President Urges Parliament to Back Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty

By Nan Lwin 7 September 2018

YANGON—Myanmar President U Win Myint is seeking lawmakers’ approval to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, with a final decision to be made next week in the Union Parliament.

Union Minister for International Cooperation U Kyaw Tin explained Myanmar’s stand on the abolition of nuclear weapons and the details of the president’s proposal to sign the prohibition treaty to lawmakers on Thursday in the Union Parliament.

“The government supports nuclear disarmament,” U Kyaw Tin said. He said the Myanmar government believed nuclear disarmament is the only way to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and the use of such weapons, whether intentional or accidental.

According to the Signature and Ratification terms of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, members need to follow a comprehensive set of prohibitions on participating in any nuclear weapon activities such as undertakings not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. The treaty also prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons on national territory and the provision of assistance to any state in the conduct of prohibited activities.

Myanmar became a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1992, and signed the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty in 1995, committing not to develop nuclear weapons. The country also signed the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and a Small Quantities Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1995.

However, Myanmar attracted global concern in the 2000s when the country’s then military rulers maintained close relations with North Korea on arms sales, nuclear missiles development and nuclear warhead technology. The Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative said Myanmar had developed relations with North Korea in the hope of receiving missile and nuclear weapon technologies.

In November 2008, the then chief of staff of the Myanmar Army, Navy and Air Force, and the coordinator of Special Operations, Shwe Mann, who now heads the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission formed by the National League for Democracy-led government in 2016, led a 17-member, high-level delegation on a seven-day visit to Pyongyang. Among the sites they visited were secret tunnel complexes built into the sides of mountains to store and shield jet aircraft, missiles, tanks and, possibly, nuclear and chemical weapons.

The visit prompted then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to express concern, saying that Myanmar’s ties with North Korea would destabilize the region and posed a direct threat to its neighbors.

“We know that there are also growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which we take very seriously,” she said in Bangkok in 2009.

But Myanmar explicitly denied any cooperation with North Korea during Clinton’s first visit to the country in 2011.

After U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit in November 2012, Myanmar announced that it would sign the Additional Protocol. In 2013, Myanmar signed the agreement, but it has yet to ratify the instrument. Myanmar also signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 2016, but has not yet ratified it.

However, according to the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, Myanmar expressed an interest in nuclear energy for peaceful uses as early as 1955. NTI said Myanmar has consistently looked to Russia to obtain assistance on nuclear technology. In 2001, Russia and Myanmar signed a contract to design radioisotope production.

Although a few hundred Myanmar specialists have trained in nuclear research in Russia, NTI could not confirm whether the government is continuing to send scientists abroad after its decision to sign the Additional Protocol — an agreement created in the 1990s to strengthen existing rules — in 2012 and increase its transparency regarding its nuclear program.

In March 2015, Rosatom, Russia’s State Atomic Energy Commission, announced that Myanmar and Russia had agreed to cooperate further on nuclear energy development, according to NTI.

Myanmar was pushed to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by ASEAN in 2014 when the previous U Thein Sein government held the ASEAN chair. But the country failed to do so, missing a chance to gain political capital among ASEAN countries, experts said.

On Thursday, U Kyaw Tin told the Union Parliament: “The treaty aims to abolish nuclear weapons from the world. That suits our ambitions. We have already received decisions from related ministries.”

A total of 60 countries have signed the treaty and 14 have agreed to sign, including ASEAN members Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Union Parliament Speaker U T Khun Myat said a final decision would be made on Sept. 14. He said if lawmakers want to discuss the issue in Parliament, they have until Monday evening to propose their names.