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Southeast Asia, explained

Is Burma seeking a role in US war games?

Kyodo: Burmese officials interested in joining Cobra Gold, among the world's largest military exercises
Cobra gold myanmar 2012 02 09Enlarge
U.S. marines stand guard during Exercise Cobra Gold 2009 at a Thai military base. (PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

According to this blurb in Japan's Kyodo news service, officials from Burma (officially titled Myanmar) are feeling out the possibility of joining America's largest war games in Asia.

The Cobra Gold exercise, held jointly with Thailand, is a weeks-long display of American military power: live fire drills, search-and-rescue ops and a full-on beach assault waged with fighter jets and amphibious vehicles.

Many of America's Asian allies -- Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia -- send troops to participate. (My on-the-ground coverage of the war games in 2009 is here.)

But does Burma really have a shot at getting an invite?

The past months have taught us to expect the unexpected from Burma, which has only recently attempted to transform itself from a tyrannical pariah state into an up-and-coming quasi-democracy.

Its U.S. ties are fast warming on the heels of Hillary Clinton's December visit. Sending a secretary of state to Burma -- still under sanctions for military abuses -- would have been unthinkable just two years ago.

But welcoming Burma's army to Cobra Gold, for the moment, is a huge long shot.

Hillary sitting down with Burma's new reformist president is, for most, politically palatable.

U.S. troops collaborating with an army known for forced labor, shelling ethnic villages and firing on protesters is not. In the minds of most international observers, Burma's army still evokes villainy. 

What Burma may be angling for is a less controversial opportunity: sending military attaches to observe future war games.

But American marines storming the hill with Burmese commandos? Even in a military exercise? That remains unthinkable.

http://www.globalpost.com/globalpost-blogs/southeast-asia/burma-myanmar-cobra-gold

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