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Myanmar expert Professor Des Ball dies


Professor Desmond Ball. Screenshot photo: ANU/YouTube

Professor Desmond Ball, academic, military strategist and author of more than 60 books and monographs on military intelligence and signals, including ‘Burma’s Military Secrets’, died Wednesday, 12 October, at 3:35pm Australian time. He was 69.

Professor Ball had worked closely over the years with a number of armed ethnic groups in Myanmar, including the Karen National Union and Karenni National Progressive Party, providing support and advice.

He had a distinguished career spanning more than four decades and was one of the world's greatest scholars of strategy and defence. According to Australia’s former foreign minister Gareth Evans he was a towering figure in the world of security and strategic studies for many decades, both in Australia and internationally. US President Jimmy Carter is quoted in the book ‘Insurgent Intellectual’ as saying that, “Desmond Ball’s counsel and cautionary advice based on deep research made a great difference to our collective goal of avoiding nuclear war”.

Based at Australian National University in Canberra, Professor Ball researched topics from Cold War nuclear strategy and the defence of Australia to spy scandals and Southeast Asian paramilitaries. He, along with Hamish McDonald, wrote ‘Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra’ questioning the knowledge of the Canberra government in the deaths of five Australian journalists in Balibo, East Timor.

Most recently he spent much of his time researching Thai defence forces and armed ethnic groups in Myanmar. Major General Isaac Po of the Karen National Liberation Army acknowledged the help that Des had given the Karen and other ethnic groups over the years saying in an interview with Karen News that “Des Ball has been a good friend to the Karen for many years. Des shared his knowledge and skills with us and we appreciate what he did for us.”

His achievements were recognised in 2013 with the Peter Baume Award, and in 2014 when he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).

He is survived by his four children and wife.

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