What If Burma Goes Nuclear?

Published on June 13, 2010

What If Burma Goes Nuclear?

By Nehginpao Kipgen

The Brunei Times – June 9, 2010

The Burmese military regime’s desire to become a nuclear power is an alarming development for the Burmese people, especially ethnic minorities, as well as nations which like to see a nuclear free world.

Nehginpao KipgenThe documentary, broadcasted by the Al Jazeera news network on June 4, is an indication of how the Burmese military junta has planned to acquire nuclear weapons, with the help of North Korea. 

Both Burma and North Korea, along with other totalitarian regimes or dictatorships such as Belarus, Cuba, Iran, and Zimbabwe, were identified as “outposts of tyranny” in 2005 by Condoleezza Rice, the then U.S. secretary of state.

The Al Jazeera report featured extensive documentation, including photos and blueprints of tunnels and suspected nuclear facilities. The materials which were provided by a military defector, a former army major, add credibility to the suspicion that Burma is pursuing a nuclear program.

The revelation of such covert activities, by its own military rank at this juncture, is something the Burmese military generals would not like to have happened. Not only has the junta denied such allegations, but also supported establishing a Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SEANWFZ).

The joint statement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States of America, in November 2009 “welcomed the efforts of the president of the United States in promoting international peace and security including the vision of a nuclear weapons free world.”

The ASEAN-US leadership also “agreed to work towards preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and work together to build a world without nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”

What could have prompted Burma to build nuclear facilities is an interesting subject. North Korea has managed to defy the U.N. sanctions, and has now considered itself as a nuclear power. Pyongyang flexes its military muscles against the threat of any attacks by Seoul and Washington.

The lack of a strong coordinated international response, despite U.N. sanctions, has emboldened North Korea. Amidst international condemnations, North Korea still enjoys the support of China, its closest communist ally which is also a U.N. Security Council member.

Such ineffectiveness on the part of the international community to prevent nuclear proliferation has encouraged the Burmese military junta. The military generals believe that their nuclear ambition will not be blocked by China and Russia – the two veto-wielding powers of the U.N. Security Council.

If Burma becomes a nuclear nation, it will make the military leaders more arrogant and intransigent. Having no foreign enemy, the junta will not hesitate to use its power to suppress the county’s ethnic armed movements, which are fighting for autonomy in their respective territories.

The hope of establishing a federal Union of Burma will become slimmer, if not infeasible. The voice of the international community on human rights abuses and exploitation of other democratic rights will also have lesser impact on the military regime.

Moreover, a nuclear Burma will likely make Southeast Asia insecure, unstable, and possibly might pave the way for nuclear arms race in the region.

In the larger interest of the international community and the Burmese people, it is important that the International Atomic Energy Agency investigates the report and act responsibly to maintain peace and stability.

ASEAN should abjure its traditional policy of non-interference, especially when an action of its own member state can disturb the peaceful existence of the entire populace in the region.

It is expected that the United States government, in its capacity, will work with the international community to prevent Burma from acquiring nuclear weapons. However, North Korea is an example where the U.S. has a limited role to play when it comes to international crisis.

Unless it is for a peaceful purpose, nuclear powers such as China, India and Russia need to work together with other world powers to prevent Burma from acquiring destructive weapons. Proliferation of nuclear bombs, especially in the hands of totalitarian regimes or military dictatorships, should be considered a threat to humanity.

It is important that the Obama administration appoints a special envoy for Burma, which was authorized by the U.S. congress during George Bush’s presidency in 2008. The White House should consider the model of the North Korean six-party talk, involving the United States, European Union, ASEAN, China, India, and Burma.

Burma pursuing nuclear weapons is a violation of ASEAN’s collective commitment for establishing SEANWFZ and nuclear weapons free world. It is also a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 (2009) for North Korea to export nuclear materials.

A nuclear Burma is a grave danger to its own ethnic minorities who have suffered racially and psychologically, in the hands of the military junta, for decades.

Nehginpao Kipgen is a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004) and general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com). He has written numerous analytical articles on the politics of Burma and Asia that have been widely published in five continents (Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and North America).

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