When Myanmar embarked on wide ranging reforms in 2011, hopes were high that liberalisation would pave the way for the peaceful settlement of decades-long conflict between an ethnocratic state and a bewildering array of ethnonational insurgencies. New ceasefires stabilised Myanmar’s war-torn eastern periphery and the government initiated peace talks. Most notably, leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU), the country’s oldest and historically least compromising insurgency, have championed the new peace process. But conflict between Myanmar’s military and several movements in the northern borderlands near China has escalated to levels unseen since the 1980s. Importantly, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), one of the key ceasefire-supporting political movements of the 1990s, has led a coalition of armed groups back onto the battlefield since its own long-standing ceasefire broke down in 2011. What explains these shifting tides of conflict and peace?
Dr David Brenner draws on long-term field research into the KNU and KIO to explain how internal fragmentation, particularly struggles over authority, has driven the organisations’ strategic moves and trajectories. Shedding light on the internal politics of armed movements, their fragmented nature and the extent to which they are embedded in wider society, poses important questions about Myanmar’s peace process.
Dr David Brenner is lecturer in International Relations at the Department of Politics, University of Surrey. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he remains affiliated as an associate fellow at the Global South Unit. He has published widely on ethnic conflict in Myanmar and is currently working on a monograph on the social dynamics of insurgency in the country’s borderlands. Beyond academia, David engages in building local capacities among conflict-affected communities and consults policy-makers and development agencies on matters of political transition and conflict transformation. He tweets @DavBrenner.
This event under the Armed Conflict Programme has been generously supported by US Friends of the IISS.
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Dr Anastasia Voronkova has overall responsibility for the commissioning, editing and production of the annual IISS publication The Armed Conflict Survey. She also provides direction and coordination for the Armed Conflict Database. She runs the IISS Armed Conflict Programme, established in 2015, and contributes to research and consultancy work in the field of armed conflict.