Inside Burma, the armed forces have established a chokehold on political power unrivalled in the world. The latest incarnation of junta rule emerged in 1988 following the bloody repression of a nationwide pro-democracy movement. Yet despite international revulsion, today's generals have barely been touched by its effects: the suspension of international economic assistance; the imposition of an arms embargo; and bans on new investment in Burma by Western firms. Over four decades of military rule, there have been rumors of in-fighting among officers, and of mutinies and desertions by foot soldiers. Many have concluded from such reports that the regime must inevitably fall. So far, however, such thoughts have been wishful. While elsewhere in Southeast Asia authoritarian regimes have crumbled, in Burma the junta has endured.
How have Burma's generals managed to sustain their dominance for so long? Why hasn't the country's democratic opposition been able to wrest power from this regime? And why have international sanctions and prodding so utterly failed to break the stalemate in Rangoon?
Mary Callahan is Assistant Professor at the University of Washington's Jackson School of International Studies. She received her PhD in Government at Cornell University in 1996. Among her many writings are chapters civil-military relations in Burma scheduled to appear in Soldier and State in Asia (Stanford University Press, 2000) and Burma: Strong State/Weak Regime (Crawford House, 2000). Fluent in Burmese, Prof. Callahan also teaches, lectures widely, and serves as a consultant to the United Nations on political conditions in Burma.