Issues & Insights Vol. 17 - No. 1 - 4th US/UK-Myanmar Nonproliferation Dialogue

January 17, 2017

There have been remarkable transformations in UK/US-Myanmar relations over the past few years with the signing of trade agreements, lifting of sanctions, and investments.  Nevertheless, some issues such as the government’s alleged violations of the human rights of minority ethnic groups have prevented better relations.
 
There is currently a fairly wide gap in perceptions regarding the issue of human rights violations in the Rakine State. While some outsiders accuse the government of genocide or ethnic cleansing, the Myanmar government has consistently portrayed its actions as justified based on the need for counterterrorism measures against international terrorists. An open dialogue over these perceptions is much needed.
 
Myanmar is firmly committed to improving economic and diplomatic relations with the US and the UK and several participants warned that we should not be distracted by Myanmar’s internal challenges while pursuing those efforts. 
 
US-Myanmar relations are likely to change under the Trump administration.  The new administration will not be as personally invested in improving relations with Myanmar as the Obama administration was. However, with the strong foundation established over the past several years, it is likely that the US foreign policy community will sustain cooperation between the two countries for the foreseeable future.
 
Relations between Myanmar and China are a challenge for stronger US-Myanmar ties. However, it is important for all sides to avoid characterizing the two relationships in zero-sum terms. 
 
As a close neighbor that is involved in the peace process in the Northern region and major investor and trade partner, China will always play a significant role in Myanmar’s foreign policy. Close China-Myanmar relations should not impede or prevent the US from investing in the country and from strengthening bilateral relations.
 
Myanmar views its relationship with Pyongyang as a “marriage of convenience.” Now that economic sanctions on Myanmar have been lifted, more countries will be able to engage with Myanmar, which should make that marriage less convenient. Myanmar is taking concrete steps to achieve a holistic understanding of United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding the DPRK and hopes to be able to implement and respect the provisions of the resolutions as earliest as possible.
 
The Myanmar government is working intensively toward the implementation of major nonproliferation treaties and conventions and the establishment of a credible national strategic trade control system. More pressing priorities, including fighting terrorism and corruption and promoting national reconciliation with minority groups, together with a still significant lack of capacity, resources, and expertise, keep the implementation process from being as fast and as easy as desired.
 
Nonproliferation capacity-building should remain the top priority of any donor seeking to assist Myanmar. Myanmar needs training courses and education programs that will prepare the next generation of Myanmar policymakers and scholars in the field of nonproliferation.