How Can a Junta Survive With a Weak Army?

Officially, the junta known as the SPLDC (State Peace and Development Council) no longer rules Burma. It was dissolved for the 2010 elections, in which Thein Sein was “elected” president and a veneer of democracy was applied to the country. But the military still rules. In Asia Times Online, Bertil Lintner writes about the expansion of Burma’s arms manufacturing.

Myanmar has embarked on a massive expansion of its military and military capabilities since the country was shaken by a nationwide pro-democracy uprising that almost toppled the regime in 1988. … Recent defectors from the Myanmar military say that the number of infantry battalions and other military units have been increased dramatically since 1988, but most of these are understaffed and the foot soldiers are often forcibly recruited, poorly paid and badly motivated [and] the troops, and even most of the officers, lack combat experience.

… Myanmar’s newly recruited infantry may lack combat experience, and the quality of the weapons produced in its defense industries may be of poor quality. … But it is clear that the Myanmar regime is in no hurry to change its priorities, as defense spending still accounts for as much as 50% of the central government’s budget.

In particular, those priorities are

… creating a loyal officer corps that the regime can depend on for its survival rather than building a professional fighting force. Regime survival has always been the main prerogative of Myanmar’s generals and thus a loyal and well-supplied officer corps is still of utmost importance, regardless of their weakness on the battlefield.

Obviously when a populace is as disempowered as Burma’s, the junta doesn’t need a strong army.