Tue 1 Jul 2014
Filed under: International,Military,News
A senior United States military officer has used an address to leaders of the armed forces in Nay Pyi Taw to outline the benefits of civilian leadership of the military, as Washington continues to push for the Tatmadaw to come under civilian control as part of a larger process of professionalisation.
Lieutenant General Anthony Crutchfield, deputy commander of the US Pacific Command, said that civilian oversight of the US military was a “cornerstone” of the institution and Myanmar’s military would benefit from following suit – suggesting even that it could help to end the country’s long-running ethnic conflicts.
“To ensure our national defence, our founders created a military comprised of soldiers who serve under leaders elected by the people. These soldiers obey the same rules and laws as the people and exercise their rights to participate in the democratic process,” Lt Gen Crutchfield said in a speech to officials at the National Defense College in Nay Pyi Taw on June 25.
“Simply put, militaries possess capabilities that are too powerful to be placed at the discretion of just a few people. Rather, they must be at the service of all people and used in accordance with the democratic will of the people.”
His speech – the first delivered to the College by a senior US military officer – touched on five key areas that the Tatmadaw should focus on to improve professionalism, including respect for human rights and ensuring diversity in its ranks.
However, he particularly highlighted the need for the military to be led by a civilian commander-in-chief. Under the 2008 constitution, the military is led by a serving officer – currently Senior General Min Aung Hlaing – who does not answer to the president. Both sit on the powerful 11-member National Defence and Security Council.
While Washington is lobbying hard to eventually change this, it also wants to see the Tatmadaw relinquish its grip on 25 percent of seats in Myanmar’s parliaments.
Lt Gen Crutchfield said this was important for armed forces to win and retain the respect and trust of their own people.
“In my experience working with other militaries, I have found that when a nation’s armed forces are above politics, respect the ultimate authority of elected civilians, abide by the rule of law and protect civilians, they will win the trust of the people they serve,” he said.
“It may seem they are accepting significant restrictions on their authority, but in fact they end up stronger, more respected and more effective when they are called to fight.”
US engagement with the Myanmar military has been limited since the two countries began rebuilding relations. The Defense Institute for International Legal Studies, a Rhode Island-based organisation of military lawyers that works for the US Department of Defense, held an exchange with Myanmar military leaders in August 2013.
The engagement has been supported by some in Washington, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who last year called for “modest, targeted military-to-military relationship” between the countries’ armed forces.
But support for military ties been met opposition from other lawmakers and Myanmar watch groups, who believe that the Obama administration is moving too quickly on the issue given the Tatmadaw’s dismal human rights record and continued questions over its relationship with North Korea.
Lt Gen Crutchfield was in Myanmar for a week-long visit led by Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour.