2nd Myanmar-US/UK Nonproliferation Dialogue

December 4-5, 2014
Yangon, Myanmar

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The Pacific Forum CSIS, in partnership with the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (M-ISIS), and with support from the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Strategic Programme Fund (FCO/SPF), held the 2nd Myanmar-US/UK Nonproliferation Dialogue in Yangon, Myanmar on December 4-5, 2014. Approximately 55 Myanmar, US, and UK experts, officials, military officers, and observers, all in their private capacity, joined two days of off-the-record discussions on nonproliferation implementation status and prioritization, the Additional Protocol and the Modified Small Quantities Protocol, implementation of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions, missile proliferation and nonproliferation, implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, strategic trade controls and the Proliferation Security Initiative, and implementation of United Nations sanctions resolutions.

The atmosphere at this year's meeting was very positive; people came to listen and learn. The first Dialogue, in February 2014, had been described as a "first date"; participants were cooperative but tentative. This time, a true spirit of cooperation prevailed; Myanmar colleagues were very candid and open in expressing their shortcomings and needs. Commitment to this process was notably reflected by the level of expertise and diversity of Myanmar participants, who came from Foreign Affairs, Commerce, Finance, Defense, and Science and Technology, all relevant to the topics discussed.

Key findings include:

  • Nonproliferation progress in Myanmar has been significant. There is a cadre of professionals in the Myanmar government dedicated to real reform. There is still a long way to go, however, to develop the policy and technical expertise to implement nonproliferation instruments.
  • Myanmar is fully committed to ratifying and implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BTWC) and is taking steps to bring its Additional Protocol into force. Myanmar has passed counter-terrorism and chemical safety legislation, is working on a biosafety law, and will open a mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this coming January.
  • The international community must not expect too much too soon. Many initiatives are happening at once and the internal process in Myanmar, which includes coordination among agencies, drafting new laws in multiple languages, and gaining the approval of parliament, will take time.
  • Myanmar representatives reiterated that national priorities are domestic: reconciliation of ethnic communities and economic development. This suggests that one way to encourage action in Myanmar is to convince authorities that honoring nonproliferation obligations will have multiple payoffs. Improved strategic trade management, for example, can provide procedures and tools that help to deal with illicit narcotics and small arms trafficking and create confidence among trading partners.
  • While Myanmar acknowledges the importance of nonproliferation initiatives such as the Small Quantities Protocol and the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, it is focused on fully implementing nonproliferation commitments that it has already made or are in the pipeline. Only after implementation of those commitments is complete will Myanmar be able to move on to other priorities.
  • As was the case at the February 2014 Dialogue, Myanmar officials denied having any  nuclear-weapon aspirations or any desire to pursue nuclear energy, deeming it too expensive and sensitive. Military cooperation with North Korea has ceased. One participant lamented, however, that Myanmar had been forced in the past to look to North Korea and China as the only reliable sources of much-needed weapons to deal with insurgency; another noted that “Western  sanctions have pushed us into the arms of China.”
  • Myanmar’s progress on nonproliferation should be broadcast as a positive example for the international nonproliferation regime and could help pay dividends at the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. It can show other states that there are tangible economic and diplomatic benefits associated with committing to nonproliferation as well as encourage Myanmar to continue in these endeavors.
  • Capacity continues to be a major obstacle to honoring obligations. Myanmar, for example, does not have the ability to identify and differentiate between dangerous chemicals and precursors. The US, the UK, and others are committed to helping Myanmar by providing commodity identification training, legislation review, police training, and other assistance, but they need to know where help is both needed and wanted.
  • Offline, Myanmar participants stressed that, although it remains incomplete and is a work-in-progress, Myanmar authorities have identified the capacity they need. A more important issue is the lack of willingness of donors to reach out to Myanmar "for political reasons.”
  • Myanmar officials specifically requested international assistance in the following areas:
    • The Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) is working on a nuclear safety and research law. It needs assistance to ensure that its nuclear safety, security, and safeguards regulations meet international norms and standards.
    • MOST also needs equipment and training to assist with the identification of nuclear, chemical, and biological materials both at headquarters and in the field.
    • The Ministry of Commerce is modernizing Myanmar’s trade regulations and has developed a risk profiling system. However, the current system does not incorporate nonproliferation requirements. Assistance is needed to create a comprehensive trade management system.
  • Myanmar would benefit from a UNSC Resolution 1540 National Action Plan that identifies capacity building needs, whether those needs cover chemical, biological, or nuclear issues, which ministry or agency is the point of contact, and which (if any) donor or assistance provider can work with that ministry. This will give Myanmar a complete picture of its needs and help the international community to avoid duplication.
  • More generally, in an attempt to improve nonproliferation cooperation and cooperation in other areas, Myanmar officials made a strong plea for more direct contact between the Tatmadaw and the US and UK militaries.