Burma and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Not If, But Why, How and What
Since 2000, there has been a flood of blogs, news media reports and academic articles on the reported ambition of Burma's military government to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Its relationship with North Korea has also been subject to intense scrutiny. Some bold claims have been made regarding Burma's current and expected capabilities, as regards both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Yet, few observers have gone past the basic issues of acquisition and detection, to ask two critical questions, the answers to which - while necessarily speculative - would help illuminate this debate and allow for more nuanced analyses. These questions are: why might Burma's government wish to possess nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles? And, in the event that Burma was successful in producing either, how could it actually use them? A third question that has escaped serious attention is: if Burma did indeed try to acquire WMD, or has already done so, what would be the net security implications for the country itself? Would possession of WMD increase Burma's security, as is likely to be the regime's main aim, or would it in fact achieve the opposite result by attracting unwelcome international attention, possibly even military action? All three questions relate to the mindset of Burma's military leadership and its peculiar worldview, particularly since the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Examination of this matter leads to another key unknown, and that is whether the same vision is shared by the country's new and apparently reform-minded civilian-military government, which was inaugurated in Naypyidaw in March 2011. A key test of the new government's bona fides will be its willingness to allow international inspectors to verify its repeated claims that Burma has neither the capacity nor the inclination to make nuclear weapons.