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Geopolitics: The art of choosing between the bear and the bee

Until they heard me babbling about Mackinder and Spykman’s famous dictums (shortened here by me)
• “Who controls the Heartland rules the world”
( Halford Mackinder, 1861-1947)

• “Who controls the Rimland controls the destinies of the world”
(Nicholas Spykman, 1893-1943)
most of the 153 company and battalion grade officers of the Shan State Army (SSA) had thought diplomacy was a waste of time and resources.

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But after listening to my poorly prepared presentation, I found them somehow sold on the idea that war could be won (at least managed) without fighting, as Chinese warrior-philosopher Sun Zi (BC 551-467) had counseled.

Many were also hilariously convinced by Winston Churchill’s not quite famous quote:
“Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions”

One officer, upon hearing this, commented: (General) Aung San was a first rate diplomat. Without him, the Shans wouldn’t have lost their land to the Burmese.

Others meanwhile had made the following comments supporting the idea of having trained emissaries:
• It is clear we cannot survive by isolating ourselves from our neighbors
• We need assistance from the outside. And the way to get it is through people who can tell them about what’s really happening here
• The Shan cause cannot achieve success by military means alone
• Emissaries can help prevent wars
• I have a copy of Sun Wu’s Art of War with me for years. But this is the first time his message gets through
All were impressed with the way the Chinese communists -outmanned, outgunned and outfunded-were able to defeat the Kuomintang and overrun the whole country, after a 28 year struggle. Not less impressed with was the way the United States-which one critic had earlier predicted there could be no coming together among them more than water and oil are-was able to remain united and strong for more than 230 years. “Maybe we should follow the way of the Chinese to win a place in the sun (fan moeng), “one enthusiastic officer wrote,” and the way of the Americans to forge lasting unity (pawng moeng).”

However when it came to making a choice between the two superpowers in their struggle for supremacy along what Spykman had named Rimland, they are clearly divided:
• Some counseled signing up with the United States would guarantee long term survival
• Many others however disagreed, saying long term security is impossible unless we learn to live with China (“We cannot move our country away from China. Water from afar is not sufficient to wet dry throats”)
• Still there were many who were desperate enough to suggest, “We shoot any foreign army that tries to enter our country like Switzerland did. We cannot allow our country to become a ‘paddy dike between two opposing buffaloes’”

Fortunately, there were cooler heads among them. While they agreed with the concerns of their fellow officers, they argued:
• “Yours are the reasons why we should establish friendly relations with all our neighbors plus both superpowers. What affects us also affects them”
• Good relations with our neighbors will successful outcome of the peace process
• High level relations is important. But people to people and local level relations are more important
• There is a sizeable Shan/Tai population in China. With their support, we will be able to establish better relations with Beijing
• Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and cooperation against drugs should be our passports to reach them
• We are not in a situation ‘to please the bear while displeasing the bee’ (well known Shan saying)

All their suggestions, as readers will agree, are very encouraging. Some might even turn out to be practical. So when they invited me back for another session with them in the near future, I readily accepted though with some misgivings.

Now that I look back at my 15 years, 1980-1995, as emissary for the resistance, I think I know what my misgivings were. Apart from making some loyal friends in Thailand and some outside the kingdom, there is nothing much to talk about, or be proud of. Is it because having friends should be the principal aim for all these armchair warriors?

I humbly leave this to the reader to decide it.

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