A Long Way to Peace: Identities, Genocide, and State Preservation in Burma, 1948-2018

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Politics, Groups, and Identities




Following independence in 1948, successive Burmese regimes have fought continuous wars against ethno-religious minorities living on the periphery. The following article analyzes these conflicts through the lens of prospect theory. According to this perspective, regimes are highly sensitive to relative losses and may employ genocidal policies as a means of state-preservation. Our framework applies this theory to three sub-national cases of genocide perpetrated against the Karen, Kachin, and Rohingya ethno-religious groups. Through qualitative case analysis, we unpack multifaceted processes of violence perpetrated against civilians and non-combatants in Burma. Based on our findings, we argue that the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) engaged in genocidal policies, including forced displacement and labor, slash-and-burn tactics, ethno-religious co-optation, and political killings as an instrumental means of preserving the state. Notably, while the military engaged in extreme violence against all three groups, their interest in state preservation varied. Genocidal violence employed against Karen and Kachin, long recognized by the military as “legitimate” groups, was perpetrated to assimilate “hill tribes” into the state. Conversely, violence against the Rohingya evolved with the goal of pushing a perceived “foreign” group out. This study contributes to the growing body of literature within Genocide Studies, linking macro-level theory to sub-national case studies.