Could Burma Be Edging Closer to Nuclear Arms?

With North Korea's assistance, the state has begun assembling some components

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Burma, which is ruled by one of the world's strictest and largest military juntas, has reportedly begun to secure some of the components necessary for a nuclear weapon. Burma's nuclear ambitions are nothing new, and it lacks the majority of the technical knowledge to actually complete a bomb, but these concrete steps indicate a new seriousness in pursuit of that goal. Here's why it matters.

  • The Evidence for Nuclear Ambitions  The Washington Post's Joby Warrick reports, "There have been numerous allegations in the past about secret nuclear activity by Burma's military rulers, accounts based largely on ambiguous satellite images and uncorroborated stories by defectors. But the new analysis is based on documents and hundreds of photos smuggled out of the country by Sai Thein Win, a Burmese major who says he visited key installations and attended meetings at which the new technology was demonstrated. ... Among the images provided by the major are technical drawings of a device known as a bomb-reduction vessel, which is chiefly used in the making of uranium metal for fuel rods and nuclear-weapons components. The defector also released a document purporting to show a Burmese government official ordering production of the device, as well as photos of the finished vessel. "
  • North Korean Involvement?  The Associated Press' Denis Gray writes, "North Korea is probably assisting the program, an expatriate media group said Friday. ... Last month, U.N. experts monitoring sanctions imposed against North Korea over its nuclear and missile tests said their research indicated it was involved in banned nuclear and ballistic missile activities in Iran, Syria and Burma."
  • Why Sanctions Won't Work  Burma scholar Morten Pedersen recently told Guernica magazine, "There’s no one outside the army that has influence on policy decisions. There’s a close business community. But while they’re close to the generals, they have no political influence." That is, the sanctions don't hurt the ruling class, and the ruling class doesn't care about the people hurt by sanctions. "The Burmese generals have no affinity at all with the people who are sanctioning them. Culturally, there’s no link whatsoever."
  • Burma Trying to Make 'Indigenous' Missiles  Arms Control Wonk blogger Geoffrey Forden explains that, rather than buying up most of the key components, Burma is trying to build missiles from scratch. "Burma is pursuing a least two different paths towards acquiring a missile production capability. One is a more or less indigenous path. The 'less indigenous' comes from the fact that they have sent a number of Burmese military officers to Moscow for training in engineering related to missile design and production." This news "has opened up the possibility of proliferation networks more as consulting engineering firms rather than one-stop-shopping centers."
  • Key U.S. Senator Calls For Engaging Burma  Senator Jim Webb, who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Asia subcommittee, has canceled a planned trip to Burma, but still maintains his call for engagement with the regime. Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin writes, "Webb also called on Obama to appoint a special envoy to Burma Thursday. That's significant because it was Webb's predecessor on the subcommittee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, who prevented the last nominee from assuming the position. ... 'I strongly believe that a continuation of dialogue between our two countries is important for the evolution of a more open governmental system and for the future strategic balance in Southeast Asia,' Webb said, saying that could only happen when concerns about Burma's cooperation with North Korea are resolved."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.