"Advancing Myanmar's Transition: A Way Forward for U.S. Policy" (Asia Society)

In January 2012, an Asia Society delegation visited Myanmar to continue discussions between experts from both countries and to explore opportunities to advance relations during this fluid and fragile period of transition and reform Myanmar. In this report, the Asia Society assesses the nature of the changes that are under way and the challenges and vulnerabilities that the country faces, and recommends measures that the United States can undertake to encourage and support the institutionalization of sustainable democracy in Myanmar.

Report excerpts (see link at right and below for full report):

What has changed?
A cadre of former generals who were key figures in the previous military regime is leading Myanmar’s new parliamentary government. A handful of them who now occupy top positions in the government seem to have undergone a metamorphosis, becoming forward-leaning advocates of democracy, free enterprise, and the expansion of individual freedom. They have begun to use their new positions of authority to rebuild the country’s economic and political institutions.

What are the key challenges ahead?
The absence of organizational capacity and expertise within the government is one of the greatest obstacles to reform, particularly the reforms that require technical expertise. Economic progress will be essential to the success of political reform. The reformers believe that popular support for the political transition can be consolidated only if real improvements in quality of life can be delivered to the country’s poverty-struck masses and struggling middle class. They fear that if the country’s economic decline is not arrested and reversed relatively soon, it will lead to widespread dissatisfaction and instability, threatening a return to harsh security measures.

What can we do?
Unlike some underdeveloped countries emerging from decades of harsh authoritarian rule, Myanmar’s citizenry has tremendous intellectual capacity and can be expected to respond quickly and positively to new educational opportunities. For this effort to be most effective, there should be as much coordination as possible among donors to avoid the “fire hose” effect, which would only overwhelm the current weak educational institutions and create more chaos than capacity building.