the regime seeks to build a nuclear weapon.

In recent years, the junta has been actively enlisting North Korean advice on missile technology, and during his acquisitive trip to Russia, Maung Aye pressed his hosts for expertise in developing a nuclear reactor. He also suggested that Naypyidaw send students to Russia to study nuclear science.

Let’s be frank and clear—Burma does not face an external threat today, nor does any foreign country intend to invade Burma in the foreseeable future.

So, why are the generals in Naypyidaw so paranoid? 

Maung Aung Myoe, a Burmese scholar who has specialized on the Burmese armed forces, or Tatmadaw, says in the recent book, “Building the Tatmadaw,” that since it came into power in 1988, the military leadership has frequently reviewed its existing defensive strategy and moved to modernize the country’s military capacity.

“This probably reflected the fear of direct invasion or invasion by proxy,” wrote Maung Aung Myoe. “The state-owned media had cited from time to time the presence of a US naval fleet in Myanmar’s [Burma’s] territorial waters during the 1988 political upheaval as evidence of an infringement of Myanmar’s sovereignty.”

The regime was also concerned that foreign powers might help insurgents on the border to develop formidable armies that would challenge the regime in Rangoon. From that fear a new doctrine and military strategy was formed, and the molding of a “people’s war” was pursued.

The concept of “people’s war” was first touched upon by Gen Aung San in 1947 and was taken up as a doctrine by Gen Ne Win after he led a military coup in 1962.

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mike Wrote:
Okkar and Naingmya must have blind faith in Than Shwe. They might be supported by Than Shwe as military officers having their special chances to become rich men under military rule.

Bob Smith Wrote:
I hate this man. He shall burn.

aung Wrote:
For Okkar,

Oh lord, we will have new columnist for "Barber's Chair." Ha ha.

naingmya Wrote:
I salute Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

Burma is the great country which has been proudly standing between the two largest countries in the world. Burma can beat any country if they really want to fight. Burmese leaders are very smart and they would never intrude on any country. They are always standing on the right side. They have the best courage and greatest power to protect their fellow citizens living in Burma. The Burmese army is one of the best combat armies in the world and has lot experience.

The victorious Burma army is formed by the world's toughest soldiers.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Thailand's dilemma is the balance between humanitarian concerns and self-interest, since the refugee camps stand mainly on their soil but at the same time they need to be in the good books of the Burmese regime for both business and strategic military interests. They can rightly expect the junta to be emboldened if Cobra Gold were to be scrapped.

If the junta did decide to go to war with Thailand, it would simply be digging a deeper hole for itself. The US would have been handed on a platter an ironclad justification to enter the fray. The Burmese military would suffer massive losses if not outright defeat and counter-invasion, and start to implode. China's hands would be tied unless a defense treaty with its wayward neighbor exists. Even if such a treaty does exist would it start WWIII on its doorstep?

The generals have taken a leaf out of the books of both Mao and Messrs Thompson, Templer & Briggs, albeit with their shared core principle cut out, namely the “battle for hearts and minds.” Coercion rules.

Okkar Wrote:
Oh, Prophet Eric Johnston, you are dead spot on! Burma will conqueror Thailand again. History will repeat itself, King Than Shwe will sack Bangkok just like King Alaung Phaya did. Why do you think there are so many refugee camps in Thailand? Kayin and Shan insurgents hiding on Thai soil are perfect cover for stockpiling weapons and ammunition. This plan has been in the making for the past 50 years, and soon it will be revealed. King Than Shwe, King of Kings, conqueror of Thailand, ruler of Bangladesh, defender of Burma, protector of Buddhism, shall be victorious. Get down on your hands and knees and worship him, ask for his blessing!

Eric Johnston Wrote:
We can deduce that there is a “fifth column” in countries bordering Burma. The fifth columnists are mainly influential people whose self-interest, consciously or unconsciously, causes them to act against the security of their country. Moral, political and physical unpreparedness to counter future aggression is a consequence of their intrigues.

Burmese migrant workers, often regarded with suspicion, are no significant threat. Most are, with good reason, unsympathetic to the Burmese military. They are not even a particularly effective cover for regime agents, who can operate much more freely as businessmen.

For a definition of “fifth column”, see:

Eric Johnston Wrote:
Does the regime believe itself threatened by external forces? Ten to fifteen years ago, surely. But today? While the generals may be mad, they are not stupid.

The pretense is useful. Persuading personnel the country is threatened exploits patriotism to retain loyalty.

A more important reason:

If hoping to attack, conceal the fact. If the preparations cannot be hidden, make it appear they are defensive.

According to a Tatmadaw officer present, the Army Commander addressed a gathering of officers being sent to Russia by saying that they will conquer Thailand when there is the clout to do so. A fit of pique? Possibly.

Cobra Gold exercises symbolize a US commitment to Thailand's defence. This is most unwelcome to the Burmese generals and their main backer.

The 'softening-up' of a future prey begins years in advance, by the creation of a 'fifth column' and by lulling the intended victim into a false sense of security.

George Than Setkyar Heine Wrote:
Yes, Than Shwe has made his choice long ago, and is on his way down the river of no return today.

But then what can you expect from a guy like Than Shwe with a pea brain. And the guy is also still refusing to “grow up.” Skulking in his lair at Naypyidaw, renders him no security nor less vulnerable than a woman without a husband to protect her.

He should have known better than making unholy alliances as answers to his security, much less stability and peace.

Military might does not make a man mightier. Even a US president is “offering” to talk with terrorists and killers today.

Hiding behind 400,000 men armed with Chinese hardware, as Than Shwe is doing today to save his own hide and ill-gotten wealth, reveals his character and mindset, bordering on lunacy and stupidity, to say the least.

Than Shwe's arms buildup today can’t be explained beyond the fact that it is to intimidate and kill his own people if they refuse to stay in line and under his boot.

lwin Wrote:
Is there a way to remove all those military thugs from ruling the country? I do not see it. The people of burma have suffered long enough and the UN is hopeless as well.

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