The country that used to be Burma is the most troubled member of ASEAN. Gaining independence in 1947 led to a civil war that continues until present, pitting Rangoon against various ethnic militias in the country’s lawless hinterland.
Myanmar was Southeast Asia’s poorest country when it joined ASEAN in 1997. It’s still in the process of reforming its government and economy so that civilian leadership can exist alongside a powerful military clique. This has been a partial success and its GDP is now valued at $60 billion.
Figures for the armed forces, the Tatmadaw, are questionable. The numbers vary from 250,000 to a high 400,000. But given the army’s continuous practice of forced conscription, including children, and employing militia the institution’s size could be higher that assumed. Its annual defense budget is pegged at a low $3 billion in 2017.
Myanmar’s domestic arms industry dates back to the 1960s but it was only during the late 1990s when Israel and Singapore helped established localized production for small arms and munitions. Its main suppliers of equipment are China, Russia, and Ukraine. Myanmar’s air force, for example, relies almost exclusively on Chinese aircraft.
Considering its size and abundant natural resources, Myanmar still ranks as very underdeveloped. But the scope of its ambitions is perhaps the most daring among its neighbors. Having learned to repair and maintain armored vehicles, Myanmar’s state-owned industries has its sights on aerospace and shipbuilding. As if these benchmarks weren’t too difficult, Myanmar is the only Southeast Asian country rumored to have attempted a nuclear weapons program with North Korea’s help.