Myanmar: The United Wa State Army's Uncertain Future

Jul 22, 2013 | 10:48 GMT

Myanmar: The United Wa State Army's Uncertain Future
A Myanmar security officer guards a pile of drugs set ablaze by authorities in Shan State in 2006.


The United Wa State Army, once recognized as the world's largest narcotics trafficking organization and Myanmar's strongest ethnic minority army, finds itself at a strategic crossroads amid broad changes to the country's political landscape. Over the past decades, opposition to Myanmar's military-led government both inside and outside the country afforded the Wa army a high degree of autonomy, allowing it to greatly expand its territorial control in northeastern Myanmar's Shan State and to counter the junta with its economic and military strength.

However, the central government in Naypyidaw is pushing for national unity in support of its ongoing liberalization and normalization of relations with the outside world, and its intolerance of the Wa army has grown demonstrably. The government is now increasingly seeking to expand its presence in Wa territory in hopes of eventually drawing a region over which it has historically exercised little control into the national fold, clouding the Wa's future. A full-scale military offensive may not be in either side's interest, but Naypyidaw's recent success in using a divide-and-encircle strategy has put the government in an unusually favorable position over the Wa, leaving the long-resilient ethnic militia short on leverage and forcing it to reassess its strategic options.

The government's intolerance to the ethnic militia has been growing....

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