Burma seeks nuclear weapons alliance with N Korea
July 05, 2006
BURMA'S military junta has attempted to buy nuclear weapons technology from North Korea's rogue regime in an alliance that presents a frightening new threat to regional security.
The US issued a heavy-handed warning to Burmese military dictator Than Shwe to cease and desist all such activities after discovering Rangoon's bid late last year.
The prospect of the two pariah states of Asia joining together has alarmed Western intelligence agencies, with the US privately circulating a draft resolution condemning Burma's actions for the UN Security Council.
The terms of the resolution would say that Burma constituted a "threat to peace and security".
This would be a Chapter Six resolution, which does not imply that the Security Council would authorise the use of force against Burma or move directly to sanctions. But it would be the first time Burma has been formally censured by the Security Council. It is understood that no nuclear material has been transferred.
North Korea, which is believed to possess six or seven nuclear weapons, has engaged in tense brinkmanship with the US, recently threatening to launch a new generation of Taepodong missile.
If the North Koreans are able to miniaturise their nuclear weapons sufficiently, they will eventually be able to place them on Taepodong missiles, which are capable of reaching some targets in the US and Australia.
Intelligence sources confirmed to The Australian that the Burmese military had a booming relationship with the North Korean military. Burma and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations. These were broken in 1983 when, in an act of state terrorism, the North Koreans detonated a bomb in Rangoon which killed most of the visiting South Korean cabinet.
But Than Shwe and the equally eccentric and reclusive North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, have been engaged in intensive proxy diplomacy designed to re-establish formal diplomatic relations between the two states.
Western intelligence agencies believe Burma gets surface-to-air missiles, artillery and small arms from North Korea. The Burmese have also asked the Koreans for Scud missile technology.
The highly secretive Burmese state maintains the biggest army in Southeast Asia, with a regular military estimated at about half a million people and a paramilitary force of some 100,000.
Diplomatic observers do not believe the US resolution at this stage would pass at the Security Council because China would oppose and, if necessary, veto it.
However, presenting it publicly would acutely embarrass Burma's defenders, especially China.
The resolution makes no specific mention of Burma's nuclear ambitions. Instead it focuses on Burma's human rights abuses, which led to the outflow of large numbers of refugees. Because of the poor state of Burma's health services, many of these refugees are HIV-positive.
Burma also threatens international security through its drug-growing activities. Australian authorities believe much of the heroin sold in Australia is grown in Burma.
Apart from China, which has deep strategic interests in Burma, some Third World members of the Security Council may also object to a resolution based mainly on the internal human rights record of a member nation.
Burma has also made separate inquiries with Russia over the possibility of developing a peaceful nuclear power industry. At different times the Burmese have denied this. The Russians are
believed to have been unresponsive to the Burmese requests.
Their lack of embassies in each other's countries has not inhibited the development of the military-to-military relationship.
This growing relationship is of acute concern to Western intelligence.
Both Burma and North Korea have their chief external strategic relationship with China.
China sees Burma as an important strategic asset.
Much Chinese diplomacy has centred on energy security and Burma offers China substantial oil and gas reserves.
Burma also offers China strategic reach into the Indian Ocean through access to its naval ports.
It also provides China with enhanced intelligence capabilities through intelligence establishments, especially on the Burmese border with India.
Burma's ruling military junta has become increasingly erratic and unpredictable in recent years. Last year, it moved its entire capital from Rangoon to Pyinmana in central Burma andbuilt a new capital, virtually from scratch.
This was apparently because it feared a US attack on Rangoon, but the timing of the move, which was scheduled to within a minute, was reportedly determined by astrological readings.
At the same time as cracking down on the opposition National League for Democracy, headed by imprisoned Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese regime has intensified a vicious war against the Karen and other ethnic minorities.
The other nine members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are increasingly frustrated with Burma.
Malaysia's Foreign Minister, Syed Hamid, called last month for the UN to take responsibility for encouraging the Rangoon junta towards greater openness and moderation.
This call represents a humiliation for ASEAN and a realisation that the strategy of reforming Burma through ASEAN membership has failed.
Some ASEAN leaders have asked US President George W.Bush to take a hard line on Burma to help break the paralysis on political movement within the country.
The Americans are considering convening a meeting of like-minded nations to discuss Burma at ministerial level at this year's ASEAN meetings, scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur later this month.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has committed to attend this meeting.
The Japanese and some members of ASEAN are likely to be invited.
Mr Downer is also likely to meet Burma's Foreign Minister in Kuala Lumpur.
Last November, the UN Security Council met privately for a briefing on Burma from a member of the UN Secretariat, the first time the Security Council had considered Burma, even informally.
The international mood is hardening against Burma and this could result in renewed calls to expel it from ASEAN.