North Korea and MyanmarThere are increasing suspicions that North Korea has been assisting Myanmar with a nuclear arms program. The United States media reported that North Korean engineers were actively working in the Southeast Asian nation in 2003, and the U.S. Senate focused on the alleged nuclear cooperation between the two countries in hearings held in 2006.
These suspicions were discussed once again in the U.S. Senate in June, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her concerns about the matter at the Asean Regional Forum last month.
An Australian newspaper recently reported that Myanmar is building a nuclear reactor for arms development with the help of North Korea, citing defectors from Myanmar. The report said the reactor is slated to be completed in 2014.
The alleged nuclear connection between the North and Myanmar has yet to be confirmed, but it appears convincing, given previous incidents involving Pyongyang.
It has already been confirmed that North Korea cooperated with Iran and Pakistan on missile and nuclear arms development. Evidence also supports allegations that the North supported Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor. It has also been revealed that the North has acquired uranium-enrichment technology and equipment from Pakistan.
There could be many reasons why Pyongyang would assist Myanmar. It may be hoping to receive food in return for nuclear technology or it may be trying to provoke Washington by fueling nuclear proliferation suspicions.
The biggest concern is the possibility that the North is trying to build additional bombs indirectly through Myanmar.
The North has already tested plutonium-based bombs, but the explosives need to be retested after a decade due to the peculiar scientific nature of the material.
However, the North’s production of weapons-grade plutonium has not been steady because its Yongbyon facilities have deteriorated. The country may be hoping it can resolve the problem by assisting Myanmar with its nuclear program.
It is also possible the North will cooperate with Myanmar to produce highly enriched uranium-based nuclear bombs, which are easy to build and for which a detonation test is unnecessary. The uranium-based bombs can also be stored for a long time.
If the North is cooperating with Myanmar on a uranium-based bomb program, it is a direct threat to us. Myanmar is in close proximity to Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh, and nuclear arms development by the authoritarian dictatorship would likely pose a serious threat to Asia’s security and stability.
The government must exchange intelligence with the international community to monitor the movements of the North and Myanmar.
If a nuclear connection is confirmed, Seoul must be prepared to react through retaliation and disarmament, something that will only be possible through cooperation with the international community.
The South must never let the North become a center of global nuclear proliferation.