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Myanmar flagMyanmar

Overview Last updated: March, 2014

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), but has not ratified either the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) or the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Open source evidence cannot definitively confirm whether the country has any programs for the development of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. Myanmar’s regime asserts the country has no such programs. [1]

Nuclear

Myanmar became a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1992, and signed the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty in 1995, committing not to develop nuclear weapons. The country signed a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and a Small Quantities Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1995. After President Barack Obama’s visit in November 2012, Myanmar announced it would sign the Additional Protocol. Less than one year later, on 17 September 2013, Myanmar signed the agreement. [2] Myanmar has signed, but not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). [3]

Myanmar expressed an interest in nuclear energy for peaceful uses as early as 1955, when the country established an Atomic Energy Centre under the Union of Burma Applied Research Institute (UBARI). [4] It joined the IAEA in 1957, and participated in a number of IAEA technical cooperation projects in isotope applications for agriculture beginning in the 1960s. [5] In 1997, the government established the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) under the Ministry of Science and Technology; as of 2007, the DAE had 200 employees, of which roughly 25% were trainees. [6]

Myanmar's government has also undertaken some uranium exploration, though the extent and specifics of these activities are unknown. According to the Myanmar Ministry of Energy there are five areas for potential uranium mining: Magwe, Taungdwingyi, Kyaukphygon (Mogok), Kyauksin, and Paongpyin (Mogok). [7] Only Magwe has up to 0.5 percent medium-grade uranium ore while the rest have low-grade uranium ore (less than 0.1 percent). [8] Myanmar has no confirmed mining or milling facilities, despite allegations by dissident groups of the existence of sites near Mandalay. [9] Experts at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) assert, based on independent satellite and photographic imagery analysis, that the facility in question is most likely a cement plant. [10] Most of Myanmar's uranium is a byproduct of gold mining. As Myanmar does not have a need for uranium, much is exported to China. [11]

Myanmar has consistently looked to Russia for assistance increasing its technical capabilities in the nuclear field. In 2001, Russia signed a contract to design a 10 MW research reactor in Myanmar for radioisotope production. [12] Although the deal for a research reactor ultimately fell through, a few hundred specialists from Myanmar have trained in nuclear research in Russia. [13] However, it is unclear whether the government is continuing to send scientists abroad after its decision to sign the Additional Protocol and increase its transparency regarding its nuclear program.

In May 2010, the pro-democracy dissident group Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) precipitated considerable international debate about Myanmar's nuclear program by alleging the existence of covert nuclear and missile facilities and illicit cooperation with North Korea. The testimony and photographs of former Army Major Sai Thein Win, who had recently defected from Myanmar, provided the basis for the report's allegations. [14] Former IAEA inspector Robert E. Kelley, who was a co-author on the report, stated that the photographs and documents provided by Sai Thein Win led him to conclude that Myanmar's "technology is only for nuclear weapons and not civilian use or nuclear power." [15] Kelley further argued, however, that it would be extremely difficult for Myanmar, given its limited technical and financial capabilities, to develop nuclear weapons successfully. [16] 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." [17]

The United States government  expresses diminishing concerns about a possible nuclear program in Myanmar, while withholding judgment on whether the country ever undertook activities in violation of its international commitments particularly with regard to trade with North Korea. 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. [18] Myanmar's vice president told a visiting U.S. delegation in 2011 that his country had halted its nuclear research program because, the "international community may misunderstand Myanmar over the issue."[19] Myanmar's leaders also communicated to the IAEA that "Myanmar is in no position to consider the production and use of nuclear weapons and does not have enough economic strength to do so."[20] During U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's first visit to the country, Myanmar also explicitly denied any cooperation with North Korea, and committed to complying with United Nations Security Council resolutions targeting the DPRK's illicit activities.[21] Ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Myanmar (the first of any sitting U.S. president), President Thein Sein approved a measure to sign the IAEA’s Additional Protocol. The measure will be reviewed by parliament before being adopted.[22] On the topic of collaboration with North Korea, President Thein Sein told President Obama in May 2013, "Actually, we don't really have the capacity to build nuclear weapons. We don't have money. We don't have technology. And nobody will come and help us made[sic] this thing...but of course we have to establish some relations with North Korea because in the past everything is under sanctions and we were in need to find somebody who could help us with our defense. So we did engage diplomatically." [23]

Chemical

There is no evidence to suggest that Myanmar has a chemical weapons (CW) program, despite many decades of allegations to the contrary by Burmese dissident groups. [24] While the U.S. government voiced suspicions about a possible CW program in the 1980s and early 1990s, Burma has not been named in relevant U.S. compliance reports since 1992. [25] Myanmar is not a signatory to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, and despite signing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993, has not yet ratified it. [26] In December 2013, Myanmar announced it is preparing to submit instruments of ratification for CWC and it is awaiting parliamentary approval. [27]

In January 2014, Unity Journal, a weekly news magazine in Myanmar, alleged that the military built a chemical weapons production facility in central Magway district. [28] The Government, while acknowledging the facility is for defense purposes, denied the allegations. CWC ratification would provide the international community mechanisms to clarify issues related to remaining facilities of concern in Myanmar.

In 1997 Myanmar adopted Agenda 21, which established an official strategy for sustainable development, including environmental management of toxic industrial chemicals. [29] Myanmar possesses only a limited chemical industry, and imports all toxic industrial chemicals it consumes. As it is not a significant exporter of industrial chemicals or chemical equipment, Myanmar does not participate in or adhere to the Australia Group's guidelines. [30]

Biological

There is no evidence to suggest that Myanmar has ever pursued a biological weapons (BW) program. The country signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1972, but has not ratified the treaty. [31] In December 2013, Myanmar announced it is awaiting parliamentary approval to ratify the BTWC. [32]

Myanmar has a limited biotechnology sector. In 2004, Myanmar established a Biotechnology Development Center at Pathein University in collaboration with the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation of Japan. [33] According to the Myanmar Department of Agricultural Planning, the public sector supports most biotechnology activities in Myanmar, including vaccine development for Newcastle disease, as well as detection of viral disease in shrimp in collaboration with the Government of Japan. [34] Myanmar has participated in the development of the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Biosafety. The country is in the process of developing its National Biosafety Framework. [35] Myanmar is not a significant biotechnology exporter, and thus does not participate in or adhere to the Australia Group's guidelines. [36]

Missile

Myanmar does not subscribe to the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). [37] The country possesses a small number of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) , produced predominantly by Chinese and Russian manufacturers. According to Jane's, this inventory includes the Hong Ying-5 (红缨五号), 9K38 Igla (9K38 Игла́), and 9K310 Igla-1 (9K310 Игла́-1) man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS); as well as the British Bloodhound Mk2, 2K12 Kub (2K12 Куб), S-125 Pechora-2M (Печора-2M), and the Hongqi-2 (红旗二号) SAMs. [38]

North Korea and Myanmar officially resumed diplomatic relations in 2007 after a long period of estrangement. [39] Photographs and a trip report dated November 2008, provided by a Burmese dissident group, show Gen. Shwe Mann (then a leader in Myanmar's ruling military junta, and currently speaker of the lower house of parliament), meeting with high-ranking North Korean officials. Most notable of the officials is Jon Pyong Ho (전병호) who, until retirement in 2011, was a leading figure in North Korean nuclear and missile proliferation. [40] The photos also show the Burmese delegation visiting a number of missile-related facilities. Among these are a Korean People's Army (KPA) Air Force unit; facilities producing anti-aircraft and radar equipment; and production facilities for Igla SAMs and Scud missiles. [41] The Scud missile production facility, known as the No. 125 Factory, is linked to North Korea's missile exports. [42] The United States has confronted two North Korean ships, which it asserted were en route for Myanmar bearing missiles or missile-related equipment. In 2009, the Kang Nam I turned back after the U.S. trailed it, and in 2011 the M/V Light similarly returned to its North Korean port. In August 2012, Japan seized “50 metal pipes and 15 high-specification aluminum alloy bars” that could have been used in either a nuclear or – more likely – a missile program. The cargo was destined for a Yangon-based construction company that is alleged to be a front-company for military procurement. The material was stamped “DPRK,” and transported through China’s port of Dalian near the border with North Korea. [43]

Press reports widely allege that other illicit shipments have occurred but successfully evaded interdiction. [44] For example, Myanmar received a shipment of dual-use cylindrical grinders from a Japanese company called Toko Boeki in 2008. [45] Japanese authorities later prosecuted Li Gyeong Ho, founder and president of the company, for again attempting to export cylindrical grinders and a magnetometer to Myanmar in September 2008 and January 2009. The items were procured on behalf of a North Korean front company known as New East International, which is controlled by the Second Economic Committee and responsible for military procurement. [46] These items can be used to make magnets for a centrifuge-based uranium enrichment program, or for the gyroscopes of missile systems. Because of their special dual-use nature, their export is controlled under Japanese law. It is unknown if North Korea was attempting to use Myanmar as a transshipment point, or if Myanmar was using North Korea's network to solicit materials for its own use. [47] In July 2013, the U.S. levied sanctions on Lt. General Thein Htay, the head of Burma's Directorate of Defense Industries (DDI), pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13619 for his involvement in the North Korean supply of arms to Myanmar. [48]

Myanmar also has a nascent domestic dual-use research capability in the form of the Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University (MAEU), established in Meiktila in 2002. [49] MAEU's research includes the design and construction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and solid propellant rockets. [50]

Sources:
[1] "Myanmar Cannot Achieve Democratic Progress Overnight that US had for Over 200 Years," News Brief (Myanmar), 2 June 2011, www.mrtv3.net.mm; Rupali Karekar, "No Secret Nuclear Deals with North Korea," Straits Times, 31 January 2012, www.lexisnexis.com; for additional reading see: Sharad Joshi, "Playing Politics: How the Regional Context Impedes Confronting Myanmar's Alleged Nuclear Program," NTI Issue Brief, 4 February 2011, www.nti.org.
[2] “Myanmar to Sign New Nuclear Safeguards: Govt,” Agence France-Presse, 18 November 2012; "Myanmar Signed Additional Protocol with IAEA," International Atomic Energy Agency, 17 September 2013, www.iaea.org.
[3] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Agreement of 20 April 1995 Between the Union of Myanmar and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards in Connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," INFCIRC/477, June 1995, www.iaea.org.
[4] Myanmar Ministry of Science and Technology, "Department of Atomic Energy," 13 June 2007, www.most.gov.mm.
[5] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Radioisotopes in Burmese Agricultural Research," IAEA Bulletin; International Atomic Energy Agency, "Atomic Assistance in 1961," IAEA Bulletin, 1961, www.iaea.org; International Atomic Energy Agency, "Survey in Southeast Asia" IAEA Bulletin,1959, www.iaea.org.
[6] Myanmar Ministry of Science and Technology, "Department of Atomic Energy," 13 June 2007, www.most.gov.mm.
[7] "Nuclear Energy: Uranium Ore Deposits of Myanmar," Myanmar Ministry of Energy, www.energy.gov.mm.
[8] Anton Khlopkov and Dmitry Konukhov, "Russia, Myanmar and Nuclear Technologies," Center for Energy and Security Studies, 24 June 2011, www.ceness-russia.org.
[9] "Images of Suspected Uranium Mine and Refinery in Burma," DictatorWatch, March 2007, www.dictatorwatch.org.
[10] Robert Kelley, Andrea Scheel Stricker, and Paul Brannan, "Exploring Claims about Secret Nuclear Sites in Myanmar," Institute for Science and International Security, 28 January 2010, http://isis-online.org.
[11] Anton Khlopkov and Dmitry Konukhov, "Russia, Myanmar and Nuclear Technologies," Center for Energy and Security Studies, 24 June 2011, www.ceness-russia.org.
[12] Anton Khlopkov and Dmitry Konukhov, "Russia, Myanmar and Nuclear Technologies," Center for Energy and Security Studies, 24 June 2011, www.ceness-russia.org; Mark Hibbs, "IAEA Probes Myanmar Data, Discourages New Research Reactors," Nuclear Fuel, 10 August 2009, www.carnegieendowment.org.
[13] Simon Shuster, "Why Are Burmese Scientists Studying Missile Technology in Moscow?," Time, 7 December 2011, www.content.time.com.
[14] Untitled Photos, The Irrawaddy, www.irrawaddy.org; Pascal Khu Thwe, translation, "Report of Shwe Mann's Visit to North Korea," Democratic Voice of Burma, www.dvb.no; original document at: www.irrawaddy.org.
[15] Read the full report here: Robert E. Kelley and Ali Fowle, "Nuclear Related Activities in Burma," Democratic Voice of Burma, May 2010, www.dvb.no.
[16] Robert Kelley and Allison Puccioni, "Atomic Revelation – Defector Reveals Myanmar's Nuclear Programme," Jane's Intelligence Review, 20 July 2010.
[17] David Albright and Christina Walrond, "Technical Note: Revisiting Bomb Reactors in Burma and an Alleged Burmese Nuclear Weapons Program," Institute for Science and International Security, 11 April 2011, http://isis-online.org.
[18] U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, August 2011, www.state.gov; U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, August 2012, www.state.gov.
[19] "Myanmar Cannot Achieve Democratic Progress Overnight that U.S. had for Over 200 Years," News Brief (Myanmar), 2 June 2011, www.mrtv3.net.mm.
[20] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Statement by the Leader of Myanmar Delegation H.E. U Tin Win to the 55th Annual Regular Session of the IAEA General Conference," Vienna, 19-23 September 2011, www.iaea.org.
[21] "Myanmar Vows it has No Illegal Dealings with North Korea: Clinton," Global Security Newswire, 1 December 2011, www.nti.org.
[22] “Myanmar to Sign New Nuclear Safeguards: Govt,” Agence France-Presse, 18 November 2012.
[23] "Myanmar Seeks Eased Sanctions During Thein Sein Visit to U.S.,"
[24] The following sources are included as an example of the persistent nature of these unconfirmed accounts. However, 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. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "Chronology for Karens in Burma," Minorities at Risk Project, 2004, www.unhcr.org; Jessica Le Masurier, "Myanmar ‘Used Chemicals' on Rebels," 21 August 2005, CNN, http://articles.cnn.com; Pranamita Baruah, "Myanmar," Journal on Chemical and Biological Weapons, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Vol. 3 No. 3, April-June 2010, www.idsa.in; Tania Branigan, "Burma's Military Junta Accused of Torturing and Killing Ethnic Rebels," The Guardian, 18 December 2011, www.guardian.co.uk; “Burma Denies Using Chemical Weapons in Kachin,” AFP and Democratic Voice of Burma, 10 January 2013, http://www.dvb.no.
[25] Gordon M. Burck and Charles C. Flowerree, International Handbook on Chemical Weapons Proliferation (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), pp. 428-429. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency reported that Burma (Myanmar) has, "chemical weapons and artillery for delivering chemical agents" in a 1992 survey for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. However, the same report in 1993 indicated that Burma was no longer developing chemical weapons. See: E.J. Hogendoorn, "A Chemical Weapons Atlas," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 1997, p. 38.
[26] Office of the Legal Adviser, "Note by the Technical Secretariat: Status of Participation in the CWC as of 14 October 2013," Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 14 October 2013.
[27] Khin Maung Soe, "Myanmar Prepares to Ratify Chemical, Biological Weapons Treaties," Radio Free Asia, 11 December 2013, http://www.rfa.org.

[28] Zarni Mann, “Journalists Detained for Reporting Alleged Burmese Chemical Weapons Factory,” The Irrawaddy, 2 February 2014, http://www.irrawaddy.org.
[29] United Nations, "Economic Aspects of Sustainable Development in Myanmar," www.un.org.
[30] The Australia Group, "Australia Group Participants," www.australiagroup.net.
[31] UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, "Status of Multilateral Arms Regulation and Disarmament Agreements," http://unhq-appspub-01.un.org.
[32] Khin Maung Soe, "Myanmar Prepares to Ratify Chemical, Biological Weapons Treaties," Radio Free Asia, 11 December 2013, http://www.rfa.org.
[33] USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, "GAIN Report #BM5018: Burma: Biotechnology: Agricultural Biotechnology: 2005," 28 July 2005.
[34] United Nations Environment Programme, "National Biosafety Framework: Myanmar," November 2006.
[35] Convention on Biological Diversity, “National Reports: Myanmar Second National Reports,” 28 November 2013, www.bch.cbd.int.
[36] The Australia Group, "Australia Group Participants," www.australiagroup.net.
[37] Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC), "Subscribing States," updated 6 April 2011, www.hcoc.at, accessed 14 March 2012.
[38] "Inventory, Myanmar," Jane's Land-Based Air Defence, 9 February 2011.
[39] North Korea and Myanmar shared tense relations for a period between 1983 and 2007 due to the North Korean assassination attempt on South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan (전두환) during his visit to Yangon (Rangoon) in October 1983. The bombing killed both South Korean and Burmese citizens. See: Clyde Haberman, "Bomb Kills 19 Including 6 Key Koreans," The New York Times, 10 October 1983, www.nytimes.com.
[40] Untitled Photos, The Irrawaddy, www.irrawaddy.org; Pascal Khu Thwe, translation, "Report of Shwe Mann's Visit to North Korea," Democratic Voice of Burma, www.dvb.no; original document at: www.irrawaddy.org; "N.Korea Reshuffles Top Officials," Chosun Ilbo, 8 April 2011, www.chosun.com.
[41] Untitled Photos, The Irrawaddy, www.irrawaddy.org.
[42] Jeffrey Lewis, "Pyongyang Pig Factory," Arms Control Wonk, 10 February 2011, http://armscontrolwonk.com.
[43] Yoshihiro Makino, “Japan Intercepts N. Korea weapons-grade Material Bound for Myanmar,” Asahi Shimbun, 24 November 2012, http://ajw.asahi.com.
[44] David E. Sanger, "U.S. Said to Turn Back North Korea Missile Shipment," The New York Times, 12 June 2011, www.nytimes.com.
[45] Stephanie Lieggi, Robert Shaw, and Masako Toki, "Taking Control: Stopping North Korean WMD-Related Procurement," The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, September/October 2010, pp. 21-34.
[46] Stephanie Lieggi, Robert Shaw, and Masako Toki, "Taking Control: Stopping North Korean WMD-Related Procurement," The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, September/October 2010, pp. 21-34.
[47] Catherine Boye, Melissa Hanham, and Robert Shaw, "North Korea and Myanmar: A Match for Nuclear Proliferation?" The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 27 September 2010, www.thebulletin.org.
[48] U.S. Department of the Treasury, "Treasury Designates Burmese LT. General Thein Htay, Chief of Directorate of Defense Industries," 2 July 2013, http://www.treasury.gov.
[49] "Research in MAEU," Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University, www.most.gov.mm.
[50] "Research in MAEU," Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University, www.most.gov.mm.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Myanmar

  • Not a party to the BTWC, CWC or CTBT
  • Concluded an Additional Protocol with the IAEA in 2013
  • Alleged to participate in illicit missile commerce with North Korea