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In July 2009, evidence emerged of North Korean involvement in Burma. The Guardian covered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s warning that there was evidence of military cooperation between North Korea and Burma. At the time, Clinton said:
We know that there are…growing concerns about military co-operation between North Korea and Burma, which we take very seriously…It would be devastating for the region. It would pose a direct threat to Burma’s neighbors.
Six months later, in Jan. 2010, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) released a cautious, yet revealing, report stating that while there is no compelling evidence to backup the claim that Burma is working with North Korea to build nuclear weapons, more transparency is needed inside the country. While the document urges concern in making definitive judgments, North Korea’s unpredictable antics cause experts pause. Aside from the worries over North Korea’s potential assistance, the ISIS also warns that an inverse relationship may be occurring in which Burma may be assisting North Korea in the procurement of materials needed to increase nuclear capacity. Either way, the international community is becoming increasingly more wary of Burmese governance. According to the ISIS,
Because North Korea secretly sold a reactor to Syria, a sale which the world’s best intelligence agencies missed until late in the reactor’s construction, no one is willing to turn a blind eye to the possibility of North Korea selling nuclear equipment, materials, or facilities to Burma.
Following the January report, new evidence of nuclear aspirations has been steadily streaming out into the open. In April 2010, the U.K.’s The First Post wrote that “…there is mounting evidence that Burma’s military junta has its own nuclear weapons program.” The article reinforces worries that Burma may follow North Korea’s example and become the world’s next dreaded nuclear-capable rogue state.
Like Iran, Syria and other rogue nations, Burma has landed itself high on the Obama administration’s nuclear priorities list. In a U.S. State Department briefing on April 8, Phillip J. Crowley said that the United States, along with other concerned nations, is engaging Burma in search for a solution. “I think everybody has an interest in stability in the region, seeing Burma emerge from its isolation,” he said.
In June, the nonprofit Burmese media organization Democratic Voice of Burma offered further corroboration that Burma is pursuing nuclear weapons in a report titled, “Nuclear Related Activities in Burma.” In the May report, which was based on pictures and documentation taken by Maj Sai Thein Win, a former Burmese army official, it is written that, though Burma lacks the technological know-how, the nation appears to be intentionally working to refine and develop nuclear technology. The report concludes with high confidence that, “This technology is only for nuclear weapons and not for civilian use or nuclear power.”
With the clock ticking, the potential of a nuclear Burma is concerning both for the Southeast region and for the international community as a whole. North Korea’s involvement as an assistant or a benefactor in this scenario further complicates matters. With Crowley and other U.S. officials acknowledging an alleged nuclear program, while stating their desire for a more open and transparent regime, there is one fact all parties appear to agree on – a nuclear Burma will be an international threat that must be prevented and contained.
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