Myanmar-US/UK Nonproliferation Dialogue

December 5-6, 2016
Naypyidaw, Myanmar

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The Pacific Forum CSIS, with support from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Strategic Programme Fund (FCO/SPF) and the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) held the fourth US/UK-Myanmar Nonproliferation Dialogue in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar on Dec. 5-6, 2016. Some 45 US, UK, and Myanmar experts, officials, military officers, and observers along with 10 Pacific Forum CSIS Young Leaders attended. The off-the-record discussions were intended to provide a forum for developing a better understanding of how the US and UK could facilitate Myanmar’s adoption of several nonproliferation-related regimes and to understand emerging nonproliferation threats in the region. To that end, the discussion began with a broad focus on developments impacting Myanmar’s relations with the United States and the United Kingdom and the anticipated priorities of the respective governments. This was followed by two sessions covering specific regimes that Myanmar has taken steps to adopt or ratify, including the Additional Protocol (AP) and the modified Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement; the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC); and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). A session on strategic trade controls discussed the role a national strategic trade control program could play in demonstrating Myanmar’s commitment to nonproliferation and the potential economic advantages associated with doing so. The final two sessions of the dialogue focused on emerging proliferation trends in the region and next steps for Myanmar in response to these threats, which include signing The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC) and ratification of several nuclear safety and security regimes.

Key Findings

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.

Experts