Can Myanmar’s nuclear capability bring disaster for South and Southeast Asia?

Myanmar is a regional peace-destroying and destabilizing junta-state. Military rulers have long been working with Russia to develop nuclear weapons. The place of nuclear installation is also near Bangladesh. In Kalapahar area of ​​Mangdu. The place is very remote, surrounded by huge mountains and lacks communication facilities. Army commandos and nuclear commanders mainly travel in helicopters in these remote unmanned areas. NASA satellite images show the world building infrastructure for a nuclear plant there. That happened decades ago!

No one can remain silent about this ambition of a country that violates human rights and its ill effects are being observed. For example, relations with Myanmar’s neighboring countries are not satisfactory, they are the host of the Rohingya refugee crisis, border-smuggling is a big business for many, with law enforcement involved. They bombed their own people to reinforce military rule, the latest example of which was the killing of 70 people by two army warplanes in Kachin province, which dropped four bombs. Neighbors are uneasy over territorial disputes in the region, including the Myanmar military’s continued arrogance and disregard for international law and norms. Thailand and Japan have canceled all projects. No one knows whether the military dictatorship will end at all and a democratic government will emerge.

Nearby countries in the region include India, China and Pakistan with nuclear powers. Is Myanmar also joining this club? Myanmar will use nuclear weapons against whom? Isn’t the answer very simple? The world’s uproar could not stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability. Iran can develop nuclear weapons at any time. Who will prevent Turkey from making nuclear bombs? Only when Saddam Hussein built a nuclear bomb plant in Iraq, Israel bombed it. Before attacking Israel, the French engineers working there moved to a safe distance. Israel sent a message to them to leave. In fact, Saddam handed over his projects and money to hypocrites. Be that as it may, it is an indisputable fact that no third power comes to help in times of danger unless it is strong itself.

If Myanmar acquires nuclear capability, it will be a major disaster for South and Southeast Asia. All regional countries will directly threaten the security of Myanmar. A nuclear-powered Myanmar would not only pose a threat to regional countries, but South and Southeast Asia would be permanently weakened. Of course, Burma’s military junta will use weapons against various ethnic rivals and rebels.

The best example to understand Myanmar’s aggressive attitude is the recent Myanmar-Bangladesh border tension. Nuclear weapons In Myanmar is more dangerous than North Korea.

Unfortunately, Myanmar does not treat its close neighbor Bangladesh like a good neighbor. On August 25, 2017, the Myanmar army raided Rakhine state, killing Rohingyas, raping women and setting fire to their homes. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled this brutality and sought refuge in Bangladesh. Thousands of Rohingyas have migrated to Bangladesh from Myanmar to save their lives. Currently, about 1.25 million Rohingya are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Myanmar has been consistently violating the sovereignty of Bangladesh. In this case, the country is also taking care of international law.

Analysts say a joint assessment agreement has been signed between Myanmar’s military government and Russia’s state-owned Atomic Energy Corporation to build a nuclear reactor. Minister of Science and Technology of Myo Thin Kyi Government while attending the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok last September 5-8; Thuang Han, Minister of Power and Alexei Likhachev, CEO of Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation, signed the ‘Roadmap for Civil Cooperation’. Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing oversaw the signing of the agreement. Rosatom disclosed this information in a statement on September 6. The junta government has declared that nuclear energy is needed for power generation, scientific research, pharmaceutical production and industry.

Now the question is, why is the world silent about this?

In a documentary by Democratic Voice of Burma, the information given by Sai Thein Win, a former officer of the Myanmar army, is highlighted. Win claimed he was the deputy manager of a special machine tool factory involved in Myanmar’s covert nuclear weapons efforts and ballistic missile development program. On June 3, 2022, the opposition published the same report analyzing data from former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector Robert Kelly. Kelly claimed that the technology described in Winn’s information was “only being used for nuclear weapons.”

Russia has helped Myanmar build a nuclear research facility for at least 9 years. Recent actions by the junta government have confirmed that small-scale nuclear power plants will begin production within the next year. The center will house 20 percent enriched uranium-235, an activation analysis laboratory, a medical isotope production laboratory, silicon doping system, nuclear waste treatment and a 10 MW light water reactor.

The current junta government insists that nuclear energy will be used for peaceful purposes. However, many believe that the country will use nuclear power for military purposes, including the production of nuclear weapons.

According to a 2009 report, Burma was suspected of having started a nuclear weapons program. The US raised concerns over NPT violations in 2011. At that time, Burma also faced accusations of using chemical weapons. An August 2009 report by the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Burma was working to develop nuclear weapons with the help of North Korea until 2014. The country has built a nuclear reactor, a plutonium extraction facility, in tunnels on Mount Gahin in Naung Laing, a village in Mandalay Division. North Korea also has similar nuclear facilities in mountainous areas. which are difficult to destroy by bombardment from outside. The newspaper also mentioned the source of the information.

On June 3, 2010, a multi-year investigation into Myanmar’s anti-government media, the Democratic Voice of Burma, found such evidence. Hundreds of leaked secret documents and other evidence from former Myanmar military major Sai Thein Win testify to this. According to a United Nations report, they have evidence that North Korea is exporting nuclear technology to Burma, Iran and Syria.

Many analysts believe that Burma, operating undercover, is in the grip of an international broker-dealer who spends a lot of money to get shipments of unusable equipment. It was also not possible to verify whether the equipment was used to produce uranium at all and was capable of producing rare metals such as pure titanium or vanadium. Myanmar signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on September 26, 2018 but has not ratified it.

Major Sai Thein Win provided files and photographs describing the uranium experiments to the Norwegian-based broadcaster Democratic Voice of Burma. In this documentary titled ‘Burma’s Nuclear Ambition’, Major Tsai shows documents and photographs showing factory photos and prototypes of nuclear components being manufactured. Major Tsai himself was a mechanical engineer who worked on components and visited the Burmese nuclear battalion. He provided pictures of equipment used to convert uranium compounds for use in nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons.

After all, if Burma has developed a nuclear bomb, then what is the point of banning it? Is it possible to prevent North Korea or Iran with sanctions?

On December 15, 1995, ASEAN member states signed the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Agreement, also known as the Bangkok Agreement. With this agreement, ASEAN reaffirms the importance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and contributing to international peace and security. It marks the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ) in Southeast Asia—one of five NWFZs in the world. The remaining four NWFZs are in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Pacific, Africa and Central Asia. Myanmar’s nuclear weapons are in violation of the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Protocol.

The Myanmar junta has warned against ASEAN’s efforts to set a time limit for peace in Myanmar. The junta warned when such a call was made at a conference held on October 27, 2022 under the chairmanship of Cambodia. The junta government even declined invitations to send non-political figures. The meeting ended without the presence of Myanmar. Myanmar rejected such a peace effort last year, and the junta government accused Myanmar of being discriminated against. The junta calls ASEAN a ‘pet dog’ of the US. Thousands of human rights activists have been jailed by the junta since protests erupted in February 2021 following the arrest of the democratically elected Suu Kyi. 2900 dissidents were killed. ASEAN has also failed to change this fragile situation.

The West should join all regional countries and ASEAN in pressuring Myanmar to abandon its nuclear-weapons ambitions.

Samina Akhter
Samina Akhter
Samina Akhter is a Dhaka, Bangladesh based activist, analyst, writer and columnist.