Burma and weapons of mass destruction

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Burma (Myanmar) is widely suspected to have initiated a nuclear weapons programme.[1] If such a program does exist, Burma's technical and financial limitations may make it difficult for the program to succeed.[2]

Burma has faced persistent accusations of using chemical weapons; however, the NTI has stated there is "no evidence to suggest that Myanmar has a chemical weapons program." Burma is a member of nuclear, but not chemical or biological, non-proliferation treaties.[3]

Chemical weapons[edit]

The first[citation needed] public indications of Burma's possible possession of chemical weapons came in testimony delivered to the United States Congress in 1991 by Rear Adm. Thomas Brooks, Director of Naval Intelligence of the United States Navy,[4] in which Burma was included on a list of nations that "probably possess" chemical weapons. However, the United States then took Burma off the list of nations with chemical weapons programmes in 1993.[3]

In 2005 Belgian photojournalist Thierry Falise reported speaking to two deserters from the Burmese Army who, during their time in service, were "reportedly told to take special precautions because they were handling chemical shells."[5] The deserters described seeing artillerymen wearing masks and gloves to fire the munitions. In a separate report from the same year, Dr. Martin Panter, a physician and the president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, reported treating injuries of anti-government Karenni rebels that were "consistent with a chemical attack," and claimed that "strong circumstantial evidence exists for the use of chemicals, particularly nerve agents, pulmonary agents and possibly blister agents."[6] In response to the Christian Solidarity Worldwide report, the Burmese government denied the use of chemical weapons. [7] The NTI has stated that "without further investigation it is not clear if the reports refer to agents recognized under international law as chemical weapons or to riot control agents - the latter is most likely."[3]

In January 2014 Unity Weekly, a Burmese magazine, reported that Burma was making chemical weapons. The magazine claimed that the military had seized hundreds of hectares of land to build a chemical weapons factory in Burma's Magway Region and quoted workers at the factory who said it produced chemical weapons. The magazine also claimed Chinese technicians were often seen around the factory. In response, the Burmese government sentenced the head of Unity Weekly, along with four Unity Weekly journalists, to 10 years in prison and hard labor under colonial-era espionage laws. The Burmese government claims the factory produces "military equipment" but does not produce chemical weapons.[8][9][10]

Burma signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 but has yet to ratify the agreement.

Nuclear weapons[edit]

In 2007 Russia and Burma did a controversial nuclear research center deal. According to them, "The centre will comprise a 10MW light-water reactor working on 20%-enriched uranium-235, an activation analysis laboratory, a medical isotope production laboratory, silicon doping system, nuclear waste treatment and burial facilities".[11]

According to an August 2009 report published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Burma is working to develop a nuclear weapon by 2014. The reported effort, purportedly being undertaken with assistance from North Korea, involves the construction of a nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facilities in caves tunneled into a mountain at Naung Laing, a village in the Mandalay division .[12] The information cited in the newspaper story reportedly originated from two high-ranking defectors who had settled in Australia.

On June 3, 2010, a five year investigation by an anti-government Myanmar broadcaster, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), found evidence that allegedly shows the country's military regime begun a programme to develop nuclear weapons.[13] The DVB said evidence of Myanmar's nuclear programme came from top-secret documents smuggled out of the country over several years, including hundreds of files and other evidence provided by Sai Thein Win, a former major in the military of Myanmar.[14][15] A UN report said there was evidence that North Korea had been exporting nuclear technology to Burma, Iran and Syria.[16]

Based on Win's evidence, Robert Kelley, a former weapons inspector, said he believed Burma "has the intent to go nuclear and it is... expending huge resources along the way." But as of 2010, experts said that Burma was a long way from succeeding, given the poor quality of their current materials.[16] Despite Kelley's analysis, some experts are uncertain that a nuclear weapons programme exists; for example, ISIS notes ambiguity as to whether certain equipment is used for uranium production, or for innocently producing "rare earth metals or metals such as titanium or vanadium."[17] The U.S. expressed concern in 2011 about possible NPT violations, but by 2012 stated that its concerns had been "partially allayed."[18]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ [1], Sydney Morning Herald, August 24, 2009, Accessed November 17, 2009.
  2. ^ "Myanmar (Country Profiles)". NTI. Archived from the original on 2014-07-09. Retrieved 9 August 2014. "Kelley further argued, however, that it would be extremely difficult for Myanmar, given its limited technical and financial capabilities, to develop nuclear weapons successfully." 
  3. ^ a b c "Myanmar (Country Profiles)". NTI. Archived from the original on 2014-07-09. Retrieved 26 October 2013. 
  4. ^ Chemical Arms; Navy Report Asserts Many Nations Seek Or Have Poison Gas[2], New York Times, March 10, 1991, Accessed August 9, 2009.
  5. ^ Burmese junta uses chemical weapons [3], The Sunday Times, May 8, 2005, Accessed August 9, 2009.
  6. ^ Burma 'using chemical weapons'[4], The Guardian, April 21, 2005, Accessed August 9, 2009.
  7. ^ http://www.voanews.com/burmese/archive/2005-04/2005-04-22-voa5.cfm?moddate=2005-04-22
  8. ^ "Report on chemical weapons earn Myanmar journalists jail term with hard labour". Myanmar News.Net. Retrieved 11 July 2014. 
  9. ^ "10 years of hard labor: 'Back to square one' for Myanmar press freedoms?". Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  10. ^ "Myanmar Court Sentences Journalists to Prison and Hard Labor". 10 July 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  11. ^ Russia and Burma in nuclear deal. BBC 15 May 2007
  12. ^ Revealed: Burma’s nuclear bombshell[5], Sydney Morning Herald, August 1, 2009, Accessed August 10, 2009.
  13. ^ "Expert says Burma ‘planning nuclear bomb’". Democratic Voice of Burma. 3 June 2010. 
  14. ^ "Myanmar 'nuclear plans' exposed". Al Jazeera. 4 June 2010. 
  15. ^ Myanmar Nuclear Weapon Program Claims Supported by Photos, Jane's Reports, Bloomberg, 22 July 2010
  16. ^ a b "Burma 'trying to build nuclear weapon'". BBC News. 4 June 2010. 
  17. ^ "Myanmar (Country Profiles)". NTI. Archived from the original on 2014-07-09. Retrieved 9 August 2014. "However, a number of outside experts were skeptical of the DVB's allegations and Kelley's supporting analysis. ISIS, for example, agrees that some of the equipment depicted in the report could be used in producing uranium metal, but stated it could alternatively be used for producing "rare earth metals or metals such as titanium or vanadium."" 
  18. ^ "Myanmar (Country Profiles)". NTI. Archived from the original on 2014-07-09. Retrieved 9 August 2014. "The U.S. State Department expressed concern about Burma’s NPT compliance in 2011, however in its 2012 compliance report it stated that its concerns "were partially allayed" by 2012."