Realpolitik with Burma

While I do not hold a naive and idealistic view of the Indian government, I was still saddened to recently hear about the extent to which the GOI has gotten into bed with the odious dictators of Burma. Is this really much different from US-Pakistani relations? Both are justified by realpolitik, national interest, and claims that the end justifies the means.

In this case, India is circumventing the EU arms embargo on Burma by selling them attack helicopters made from EU parts:

Last week, India sparked fresh cries of outrage from human rights groups when a report surfaced saying that it plans to sell an unknown number of sophisticated Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) to Burma (also known as Myanmar).

According to a report by Amnesty International and other international organizations, the helicopters should be covered by the embargo because they are made with components from at least six EU countries and the United States… the Advanced Light Helicopters include rocket launchers from Belgium, engines from France, brake systems from Italy, fuel tanks and gearboxes from Britain. [Link]

Nor is it the first time – India has made several weapons sales to Burma in the last few years. [Note - India has neither confirmed nor denied the helicopter sale] The Burmese government is the kind of government that is perfectly willing to attack and kill its own civilians to maintain its grip on power, so selling weapons to the Burmese junta is serious business.

What does India get from this? Just like the USA, India arms and supports dictators so they can help India with its security problems:

India says it needs Burma’s help. There are at least 20,000 guerrillas from five major militant groups in India’s northeast – all fighting the Indian government for sovereignty or independence – who have training camps in the dense jungles of Sagaing in northern Burma. New Delhi has been deliberating with Yangon over plans for a military offensive against such groups.

Counterinsurgency operations in India’s northeast, says an official from India’s Ministry of Defense under conditions of anonymity, cannot succeed unless neighboring countries refrain from supporting the separatist groups based on their territories. [Link]


p>And of course, trade in general between India and Burma is increasing, as is Indian investment in Burmese gas even though the Burmese government is notorious for using forced labor when building pipelines and other infrastructure.


p>The problem with getting into bed with dictators to improve security is, as we’ve seen in Pakistan, the dictator has every incentive to let the security problems continue so as to extract future concessions:

in a bid to continue extracting favors from India, the Burmese junta might want to keep the insurgency alive in the northeast. [Link]


p>It might also lead to pressure within the EU not to export the parts to India that India is then selling to Burma, in violation of the EU embargo. Lastly, of course, it leads to a loss of the moral high ground vis-a-vis other countries making similar dirty deals that India dislikes.


p>I don’t know much about the security situation in the NorthEast of India, but I would like to think that there is a better way to deal with the situation than this. The costs to innocents are high, and the security payoff seems dubious.


p>Related sources: State Department report on human rights in Burma, Human Rights Watch on Burma, Amnesty International Report on the helicopter sale, Saferworld

51 thoughts on “Realpolitik with Burma

  1. India is currently encircled by military or oppressive regimes and has not mustered sufficient strength to withstand a conflict with China over the Burmese natural gas. India should bide it’s time but stop selling arms to the military junta.