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Myanmar’s ‘Rohingya’ conflict: Misconceptions and complexity

journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2019, 00:00 authored by Anthony WareAnthony Ware, Costas LaoutidesCostas Laoutides
© 2019 The Royal Society for Asian Affairs. Myanmar’s Rohingya conflict is arguably the most sensitive and complex issue facing the country, both in terms of the extent of physical and social destruction, and the impact on Myanmar’s domestic reform and international standing. The scale of human suffering is mind-numbing, the reactions of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar authorities baffling. However, too much international commentary is reductionist, flattening multiparty and multifaceted sociopolitical dynamics into a simple narrative, which is detrimental to understanding and responding to the conflict. This paper attempts to make sense of some of this complexity, firstly by addressing several common misperceptions of the conflict, then analysing it from a variety of theoretical perspectives. The first misconception is that this conflict is not new, but significant antecedents date back at to at least World War II, if not before. The second is that this conflict is not merely about state oppression of a despised and vulnerable ethno-religious minority, but rather a multipolar conflict with conflict and violence, driven by mutual existential fears and deeply historical grievances on all sides, by at least three key actors. This multipolarity needs to be better understood but outsiders seeking resolution of the conflict. And finally, the third is that this conflict is not primarily about the denial of citizenship and statelessness of the Muslims, as significant as this is, but about definition of the political community in Myanmar and the politics of inclusion/exclusion in governance. Framing this as an ‘intractable conflict’, this paper then examines the drivers of conflict from the perspective of an ethnic security dilemma, a double minority complex, and the political economy, arriving at conclusions about the nature of the conflict and sounding a final warning about a potential moral hazard arising from the way international support is framed and offered.



Asian Affairs






60 - 79


Taylor & Francis


London, Eng.







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal