Allegations by a Myanmar defector that the military-run country is pursuing a nuclear program are corroborated by newly available commercial satellite images, Jane’s Intelligence Review said in an article released yesterday.
The photos of buildings and security fences near the country’s capital, Naypyidaw, confirm reports by Major Sai Thein Win of machine tool factories and other facilities alleged to be part of a nascent program to build nuclear weapons, the magazine reported from London.
“They will not make a bomb with the technology they currently possess or the intellectual capability,” Jane’s analyst Allison Puccioni said in an interview. “The two factors do make it possible to have a route to one.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern about reports that North Korea and Myanmar are expanding military ties and sharing nuclear technology at a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Thailand last year.
Clinton said the U.S. would remain “vigilant” against any military cooperation between the two countries. Yesterday, Clinton announced further sanctions against North Korea in an effort to halt the country’s nuclear-weapons program.
Sai said he worked at two factories involved in the nuclear program. His report to a Burmese opposition news website, Democratic Voice of Burma, based in Norway, included documents and color photographs of the interior of the installations.
The satellite imagery reviewed by Jane’s showed only the exterior of the buildings, Puccioni said.
Jane’s said Myanmar’s nuclear program is “overly ambitious with limited expertise,” in a statement yesterday. While Myanmar is a signatory to international agreements to control nuclear weapons use, it hasn’t agreed to more recent changes in the treaties and therefore isn’t subject to international inspections, the magazine said.
“With Myanmar’s current freedom from sanctions and relative economic prosperity, the junta may be able to outsource the technical know-how and tools to reach its goals far sooner than expected,” Christian Le Mière, editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, said in a statement.
“Someone had to be assisting them, that’s the frightening thing,” said David Kay, a former United Nations weapons inspector and now a fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Virginia, in an interview. “Myanmar is uniquely incapable of carrying this through.”
North Korea could be the country providing aid, said Michael J. Green, an adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former senior director for Asia on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.
During the Bush administration, North Korea discussed delivering short-range missiles and nuclear capability to Myanmar, Green said.
“We worry about the transfer of nuclear technology” and indications of clandestine military cooperation between two of Asia’s most secretive regimes, Clinton said last year. “I’m not saying it is happening, but we want to be prepared to stand against it.”
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said on July 12 that the U.S. continues “to have concerns about Burma’s relationship with North Korea. It’s something that we watch very, very carefully and consistently.”
Last year, the U.S. Navy followed the Kang Nam I, a North Korean freighter headed in the direction of Myanmar with unknown cargo. The ship turned around and returned home.
The evidence points to a method of uranium enrichment, laser enrichment, that the North Koreans have never used, Kay said. “If it is laser enrichment the finger points more toward Chinese assistance or some place in the former Soviet Union,” he said.