Strauss Center News

Updates from the Strauss Center and our affiliated distinguished scholars and fellows


Foreign Affairs Article by Distinguished Scholar Analyzes Myanmar

Nov 5, 2018 |

In his Foreign Affairs article, Where Myanmar Went Wrong, Strauss Distinguished Scholar Dr. Zoltan Barany analyzes State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s role in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Dr. Barany addresses the discrimination the Rohingya have faced, who Suu Kyi is, what her relationship is with the Burmese military, and what she could have done better. Dr. Barany argues that although she may not have been able to put an end to the violence against the Rohingya, Suu Kyi has failed in institutionalizing democracy and strengthening the economy.

First, Dr. Barany’s article describes the situation the Rohingya face in Myanmar. There are about 2.5 million Rohingya, of which fewer than half live in Burma, and they constitute the world’s largest stateless population. In 2017, the Rohingya military faction (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) came into conflict with the Myanmar military, killing twelve police officers. The Burmese military responded with a crackdown which resulted in 650,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.

Many people had expected Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, to end or at least speak up against the violence committed against the Rohingya and were disappointed when she did not. However, Dr. Barany argues that her lack of leadership on this issue should not have come as a surprise considering she has often dismissed the Rohingya, that most Burmese people have a strong anti-Rohingya sentiment, and that the civilian government she leads has no control over the military which carried out the attacks.

Although Suu Kyi could not have done more to control the military, Dr. Barany argues that she does have dangerous autocratic tendencies. She serves in three different leadership roles in the government, has chosen all members of the party’s Central Executive Committee, shows a preference to loyalty over competence, and has no apparent successor. Dr. Barany argues that her autocratic tendencies would be less of a concern if she had strengthened the Burmese economy. Suu Kyi’s autocratic tendencies and ignorance of human rights violations by the military is not only a threat to the Burmese people, but also to the West. Dr. Barany argues that there are signs that instead of trying to ally with the West, Suu Kyi seems to be turning towards China. Although China want to be seen as a peacekeeper, they also do not prioritize human rights. Dr. Barany sheds light on the fact that the US has options to help stop the ethnic cleansing. He says the US should suspend military engagement, sponsor programs that will help the people of Myanmar, and push for democracy which the people of Myanmar will accept.

Dr. Barany argues that Suu Kyi “has made her own situation worse through poor management and a lack of focus on issues that are under her administration’s control” and that she must change her actions to gain any support from the international community.