The United States is poised to take “nascent steps” to open up military ties with Myanmar as a way of bolstering political reforms undertaken by the former pariah state, a senior US defense official said Wednesday.
The Pentagon said the cooperation likely would take the form of “non-lethal” training for Myanmar officers focusing on humanitarian assistance, military medicine and defense “reform,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
“We’re looking at nascent steps on the US-Burmese military-military relationship. We generally support the proposition that carefully calibrated, appropriately targeted and scoped military-to-military contact is effective in advancing overall reform efforts in Burma,” the official said.
“The bottom line is we’re interested, we’re looking at ways to move forward and I think you’ll see appropriately calibrated steps in the near future,” he said.
Relations between the two countries have undergone a sea change since Myanmar’s ruling military ceded power last year.
US President Barack Obama’s historic visit last month to Yangon underscored the transformation, as both Washington and Myanmar see benefits to bolstering diplomatic and security ties.
The Obama administration, seeking a strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific to counter Beijing’s role, is keen to expand its influence in a country where China has had almost unchallenged dominance.
Officials said in October that the United States was willing to allow Myanmar to participate as an observer in major joint exercises in Thailand in 2013, an event that includes military teams from the US and Asian allies.
Senior US military officers, including Lieutenant General Francis Wiercinski, the commanding general of the US Army in the Pacific, and civilian defense officials were part of a US government delegation that held talks in Myanmar in October, opening the door to a defense dialogue.