Posts Tagged ‘myanmar north korea’
While fresh reports which surfaced last week about Myanmar’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon and nuclear cooperation with North Korea are alarming, the international community’s response should be measured and calibrated. Such an approach should be grounded in a hard-nosed, clear-eyed analysis of the information available thus far.
The new source on the subject is former Burmese major and defector Sai Thein Win. After receiving the information from him, activist group Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) then asked two nuclear experts, Robert E. Kelley and Ali Fowle, to analyze it.
Their assessment suggests a mixed picture. On the one hand, it is clear to Messrs. Kelley and Fowle that Myanmar intends to pursue a nuclear weapons program, and that it has even charged a specific group called the ‘Nuclear Battalion’ within the Directorate of Defense Services Science and Technology Research Center (DDSSTRC) to work towards this goal:
[This technology] is only for nuclear weapons and not civilian use or nuclear power. Our assessment of multiple sources is that Burma is really developing nuclear technology, that it has built specialized equipment and facilities, and it has issued orders to a cadre to build a program.
They base their findings largely on evidence of equipment, including factories producing parts for missiles and nuclear programs, a uranium plant, a bomb reduction vessel, an inert atmosphere glove box, a “fluoride bed reactor”, UF6 cold trap and tube furnaces, which are “all components of a possible program to make uranium compounds for a weapons development effort”.
On the other hand, the experts conclude that building a bomb may be beyond the ruling junta’s reach:
It is clear that this is a very difficult task for Burma to successfully accomplish. Much of what STW is providing suggests Burma has little chance of succeeding in its quest…Unrealistic attempts, such as the Molecular Laser Isotope Separation project, unprofessional engineering drawings and the crude appearance of items in photos, suggest that success may be beyond Burma’s reach.
But even if the regime does not appear to possess the current capabilities to produce a weapon anytime soon, the intent is clear and the challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation regime remains formidable:
Nevertheless, the intent is clear and that is a very disturbing matter for international agreements. If experiments with uranium are taking place, or significant quantities of uranium compounds are being produced, then Burma needs to be reporting to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which clearly it is unlikely to do if it is planning a covert nuclear reactor, an enrichment program and a weapon.
On the separate but equally worrying question of North Korea’s possible role in Myanmar’s nuclear program, the authors remained quite skeptical according to interviews they gave to several news groups:
Robert Kelley, a former senior IAEA inspector, calls North Korea’s role in its nuclear program “only anecdotal”, and Ali Fowle, a DVB researcher, says that “none of our evidence implies that North Korea has anything to do with evidence that we think points to a nuclear program”.
Overall, they also find the information quite consistent — an important note since the source as well as the DVB have their own strong feelings about the regime.
***NOTE: The terms Myanmar and Burma are used interchangeably here and throughout this blog without political intent.