Today In History: On January 31, 1949, the Karen National Union Began The World’s Longest Current Rebellion

Rebellion is a subject that I have written about a lot, as the legitimacy of rulership has always been questionable to me. Having written quite often about the problems of Burma [1] including the refugee crisis in Thailand [2] and the problems resulting from Burma’s own fractured origins as an independent state [3], it should not be a surprise that I wish to bring attention to a little known fact, that the longest rebellion continues, even if a ceasefire has lowered the temperature somewhat. On January 31, 1949, the Karen National Union began its armed rebellion against Burmese oppression, shortly after that unhappy nation declared independence, and it has been at war with Burma ever since then, despite occasional cease fires [4].

It is clear that Burma (and its neighbors, like China and Thailand) are looking forward to the economic benefits of peace. Thailand (as well as China) is already looking to build a deep water port in Southern Burma with a highway into Thailand, and China is already looking to add to its use of Burma as a source of raw materials, hydroelectricity, and jade in helping Burma’s economic development for its own profit as well. And certainly Burma’s development would help its own people as well as its neighbors, except that the political problems of Burma and its lack of unity threaten any kind of economic development it might find.

And this is where the Karen and Kachin and other rebellions have proven so dangerous. If Burma had, upon statehood, managed to keep its obligations to its restive minority populations, it might have done better to acquire friendly and small and landlocked neighbors as friends, rather than seeking to control them with their own military. But nations are seldom wise in dealing with their neighbors, nor are they often quick to understand that the profits of making a weaker neighbor a client and a friend are often far greater than making it a mortal enemy through oppression, and the Burmese (to say nothing of the Karen and Kachin and Wa and Chin and Mon, who have paid an even heavier price) have lost as a result of their folly.

There are really only two ways that a rebellion such as this can end. The fact that it has continued now for 63 years without conclusion suggests that the Burmese army lacks the strength to put down the rebellion by force, but also that the Karen (as well as the other peoples in Burma with the same issue) also lack the allies and diplomatic and military strength to win themselves. It has therefore devolved into a logistical struggle which neither the Karen (or others in their spot) nor the Burmese have been particularly successful at, with many millions suffering harm as a result. Since direct victory appears impossible on the field, there must either be a negotiated settlement for terms by which the Karen would be willing to remain within Burma with greater autonomy, or there must be some terms of separation where the Karen (and others) would be free to have their own independent nations in such a way as would not threaten Burma’s security concerns.

For the moment, let us assume there is some chance for a peaceful reconciliation between Burma and the Karen, Kachin, Wa, Shan, Chin, Mon, and various other minorities that have been in nearly constant rebellion against Burma’s oppressive government. What does this depend on? It depends for one on the military leaving the people alone and ceasing their human rights violation and oppression, but that would require the trust of the military leadership of Burma on the loyalty of the Karen. Trust seems in short supply around the world. Additionally, it depends on there being some way for the Karen and Burmese people (especially the elites–the people that matter in these calculations) to profit sufficiently from peace that they cease to look toward war.

None of this appears pretty likely. Making peace would require a look toward mutual benefit, and including people to profit and concerns to address that the Burmese military has not respected for decades. Likewise, rebel movements that are currently fighting against their own supposed government will have to switch gears and work on promoting the well-being of their people in different ways. Doing this successfully will require a lot of trust to be built where there is none and has been none for decades. My hopes are not sanguine, and that is why barring some major shift the world’s longest rebellion is likely to continue.





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, International Relations, Military History and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Today In History: On January 31, 1949, the Karen National Union Began The World’s Longest Current Rebellion

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Every War Has Two Losers | Edge Induced Cohesion

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