Rogue Brothers in Arms
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, June 16, 2024


Rogue Brothers in Arms

By WAI MOE JULY, 2010 - VOLUME 18 NO.7

(Page 2 of 3)

That is why they follow North Korea, ” said Aung Lynn Htut.

While acknowledging that the junta could use a missile and nuclear weapons program as a deterrent to an attack, some analysts speculate that the junta could also be using their nuclear program as an international bargaining chip.

“Perhaps they would go down the path of North Korea—of using the threat of a nuclear deterrent or a nuclear weapons program as a way of forcing concessions from their opponents, including an amelioration of international sanctions,” said Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow at the conservative Washington-based Heritage Foundation, speaking to Radio Free Asia.

Aung Naing Oo, a Harvard-educated Burmese academic, agreed, telling Reuters that the military regime might try to emulate the tactics of North Korea and arm itself to gain leverage with the international community.

“It serves a purpose. The military knows that nuclear weapons are a short-cut to getting on the international radar and earning respect geopolitically,” he said.

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Aung Lynn Htut said, “The generals thought that they could also obtain nuclear warheads and that, once these warheads were mounted on the missiles, the United States and other powerful countries ... have much less leverage on the junta.”

According to, a military affairs website covering armed forces worldwide, another possibility is that Burma is partnering with North Korea to help it market and distribute North Korean nuclear weapons technology.

In a similar vein, Geoffrey Forden,  a weapons expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who reviewed the missile evidence for the DVB report, said in an article posted on that since shipments from North Korea are being closely monitored, Pyongyang may attempt to use Burma as an outsourced manufacturing and distribution site. “The spread of precision engineering worldwide has opened up the possibility of proliferation networks more as consulting engineering firms rather than one-stop-shopping centers,” he said.

Maybe most troubling to some analysts is the possibility that a powerful axis is being formed between China, North Korea and Burma, with Iran a possible partner as well.

Wade, noting that passage of Middle Eastern oil to China through Burma circumvents the Straits of Malacca, which could be blockaded by the US, said all three countries benefit from their interwoven relationship: the Shwe pipeline project gives the Burmese junta billions in revenues; China gets a secure supply of oil and gas; and North Korea now has a wealthy fellow “rogue” to trade with.

Regardless of whether North Korea serves as Burma’s role model, arms dealer, original equipment manufacturer or China’s proxy, Than Shwe’s desire to emulate North Korea and his ability to do so are two entirely different matters. To begin with, experts say Burma’s nascent nuclear program is far from coming to fruition.

According to Kelley, the generals don’t appear to have any coherent strategy for actually making a functioning nuclear weapon. “Nothing we have seen suggests Burma will be successful with the materials and component we have seen,” he said.

Stephen Herzog, an independent security policy analyst and an arms control consultant to the Federation of American Scientists, writing in the Stanford Review, said, “No one is claiming that Burma is even remotely close to a bomb, but small-quantity laser enrichment and weapon prototypes have no peaceful energy application. If the evidence provided by the defector is legitimate, these types of technologies could offer a clear sign of the junta’s current or past nuclear ambitions.”

“The intention is there, but the reality is very different,” said Alie Fowle, Kelley’s co-researcher on the DVB report.

Analysts say Burma’s conventional missile program, although itself a long way from becoming a reality, is much more of a medium-term threat than its nuclear program. Defectors interviewed for the DVB Report said the junta wants to develop missiles with a 3,000 to 4,000 kilometer range, long enough to reach the US military base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Forden told Radio Free Asia that he gives the junta five to 10 years to get a rocket launched and built, and much longer to come up with one that would have a serious range. He said Burma is just starting off in its missile program and its ability to develop an effective weapons program relies on its ability to import technology.

“It’s going to depend on how much foreign assistance they can get. And presumably they would get it from North Korea. If that goes through, as there were indications, then they could get ... a Nodong missile fairly rapidly—maybe one or two years,” said Forden, referring to the North Korean mid-range ballistic missile.

Experts say the technologies of developing nuclear warheads and short, middle and long-range missiles are two sides of the same coin: the combination of possessing these two technologies will change a nation into a nuclear power.

Between junta Gen Shwe Mann’s 2008 visit to North Korea, the UN report and reports by other Burma analysts such as Desmond Ball, there seems to be ample evidence that North Korea is involved in whatever nuclear activities Burma is engaged in.

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