Myanmar Nuclear Weapons
Myanmar does not possess any nuclear weapons and has consistently opposed their use. Myanmar was among the first countries to become a State Party to the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. It has also signed the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and is a State Party to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Myanmar has signed, but not yet ratified the 1972 Seabed Treaty. Since 1988 this policy has been confirmed by the SLORC and SPDC governments. In 1995 Myanmar entered into a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, as required under the NPT, and the same year signed the Treaty of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone.
Myanmar's stagnant nuclear program was reportedly revitalized shortly after Pakistan's first detonation of a nuclear weapon in May 1998. Some analysts believe the reclusive military junta may eventually seek nuclear weapons for the dual purpose of international prestige and strategic deterrence.
Russia is the key partner for a nuclear reactor, but there had been no progress by 2010. Russia proposed a commercial deal, and Myanmar cannot afford it. Russia signed an agreement in 2007 on the construction of a nuclear research center in Myanmar, and it will stand by this agreement. The center will include a 10 MW light-water research reactor.
Rumors of construction of a nuclear facility in/near Magway Division date back to 2002 and generally refer to alleged Goverment of Burma (GOB) and Russian cooperation on a nuclear research reactor project. Similar rumors, sans the "Russia" angle, have been circulating with greater frequency within diplomatic and expatriate circles since a November 2003 Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) article which described signs of growing military ties between North Korea and Burma. While there is no direct evidence of this alleged cooperation, rumors of ongoing construction of a nuclear reactor are surprisingly consistent and observations of activity such as that described above appear to be increasing, as are alleged sightings of North Korean "technicians" inside Burma.
An expatriate businessman volunteered to a US Embassy Officer in January 2004 that he had heard rumors that a nuclear reactor was being built near Minbu, in central Magway Division on the Irawaddy River. The businessman added that he personally had seen a "massive" barge containing large-sized rebar being unloaded on a trip to the area. After asking local residents about the rebar's purpose, he was told that similar size barge shipments were arriving almost weekly and that the rebar was to be used in the construction of unnamed/unidentified factories. In the opinion of the businessman, the quantities involved as well as the diameter of the rebar suggested a project larger than "factories." Along these lines, the businessman noted that there was a new airport near Minbu with a landing strip that, based on its length and thickness, seemed excessive, adding that "you could land the space shuttle on it."
Myanmar-North Korea military ties came into spotlight after a North Korean cargo ship, tracked by the United States in June and July 2009 on suspicion of carrying banned arms, appeared to be on course to Myanmar. The U.S. Navy shadowed the vessel, which turned back to North Korea. In July 2009 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Washington was taking concerns about military cooperation between nuclear-armed North Korea and Myanmar "very seriously".
In August 2009 the Australian Ambassador to Burma Michelle Chan related reports that the Burma-DPRK connection was not just about conventional weapons. There was said to be a peaceful nuclear component intended to address Burma's chronic lack of electrical power generation. A Burma-Russia agreement for development of a peaceful nuclear reactor was just for software and training. The DPRK agreement was for "hardware." Burma's Army Chief of Staff (third highest ranking) General Thura Shwe Mann visited the DPRK in November 2008. Thura Shwe Mann is in charge of all military activities. Given sanctions, Burma really has "no other options" but to develop the relationship with North Korea. According to some sources, as of 2009 the Burma-DPRK conversations were merely "exploratory."
A Burmese court sentenced to death two men and imprisoned at least three others for leaking military information, including photographs of a secret visit to North Korea by one of the military junta‘s most senior generals. The three men, one of them a major in the Burmese army, were also convicted of distributing photographs of a secret network of military tunnels which, together with the evidence of high-level contacts with North Korea, raised suspicions that Burma might be developing its own nuclear weapons. The photographs, taken between 2003 and 2006, did not in themselves prove anything definitive about Burma‘s nuclear ambitions. Some tunnels and subterranean meeting halls have been built near Taunggyi, in the northeast of Burma, where insurgent armies are fighting decades-old independence struggles.
In the summer of 2010 a former Burmese army major, Sai Thein Win, who fled to Thailand, revealed junta plans to produce medium-range missiles and develop a nuclear program. He provided Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma radio with details, and the interview was aired worldwide by Al Jazeera TV. The ex-major also showed plans for a nuclear reactor and thousands of color photographs of tunnel construction to former International Atomic and Energy Agency director and U.S. nuclear expert Robert Kelly.
A five-year investigation by the Burmese dissident group Democratic Voice of Burma claimed to have uncovered evidence that Burma is embarking on a programme to develop nuclear weaponry. At the center of the investigation is Sai Thein Win, a former defense engineer and missile expert. Robert Kelley, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, believes Burma's intent is clear: to build a nuclear bomb. Kelley had spent months scouring photographs and documents provided by a former Burmese defense engineer who recently fled the country.
Al Jazeera television network headquartered in Doha, Qatar, and a branch in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, aired a news report saying that Myanmar in cooperation with Democratic People's Republic of Korea was trying to produce nuclear weapons. It broadcast the news report at 12.30 pm on 4 June, 1.30 am and 9.30 am on 6 June, 8.30 pm on 7 June, at noon on 8 June and 1.30 am and 9 am on 10 June 2010. In connection with the news report, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of the Union of Myanmar issued a Press Statement today. The Press Statement said, "during these days, some international media are accusing Myanmar of cooperating with DPRK in trying to implement its nuclear programme with the aim of possessing nuclear weapons. Actually, they are just groundless accusations made with the intention of launching political attacks on Myanmar. Moreover, these false accusations are generated by individuals and the media with the intention of harming Myanmar's interest. These baseless accusations are based solely on the fabrications of deserters, fugitives and exiles. Hence, they are not credible, correct and just."
Al Jazeera revealed that the source of the news report was from Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). DVB is a foreign-funded news agency based in Oslo, Norway. It is surviving on the aid provided by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which was formed by the US in 1983. The US Congress is providing funds annually to NED. In reality, DVB is operating with NED aids. US Senator Jim Webb in his letter submitted to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the said accusation was broadcast by US-funded DVB. DVB is a news agency manufacturing slanderous news reports against Myanmar. It is a killer broadcasting station that is hateching evil plots and sowing hatred between Myanmar and the international community and among the Myanmar national people.
According to the exposition of the deserter and fugitive stated in the press statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the unfounded allegations against Myanmar regarding the nuclear programme, they are deserter Captain Sai Thein Win and fugitive retired Major Aung Lin Htut. "Deserter Sai Thein Win was born of U Sai Than Myint and Daw Nan Mon Hsa of Kyaukme. He was appointed as a military gazetted officer on 11 April 1999. He was promoted to the rank of captain on 11 April 2002. He obtained an MSc (Power Engineering) from Bouman Moscow State Technical University of Russia in 2004 and failed a PhD entrance examination. He is just a captain. He has been a deserter since he was absent without leave starting 28 February 2010. It is found that although he was a captain in service, he said himself he was Major Sai Thein Win in broadcasts by pretending to be a major wearing insignia of the rank of major when he joined anti-government organizations. As he is not only a deserter but also an offender having committed other crimes, plans are under way to take action against him."
During a regional Southeast Asia security forum in July 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned reports that Burma recently received a shipment of military equipment from North Korea. Clinton also said Washington is concerned about reports the Burmese military junta is seeking help from North Korea on a possible nuclear program. But several nuclear weapons experts and intelligence officials called into question the conclusions of this high-profile June report alleging the junta controlling Myanmar had launched a covert nuclear weapons program.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|