Myanmar on a Nonproliferation Roll
On September 30, Myanmar’s parliament approved the government’s proposal to accede to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The proposal to accede to this convention, which bans the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons and which Myanmar had signed the year of its inception, was submitted to parliament by Thant Kyaw, deputy minister for foreign affairs, who stated that “Over 170 countries have already ratified the BWC. All ASEAN countries have except us.” Later, he added that Myanmar’s accession would demonstrate its commitment to abide by nonproliferation rules.
BWC endorsement is Myanmar’s latest nonproliferation achievement. It follows a series of important nonproliferation actions that Myanmar has taken since the government’s decision in early 2011 to break away from the junta’s traditional authoritarianism and to implement sweeping reforms and open the country to the world. In June 2011, Myanmar announced that it had abandoned its nuclear research program to allay international concerns about its nuclear capabilities and intentions, which had been brewing since the early 2000s. Ahead of US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the country in November 2012, Myanmar then stated that it would sign an Additional Protocol (AP) and submit a modified Small Quantities Protocol (SQP), both of which would allow international inspectors to verify that its nuclear activities are strictly for peaceful purposes. Less than a year later, on September 17, 2013, Myanmar signed an AP and has since been working relentlessly toward its entry into force and the submission of a modified SQP.
In addition to burnishing its nonproliferation credentials in the nuclear realm, Myanmar stressed in December 2013 that it was making preparations to endorse the conventions banning biological and chemical weapons. Now that it has acceded to the BWC, next on the list is the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which it signed in 1993, the year it was concluded. In recent months, Myanmar has beenworking with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (the CWC’s verification body) and other entities to prepare implementation of CWC requirements when it accedes to the convention, which Myanmar officials and experts now say is “imminent.” CWC accession is particularly important given past accusations by armed rebel groups that the Myanmar military had used chemical weapons in their war in the country’s borderlands and, as recently as this year, the allegations made by the Unity Journal that the military had built a chemical-weapon production facility in central Magway district. These allegations, which the government flatly denied, led to the arrest of several journalists and raised important concerns in the nonproliferation community that only CWC accession will be able to resolve: the CWC includes an intrusive verification regime that will allow international inspectors to ensure that no chemical weapons are produced – or have been used – in Myanmar.