Myanmar military unlikely to back down; challenges for the new US ambassador to the UN

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

With protests growing, where does that leave the Myanmar coup?

Well, certainly no feeling on the part of the military that they need to back down under either domestic or international pressure. There's been relatively limited violence, thankfully so far. A few protesters have been killed. They've used tear gas, they've used water cannons, but much less of a crackdown than certainly they're capable of or that we've seen from the Myanmar military historically. That, of course, gives the protesters on the ground more incentive to think that they have success, and they can continue.

Around the world it's getting a lot of attention and certainly the Biden administration much more focused on human rights, dramatically more, especially Secretary of State Blinken than the Trump administration was. So, focus on additional sanctions, focus on more pressure, coordination with other countries, but not with the countries that matter the most to the Myanmar economy and that is China overwhelmingly. They've got a good relationship with the military and they've been very clear that publicly they are not on the side of the protesters. They just want calm, but they're not going to undermine this government. They're not going to level sanctions and that level of unwillingness to get involved, undercut the sovereignty of the Myanmar government, is something you'll see with all of the top countries that trade with Myanmar. It's Japan, it's Thailand, I mean across Southeast Asia that's all the same. So as a consequence, I think you could certainly continue to see significant demonstrations, but it's very hard to imagine anything that would upset this coup outcome and that means that the military remains in charge. I mean, even though you can imagine with a redo in elections, that they might try to reingratiate themselves with the West and offer a position, a compromise to Aung San Suu Kyi, as long as they perform better in unfair and unfree elections themselves, it's hard to imagine that she would accept that. So as a consequence, stability goes down, economic trajectory goes down, but the military government, at least for the time being, is here to stay.

What challenges are ahead for the new US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield?

She was just confirmed, sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris and, on the one hand, the Biden administration is vastly more interested in working with the United Nations and multilateral institutions and architecture than the Trump administration was. And that's particularly true on issues of climate, which has been the area of greatest success for the UN. It's the one that the secretary general, António Guterres, is most proud of and in that regard, this is going to be a very easy, very friendly relationship, even though she doesn't bring anywhere near the level of influence, either domestically in the US or globally, that Nikki Haley did when she was ambassador to the UN, or for that matter, Samantha Powers did or Madeline Albright did.

But having said that, the United Nations Security Council is a pretty broken institution. You've got countries with very different interests with permanent seats that have vetoes that can stop anything useful from happening, unless you have consensus. When you look around the world right now, there are very few issues that have consensus. You can get relatively watered-down statements condemning behaviors from various rogue states around the world and, indeed, most recently you got one on Myanmar, but the actual impact that those statements have is virtually zero. So, it's a useful place for the most powerful countries in the world to engage, to share information, and certainly you want experienced diplomats to be involved and appointed there and I think that Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is certainly that. But the idea that the United States is suddenly going to have more success in day-to-day workings in that group, that's certainly not the case. We're very, very far from that. There's no reform happening in the Security Council any time soon.

Are Putin and Lukashenko best friends now?

Well, they're a lot friendlier, right? I mean, you saw that President Lukashenko of Belarus accepted very happily an invitation from Russian President Putin to Sochi to go skiing, to share some drinks, to act in a convivial fashion in relatively informal clothing and spent hours together at a time when the United States and the Europeans are looking to increase sanctions against Russia because of the SolarWinds attack which hit the US, and NATO, and the UK, and the EU, and has been attributed to Russia, and also because of the jailing of Navalny, Alexei Navalny. Putin is very happy to show that he's continuing business as usual in his backyard and that means standing by Lukashenko, an incredibly repressive leader that continues to stay in power despite having stolen his most recent presidential elections. Demonstrations in Belarus have lost a lot of momentum though they still continue on the weekends. A lot of people have been jailed and, again, it's very clear that hard to keep enthusiasm when you see that the level of repressive control of the government and its security forces is complete, is a hundred percent and there are no defections to speak of.

We've seen this in Syria, we've seen it in Venezuela, we've seen it in Russia. We are seeing it in Myanmar, we're seeing it in Belarus. I mean, despite that we had the Colored Revolutions in the former Soviet Union with large numbers of people, massive demonstrations on the ground, that led to democratic overthrow of governments when those institutions were really on the way out. We saw a bit of that in the Arab Spring, but only successful in Tunisia. In Egypt successful briefly, but not fully, and then turned back and nowhere else in the region. And now with the exception of little Armenia that had a successful revolution and brought in a democratically supported prime minister, but also just lost a war with Azerbaijan, most of these popular movements are having a really hard time right now. And some of that is technology trends and surveillance and control. Some of that is lack of credibility of big democratic institutions, themselves, like the United States. Some of that is greater power of China and regional rogue states over and in their backyards, all of which means Putin and Lukashenko are looking stronger today than they have been in the past months.

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Can "the Quad" constrain China?