5th Myanmar-U.S. Nonproliferation Dialogue

November 30 - December 1, 2017
Naypyidaw, Myanmar

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The Pacific Forum CSIS, in coordination with the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS) and support from the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA), held the fifth Myanmar-US Nonproliferation Dialogue in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2017. The Pacific Forum CSIS thanks the MISIS for co-hosting the meeting and providing administrative support to workshop participants. Some 45 US and Myanmar experts, officials, military officers, and observers attended, all in their private capacity, along with four Pacific Forum CSIS young leaders. The off-the-record discussions focused on future directions of Myanmar’s relationship with the West; implementation of nuclear nonproliferation protocols, the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions, and strategic trade controls; and opportunities for enhancing Myanmar’s role in ASEAN nonproliferation networks.

Key findings:

- The US is engaged in various initiatives including humanitarian assistance to support Myanmar’s democratic transition and development. The crisis in Rakhine State has caused tensions between the two countries, but the two sides continue to cooperate to advance shared objectives, despite these challenges.

-  North Korea and its actions are a problem for the entire world. North Korea has historically viewed Southeast Asian countries as friendly or at least neutral, so Myanmar taking a public stand to protest North Korea’s actions could send an effective message to Kim Jong Un’s regime. A more passive stance by Myanmar could be seen as giving encouragement to North Korea.

-  US-Myanmar relations and China-Myanmar relations should not be seen as a zero-sum proposition. Strong, positive relationships with both countries are important to Myanmar’s future. Trying to use the different approaches to relations to create an advantage should be avoided as each country can provide valuable assistance to promote economic development and a more resilient society in Myanmar.

-  Myanmar has achieved many successes in nonproliferation since its opening in 2011, and is rightly called a “nonproliferation success story.” Nevertheless, more work remains to be done. Myanmar has been highly engaged with international partners on nuclear nonproliferation and should continue on this trajectory to improve implementation of nonproliferation treaties.

-  Myanmar has approached nonproliferation implementation in a systematic way, ensuring that there is full buy-in from the ministries and that members of parliament understand the legislation being put forward. Delays in implementation are often due to confusion about which ministries are responsible for the particular piece of legislation.

- Myanmar does not have a strategic trade management system and does not maintain a list of controlled dual-use items.  Rather, it provides exporters information regarding the control lists of the destination country. Currently, it maintains a “negative list” for imports (items that are barred from import) and is now developing a negative list for exports. However, the items on the negative list are not necessarily the same as those on international strategic trade control lists.

- There is a lack of knowledge and awareness of the risks associated with the transfer of dual-use technologies. Myanmar needs more support in this area. Given the lack of high technology manufacturing in Myanmar, the greatest threat for the transfer of strategic goods is the establishment of front companies engaged in transit/transshipment activities.

- A tension exists between liberalizing trade and controlling exports, but developing a strategic trade control system can help Myanmar move up the technology chain. Having controls in place allows developing countries like Myanmar to attract high-tech industry and trade.

- Translation of key nonproliferation terms has proven challenging. For example, Myanmar experts have found it difficult to explain the difference between “nuclear security” and “nuclear safeguards” in the Burmese language, in a way that policymakers understand. There is an opportunity for Myanmar to share what it has learned and to learn from other ASEAN countries about the translation of key technical terms.

- Implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) are more challenging than nuclear treaties in Myanmar because these treaties involve many different agencies. For example, the BWC covers biological agents under the purview of the health, agricultural, and forestry ministries, and others. Coordinating among many different agencies is one reason why Myanmar’s reporting to the BWC for 2017 has been delayed.

- Despite challenges in crafting and passing legislation (the attorney general’s office and the parliament have a backlog of bills), technical barriers, and some degree of “legislative fatigue,” Myanmar has made progress on implementing nonproliferation measures. The government is working with the international community, especially the European Union and other partner donors, to update its existing Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) laws. Myanmar is also working closely with the World Health Organization on its health agenda, including the completion of a joint external evaluation with Ministry of Health and Sports.

- There is a perception that Myanmar has been reluctant to fully enforce UN sanctions because it is expensive and provides little apparent security benefit to Myanmar. Also, having suffered under sanctions itself (and currently facing the threat if re-imposition of targeted sanctions), there a lack of public support for bearing the costs of sanctions enforcement.

- An “easy win” for Myanmar in the area of sanctions enforcement would be to establish the capability to screen vessels that visit its ports. This could then be reported to the UN sanctions committee, showing how Myanmar has moved forward in implementing the UNSC resolutions.

- While Myanmar faces challenges in implementation of nonproliferation treaties, it could demonstrate leadership in Southeast Asia by becoming more involved in promoting the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (SEANWFZ) and the ASEAN Network of Regulatory Bodies on Atomic Energy (ASEANTOM).  The international community stands ready to support Myanmar in these initiatives.

- Myanmar lacks experts in nonproliferation and other fields; the government needs to invest in developing the next generation of experts. Managing strategic trade and implementing sanctions will become more of a concern to Myanmar as it pursues economic development.

- Nonproliferation should be discussed in terms that are relevant to Myanmar, such as the potential for economic engagement with advanced countries and for future economic growth, rather than making it about security, which is more of a concern for advanced countries.

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