Burma's Nuke Ambitions an Opportunity for Obama
By HTET AUNG Saturday, June 5, 2010


Burma will definitely become the first nuclear power in Southeast Asia if the world gives the country's ruling generals a free hand to pursue their secret ambitions.

On Friday, the Al Jazeera news network broadcast a documentary film detailing the latest shocking evidence of Burma's bid to become a nuclear-armed nation. Produced by the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma, the documentary features extensive documentation, including photos and blueprints of tunnels and suspected nuclear facilities.

Sai Thein Win, a former major in the Burmese army who studied nuclear and missile technologies in Russia and was involved in Burma’s secret nuclear plan, defected with these important documents earlier this year. They offer the most compelling evidence yet of a threat that the international community can no longer afford to ignore.

The emergence of another paranoid dictatorship with nukes is the last thing the world needs. For the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), it is especially alarming, as it undoes a longstanding commitment to keep the region free of nuclear weapons.

It was just seven months ago that US President Barack Obama attended the first Asean-US summit in Singapore. On that occasion, his regional counterparts (including Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, who was able to attend because of Obama's newly announced engagement policy) applauded his nuclear disarmament efforts.

In a joint statement, the Asean leaders said they “welcomed the efforts of the President of the United States in promoting international peace and security including the vision of a nuclear weapons free world.”

The statement continued: “We are convinced that the establishment of a Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone will contribute towards global nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation and peace and security in the region.”

Now that it is clear, however, that Burma doesn't sincerely share this vision of the region's future, it is time for the international community to get serious about addressing a security threat that grows more ominous with each new revelation.

One area of particular concern is Burma's ties with North Korea. An alliance has been forming between these two rogue states for several years, and it is becoming increasingly clear that cooperation on nuclear weapons development is one of the cornerstones of their relationship. 

Responding to the evidence presented in the Al Jazeera/DVB documentary, Geoff Morrell, a spokesperson for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said the US was concerned about Burma's “growing military ties with the DPRK [North Korea],” but did not comment directly on the nuclear allegations.

He did, however, raise the issue of United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) that forbid weapons trading with North Korea.

“[We] are following it closely to ensure that the multiple UNSCRs are enforced,” he said.

The US has good reason to be “concerned.”  North Korea's acquisition of nuclear weapons has significantly heightened tensions in East Asia, and a failure to prevent the spread of North Korean weapons technology to Southeast Asia could seriously undermine security there as well.

That is why the Obama administration must take Burma off the back burner and make it one of its foreign policy priorities in the region. 

It could start by pushing China and Russia, the Burmese regime's two staunchest defenders in the UN Security Council, to start cooperating with its efforts to take the junta to task for its multiple violations of international norms.

The US already has its priorities straight on Burma, focusing largely on the issues of democracy and human rights, but it could do more to get other countries on board with its targeted sanctions against the ruling generals and their partners in crime.

The Obama administration should act quickly to punish the regime for its clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution No. 1874, which was passed unanimously a year ago to condemn North Korea's nuclear weapons testing. If it doesn't, Southeast Asia could become the next region to face a nuclear menace.

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