49. Memorandum From the Director, Far East Region (Heinz) to the Assistant Secretary of Defense For International Security Affairs (Nitze)0



  • An Analysis of the Current Situation in Burma

On 2 March 1962, General Ne Win, Chief of Staff, Burma Defense Forces, overthrew the Government of Premier U Nu in a swift bloodless coup d’etat.1 The Union Revolutionary Council (URC) (see attachment “A”)2 which has been established by General Ne Win to act as an interim government, has declared that it intends to continue a “neutral” foreign policy. This declaration of a neutral foreign policy follows the same pattern of the previous coup led by General Win in October 1958. In the previous 1958 caretaker government, General Ne Win did not shift radically from U Nu’s neutralist policies. However, General Ne Win did rescind U Nu’s cut-off of U.S. economic assistance and agreed to accept American aid for specific purposes.

International policy as conducted by the U Nu government is not considered to be a major factor in the causes for the present coup d’etat. The assignment of U Thi Han, a civilian non-military member of Revolutionary Council, to a Foreign Affairs portfolio is indicative of the low priority assigned to Burma’s foreign affairs problems. U Thi Han was also a minister in the previous Ne Win 1958 Caretaker Government and is a close friend of General Ne Win and General Aung Gyi.

General Ne Win has stated that one of his reasons for the latest coup was to check the disintegration of Burma. It would appear that General [Page 104] Ne Win was not only referring to the serious economic problems caused in part by the Government of U Nu but to the increasing demands of Burma ethnic minorities for a federal type government. General Ne Win has viewed skeptically U Nu’s handling of the ethnic minorities demand for a federal form of government which if approved would have made Burma proper a constituent state on a par with the other minority states within Burma. The Burmese Army feared that the National Seminar on Federalism which was attended by all minorities and political parties was reaching a point where U Nu may have felt compelled to make concessions to the minorities or face the possibility of the secession of the Shan States from Burma. Also, the Burma Army was aware of Shan and Karen insurgent overtures to the Thai and Lao Governments for assistance in their independence struggle with Burma. The possibility of an outbreak of general rebellion in the ethnic minority areas of Burma against the Burmese Army is greatly increased by the Burmese Army’s present position on the “Federal Form of Government” issue.

It is not yet known what the attitude of the Revolutionary Council will be towards the Military Officers who were purged by the U Nu government in January 1961. These officers in a sense were “exiled” to diplomatic posts abroad. Brigadier Maung Maung was made Ambassador to Israel and Aung Shwe was appointed Ambassador to Australia. Five other Colonels were assigned to military attaché posts abroad. These purged officers had occupied prominent posts in the earlier caretaker government and generally demonstrated administrative competence. It is well known that many of these officers are staunch anti-Communists and are generally pro-U.S. Whether or not they will be recalled from their diplomatic posts abroad by General Ne Win may give an insight into the future leanings of the new Revolutionary Council in its East-West posture.

The first coup d’etat by General Ne Win in 1958 had the approval of U Nu and therefore the “caretaker government” of Ne Win had the support of many civil administrators and civil servants which ordinarily the military regime could not have depended upon. However, this latest coup does not have the sanction of U Nu and the new interim government may experience difficulties in finding qualified administrators who will carry out effectively the proposed policies of the new government. This problem is further compounded by the fact that most of the “purged” military officers now in diplomatic “exile” are considered to be some of the most competent administrators within the Burmese Armed Forces.

L. C. Heinz

Rear Admiral, USN
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 65 A 3501, Burma 000.1–121, 1962. Confidential. Sent through William Bundy, who initialed.
  2. The coup began on March 2 at 7 a.m. with the police and army securing Rangoon. At 8:50 a.m., General Ne Win announced that the army had taken control in light of the “deteriorating” situation. (Telegrams 634 and 637 from Rangoon, March 2; Department of State, Central Files, 790B.00/3–262) The Department of State hesitated to extend recognition to the new regime. After concluding that the new government was in effective control, had the acquiescence of the people, and seemed able to discharge its international obligations and maintain friendly relations, the United States informed the new Burmese Government of its desire to maintain cordial relations. (Telegrams 496, 500, and 505 to Rangoon, March 2, 3, 5; ibid., 790B.02/3–262; 790B.02/3–363, and 790B.00/3–562)
  3. Attachment A contained a list of the members of the Revolutionary Council of Burma and their current or former positions. General Ne Win, Chief of Staff of the Burma Defense Forces (BDF), was Chairman. Members included Brigadier Aung Gyi, Army Vice Chief of Staff, BDF; Commodore Than Pe, Navy Vice Chief of Staff, BDF; Brigadier Thomas Cliff, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff (BDF); and 11 other military officers. The attachment also listed the expected distribution of ministerial portfolios.