ASEAN Summit, New Report Question Burma's Nuclear Ambitions

Jul 26, 2010
By Sarah Bulley
Questions over Burma’s nuclear weapons program and human rights conditions arose at last week’s meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in addition to foreign ministers from the region, has questioned suspected nuclear collaboration between North Korea and Burma, also known as Myanmar. The ASEAN summit followed the publication of a new report on Burma’s illicit nuclear weapons program published in Jane’s Intelligence Review. 
On Tuesday, Jane’s published its analysis of new satellite images of Burma. Scrutiny of Burma’s military installations has increased since June’s release of a DVB report on Burma’s nuclear program based on photographs and files smuggled from the country by a defector. As Robert Kelley and Allison Puccioni write in their article in Jane’s Intelligence Review
Maj Sai Thein Win's information is so consistent with collateral Western information as to increase confidence in its content. In combination with Jane's satellite imagery, it has helped clarify to some extent the intent and capability of Naypyidaw to pursue a military nuclear programme. In short, after careful analysis of the diagrams, manifest orders, photographs and satellite imagery, Jane's can conclude that Myanmar is taking measures to propagate an indigenous nuclear programme, but its ability to advance along the route towards nuclearisation is severely hampered by an overly ambitious programme and limited expertise.
Burma has reportedly received assistance from North Korea to develop its nuclear weapons program. In Hanoi for the ASEAN Summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that alleged shipments of military weapons and other technology is “a matter that is of concern” to the U.S. and ASEAN. As GSN quoted
"We know that a ship from North Korea recently delivered military equipment to Burma and we continue to be concerned by the reports that Burma may be seeking assistance from North Korea with regard to a nuclear program."
Last week’s ASEAN meeting was scheduled to focus on regional trade and security, but some discussion instead was focused on North Korea’s involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan, the possibility of resuming six-party talks, and the developing nuclear program of Burma.
Burma’s foreign minister, Nyan Win, left the summit early last week, prior to the regional security forum that attempted to address his country’s nuclear ambitions. Asia Times reported that Win was under pressure from the first day of the meeting to answer allegations of its nuclear program and human rights abuses. According to Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN secretary general, Win listened to what was said, and promised to bring everyone’s concerns back to General Than Shwe, the Burmese junta leader.
On Friday, Congress passed additional U.S. sanctions against the Burmese regime, in hopes to entice it to make progress on democracy and security concerns. However, there are no international sanctions against the regime. It is hoped by some that ASEAN could exert more pressure on Burma, but this recent summit does not demonstrate much cause for hope. The early departure of Burma’s foreign minister from the summit signaled the lack of influence the regional group has over the actions of the military junta.
Burma’s ruling generals and military are supported by the country’s wealth in precious minerals and natural gas. While its people languish in poverty, the military has built up a massive defense infrastructure to protect the regime from external threats. A June report by the Democratic Voice of Burma outlined how the military junta is in the process of developing a rudimentary nuclear weapons program as an additional defense measure.
New U.S. sanctions against Burma ban trade with companies linked with the junta and blocks assets and loans for the state. U.S. and EU sanctions against Burma have been levied in retaliation for its human rights abuses and not necessarily targeted at preventing Burma from acquiring nuclear weapons technology or military assistance. Whether through diplomacy or sanctions, the U.S. must take a stand now in preventing additional military buildup and threatening regional behavior.

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