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The Next Nuclear Nightmare

August 6, 2010

As the U.S. and the international community enact additional sanctions against Iran, another rogue nation’s potential nuclear ambitions are raising increased global concern. For much of the past decade, intelligence officials have been warning that Burma (also referred to as Myanmar) may be actively seeking nuclear capabilities. While this is troubling, equally disturbing is the isolated nation’s entrenched military relationship with North Korea. This kinship, combined with substandard living conditions that the inefficient and secretive Burmese junta has created for its 55 million residents, makes Burma the next big international menace.

Just a few decades ago, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel, Burma was “one of the richest and most open countries” in the world. Today, transparency is alien to Burma’s military government. The nation’s political health has vastly deteriorated, with secrecy preventing outsiders from understanding exactly what is occurring within the regime.  This is creating international angst, as the West cannot properly assess the existence of or the motives behind the alleged nuclear program.

With these questions left unanswered and with a volatile North Korea involved, some wonder if domestic and, perhaps, international safety is at stake. FOX News’ Ed Barnes has been one voice, among many, reporting that Burma may be working in secret to become the world’s next “rogue nuclear power.” While some caution that Burma’s closed nature makes it difficult to assess its nuclear ambitions, others seem certain that the Southeast Asian nation is ramping up its atomic capabilities. According to Barnes,

“Because of the nature of Burma’s paranoid and repressive ruling military junta, there is tremendous fear that, if it acquires a nuclear capability, it will set off an arms race that could change the political dynamics of Southeast Asia.”

Aside from a potential arms race, which would surely be a detriment to international security and would take substantial efforts from world leaders to halt, a nuclear Burma presents other issues of concern.  The Irrawaddy recently reported that some believe Burma’s government is looking to built long-range missiles.  If this is true, these missiles would be within reach of Thailand, among other nearby nations, clearly posing a direct threat to the region.  Additionally, the concern over secrecy and arms sales to terrorists must also be considered, as the reining secrecy in Burma provides no insight into how such a program would be managed.

While many Americans are hearing about these concerns for the first time, experts have been warning about Burmese nuclear ambitions for years. In July 2006, The Australian reported on the nation’s attempt to purchase nuclear technology from North Korea, calling the arrangement “…a frightening new threat to regional security.” According to reports, the U.S. issued warnings to Burma in an effort to show dissatisfaction with the military government’s efforts to engage North Korea. Burma has also sought out Russia to discuss nuclear options, though the Russians allegedly have been unresponsive to these requests; no work has commenced on projects that the two parties agreed to partake in.

While Burma may be seeking nuclear capabilities, some experts have theorized what may be driving the nation’s quest for atomic superiority.  According to analysts and news reports, an unfounded paranoia that the U.S. will attack may be at the center of Burma’s ambitions.  According to a recent Al-Jazeera news documentary, Burma’s military regime has built a countrywide network of underground tunnels.  The documentary reported that North Korea assisted in building these tunnels at an estimated cost of $3 billion and that they are believed to be shelters that would house military members in the event of an attack on the nation.

A Nov. 2007 piece in The Australian quotes Michael Green, a former Bush administration advisor on Asia and Derek Mitchell, the Director for Asia Strategy at The Center for Strategic and International Studies.  Green and Mitchell covered the many issues Burma faces, including human rights violations, poor health care, heroin production, and the spread of HIV/AIDS among the nation’s illegal immigrant population.  Among these issues covered was the “erratic” nature of Burma’s governing regime.  With such constraints on the nation’s internal progress and with a secretive and potentially desperate government at the helm, the thought of a nuclear capable Burma is concerning.


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