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16 Building the Tatmadaw 2 Military Doctrine and Strategy This chapter primarily discusses the historical development of the military doctrine and strategy of the Tatmadaw since Myanmar’s independence in 1948. It sets out both security perceptions and policies, charting developments in each against the situation at the time, and also notes the contributions of the leading actors in each period. The Tatmadaw has gone through three phases of doctrinal developments. In the initial period, doctrine focused on the method of coping with foreign invasion; the second period saw the development of counter-insurgency doctrine and the formulation of the concept of total people’s war; in the third period the Tatmadaw modified its people’s war doctrine to meet modern conditions. First Phase of the Development of Military Doctrine Since independence day in January 1948, the armed forces of the Union of Myanmar, the Tatmadaw, have been combating a number of insurgencies throughout the country. The insurgencies of both right- and left-wing groups, such as the Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO) and the Burma Communist Party (BCP), were so strong in the late 1940s that the Myanmar Government1 was described in the international media as the Rangoon (Yangon) government. Various communist and separatist insurgencies in Myanmar were so widespread that the government of the time admitted that “large section[s] of the countryside was under complete domination of the insurgents”. Only from the early 1950s was the Tatmadaw able to recapture 16 02 Bldg Tatmadaw.indd 16 12/29/08 8:49:16 AM Military Doctrine and Strategy 17 and reassert its control over some important cities. However, the rural areas were still very much under the control and influence of various insurgents. This internal armed security threat to the state has long overshadowed the security perception of the Tatmadaw, in terms of doctrine, force structure, armament, and training. In the meantime, as the communists came to power in China in 1949, remnants of the Kuomintang (KMT) troops under General Li Mi moved into Myanmar and used the frontier as a springboard for attack against the People’s Republic of China, which, in turn, became an external threat to national security in Myanmar. The first military doctrine for the Tatmadaw was formulated in the early 1950s, when the security situation of the Union had improved markedly, but it focused on methods of coping with foreign invasion, rather than suppressing insurgency. Despite the fact that internal security operations continued to preoccupy the Tatmadaw’s operational priority, the first military doctrine was surprisingly for external defence. As a General Staff officer at the War Office, Lieutenant Colonel Maung Maung, the most important architect of the doctrine, studied all the factors that were likely to influence the military doctrine of the Tatmadaw. There were at least two factors that could have influenced Maung Maung’s thinking. One was his strong anti-Communist belief and the other was his desire to improve his own image.2 With little or no combat experience, Maung Maung was essentially an armchair strategist at the War Office. Taking the situation of the time into consideration, he thought that communist China was an immediate threat, and, being fascinated by the writings on armoured warfare, he drew up a defence plan based on conventional warfare, with large divisions, armoured brigades, tanks, and motorized war. Mass mobilization for the war effort was an important element of the plan. Maung Maung’s doctrine was based on the strategy of strategic denial. The objective was to contain the offensive of invading forces at the border for at least a couple of months, while waiting for the arrival of international forces. He expected the kind of police action by international forces under the United Nations’ banner that took place on the Korean peninsula. However, the conventional strategy under the concept of total war was seriously undermined by the lack of an appropriate command and control system, a proper logistical support structure and training regime, sound economic and technological resources, and efficient civil defence organizations. The doctrine was tested for the first time in an operation against the KMT in February 1953, codenamed “Naga-Naing (နဂါးႏိုင္)” [Victorious Dragon]. Badly executed under unfavourable terrain and a lack of resources, the operation was a complete and humiliating defeat for the Tatmadaw, 02 Bldg Tatmadaw.indd 17 12/29/08 8:49:16 AM 18 Building the Tatmadaw and was subsequently nicknamed ‘Naga-Shone (နဂါးရႈံး)’ [Defeated Dragon]. Maung Maung argued that the defeat was partly due to the...


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