Moreover, the UN has already confirmed that North Korea is shipping nuclear materials to Burma and using “links with overseas criminal networks to carry out these activities.” Next, corrupt Burmese officials might sell nuclear materials to criminals or terrorists. A September 2008 cable describes a Burmese civilian’s threat to U.S. diplomats to sell uranium-238 to Thailand, China, or other countries if the Americans themselves declined to buy. Claiming he already had 50 kg of Burmese uranium in a barrel, the civilian boasted that he could sell up to 2,000 kg. Another cable from January 2007 describes a suspected shipment of 112 metric tons of uranium ore to China by the Burmese government.
The West has no shortage of reasons to act against Burma’s nuclear program. Aside from the obvious danger of a nuclear-armed junta, the program could set off a regional arms race. Plus, Burma’s nuclear program can help other rogue states’ efforts. North Korea profits from its work for the junta. And corrupt Burmese officials can always sell off the nuclear technology they’ve acquired.
Burma has yet to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s “Additional Protocol” allowing more intrusive inspections. Former IAEA director Robert Kelley says that this activity exempts Burma from the IAEA’s Small Quantities Protocol, which permits countries with minimal nuclear material and no nuclear facilities to work without inspections. Shockingly, Kelley says the IAEA — as allowed under the Protocol — is actually training Burmese nuclear technicians.
Tackling Burmese proliferation is no small task. As a start, the U.S. and its allies should make the case that Burma does not qualify for the Small Quantities Protocol and begin applying pressure to force the junta to sign the Additional Protocol. If the junta’s members want U.S. attention, we should give it to them — and make them regret asking for it.