Myanmar ‘delivers’ nuclear transparency

President Barack Obama tours the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

In the run-up to presidential visits aides look for achievements that can be announced, typically agreements on trade and the like. Called ‘deliverables’ in the diplomatic argot, they are often the currency of exchange for deciding on travel destinations.

So when it was announced that US President Barack Obama would include Burma in his mid-November trip to Southeast Asia, there were concerns and questions, including from Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, about whether Myanmar deserved the honour. What ‘deliverable’ would warrant bestowing a presidential visit on a country that had not yet fully emerged from its decades of authoritarianism and human-rights abuses?

But as it turned out, the quid pro quo for Obama’s visit was significant indeed. To the delight of the
non-proliferation community, Myanmar said it would accept the global standard for nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), known by the catchy name of the ‘Additional Protocol’.

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The rule of law in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi at the LSE. Picture from LSE in Pictures flickr feed

The rule of law will be vital to ensuring that the recent changes in Myanmar continue, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi underlined yesterday. During her first visit to her former home, the United Kingdom, in 24 years the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former political prisoner said at the London School of Economics (above) that unity in her country would only be achieved within a legal framework.

On the BBC’s Newsnight programme broadcast yesterday evening, presenter Kirsty Wark reminded the Burmese icon that her party, the National League for Democracy, had at first argued that it was undemocratic to have 25% of the seats in parliament reserved for the military: ‘So, presumably that is one of your earliest priorities, to change the constitution?’

Aung San Suu Kyi replied that: ‘Well, quite recently the … defence minister said at a conference in Singapore that the military had no intention of holding on to the 25% forever, and that when the time was right they would decrease their … role in parliament. So that was not bad to begin with, and this after we had said that we wanted amendments to the constitution.’

The conference in question was the Shangri-La Dialogue 2012, and Aung San Suu Kyi was referring to the question and answer session with Lieutenant General Hla Min. In response to a question from Richard Lloyd Parry of the Times newspaper in London, the Myanmar defence minister said:

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Myanmar comes in from the nuclear cold (almost)

Myanmar Defence Minister Hla Min made headlines yesterday with his announcement that the country had abandoned all nuclear activity and suspended military cooperation with North Korea.

‘This is a good news story’ Mark Fitzpatrick, the Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, told Alexander Nicoll, and he sketched out the background to international concern about possible nuclear proliferation in the country. However, he also cautioned that the General’s comment that was no need for the IAEA to visit Myanmar as there was nothing to inspect was ‘the wrong answer.’

IISS Strategic Dossier: Preventing Nuclear Dangers in Southeast Asia and Australasia


Britain looks towards Asia

By Dr Tim Huxley, Executive Director, IISS-Asia

Britain is to end its policy of discouraging trade with Burma, the UK Foreign Security William Hague announced in the second IISS Fullerton Lecture in Singapore on 26 April. He said that in response to the ‘remarkable changes’ taking place in the country – which have included opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s election to a parliamentary seat – London would be promoting ‘responsible investment that will benefit local communities and respect the local environment’.

The move followed the European Union temporary removal of sanctions on Burma and was accompanied by a greater UK ambition to deepen ties with Asia, ‘the engine of the world’s growth today’. In a speech delivered with flair and enthusiasm, Hague said the British government wanted to be ‘a leading partner with Asian countries… on trade and commerce, in culture, education and development, and in foreign policy and security’.

In a lively Q&A session, in which he took queries via Twitter as well as from the audience in the room, the foreign secretary tackled topics ranging from territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and possible free-trade agreements between Asia and Europe to cyber security and controversial arms sales to Indonesia. He revealed that before his first official visit in 2011 no British foreign secretary had visited Australia for 17 years – ‘something we are putting right in spectacular terms’, he promised.

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The power of partnerships

Ban Ki-moon takes questions after the inaugural Fullerton Lecture. Photo IISS/Sam Toh

By Tim Huxley, Executive Director, IISS-Asia

A satellite launch planned for next month by North Korea, developments in Myanmar and the increasingly urgent need to find a solution to the conflict in Syria were among the themes touched on by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the inaugural IISS Fullerton Lecture in Singapore. The speech focused on ‘Securing our Future: Singapore, the Region and Beyond’, and Ban said he was ‘very troubled, very deeply concerned’ by the DPRK’s intention to launch a satellite on 15 April, the hundredth anniversary of the birthday of regime founder Kim Il-sung.

‘Security Council resolutions clearly prohibit the launch of any satellite using ballistic-missile technology,’ he said, briefly departing from his text to add that the launch would be a clear violation of UNSC resolution 1874 in particular. The Secretary-General had spoken to Chinese, American and Russian leaders and ‘urged them to exercise their influence to persuade the DPRK to reconsider its decision’. He said he would further discuss the situation while attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul next week.

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Myanmar: Coming in from the cold?

People in Aung San Suu Kyi masks (by lewishamdreamer from Flickr used under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) By Oliver Elliott, Editorial Assistant
Could it be the beginning of the end for the sanctions regime on Myanmar? Yesterday Australia became the first country to loosen sanctions with the easing of travel and financial restrictions on some of the country’s leadership. Although only a tentative first step, the move comes as part of a broader push by the West to recognise and reward the reforms being enacted by Myanmar’s government.In December, Hillary Clinton made the first visit to the country by a US Secretary of State in five decades, offering to loosen some restrictions on international financial assistance and development programmes if the current rate of reform is maintained. She also suggested that the US might be willing to consider easing sanctions, which currently include an arms embargo, travel restrictions on political leaders and ban on any American individual or organisation doing new business with the country. Just a month later, British Foreign Secretary William Hague made his own equally historic trip to offer rewards in return for further reform. A few Western businesses are already anticipating a return to Myanmar in the near future.

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