Myanmar Has a Clandestine Nuclear Weapons Program. And Nobody Cares.

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Author: Dan Joyner

This just came to my attention today. Read this story at Pro Publica, about some very important and alarming work that friend of ACL, and real life former weapons inspector Robert Kelley, has done on what he has concluded is a clandestine nuclear weapons program in Myanmar. Now, I am not in any way a technical guy. But I’ve gotten to know Bob, and he’s both the most qualified person to evaluate a nuclear weapons program, and the most independent, objective, and reserved technical person, that I know. So hearing Bob say this about Myanmar:

“I state this very clearly and strongly, this is a clandestine nuclear program”

makes me say, it’s time to listen up, people.  

I’m also confident that people like David Albright and Olli Heinonen, who have been so very concerned about possible nuclear weapons related activity in Iran, will be all over this situation too. After all, there is clearly enough evidence to convince Bob Kelley, and there are strong links to North Korea and therefore to regional proliferation implications. So on this case, the technical people can actually agree, and the international community can focus on effectively dealing with the problem, right?


Read what Heinonen and Albright have to say about Kelley’s conclusions in the Pro Publica piece.  When I read them, I was genuinely incredulous. Reading their critique of Bob’s analysis was just like reading someone else’s critique, word for word, about their analysis of Iran!  Listen to this:

    Other experts, including Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director of the IAEA, viewed the evidence as inconclusive. They said the equipment in the photos had other possible uses and that such serious charges should not rest on the testimony of a single defector . . .

    “There is no smoking gun,” Heinonen said in an interview. “There is no one single piece which puts your mind at rest telling that this is solely for nuclear purposes and for nothing else.” . . .

    Heinonen questioned this conclusion, saying both the glove box and bomb reactor could have other uses. He noted that the box appeared too small to easily accommodate the mixer typically used to combine magnesium and UF4. There were ways to overcome this deficiency, but they would be “cumbersome,” he said, suggesting that perhaps the box was made for another purpose.

    “These pieces of equipment,” he said in an e-mail, “cannot be said with a high certainty to be for uranium metal production.” . . .

    Albright said in an interview that he did not agree with Kelley’s findings. A close reading of the report, he said, suggests that Kelley assumed that Burma is attempting to make nuclear weapons and then looked at Win’s pictures “in a biased way ascribing nuclear purposes to them.” Albright said he believed each piece of equipment in the photos had alternate uses, some of which were non-nuclear. He noted that Win had no background in nuclear science or engineering.

    “We learn the hard way,” said Albright. “This is what the whole thing was about with Iraqi WMD.”

    “If you’re going to make accusations that a country has nuclear weapons program, you have to have credible evidence that that is true,” he said.

I swear these quotes literally make me laugh out loud. I’m not going to get into the technical aspects of the Myanmar case, or a comparison with the technical issues involved with the Iran case. I’ll let others do that. What I’m talking about is the overall attitude and approach of Heinonen and Albright in the Myanmar case, compared to the Iran case.  These are guys who think that every time there’s a wing added on to a building in Iran, it means there absolutely must be some nefarious new attempt to build a nuclear weapon going on in there. But in Myanmar’s case, their approach is: “Well, you know, all of this stuff could have other uses. We really can’t be sure. There’s no smoking gun here. It would be wrong of us to speculate. You need real, clear evidence to make such a very serious accusation. I’m sure everything’s fine.”

Albright even went so far as to write a letter to Senator Jim Webb, assuring him that there was “nothing to see here” in Myanmar, and saying Bob’s analysis is faulty. Read the letter here.   

There’s a Janus-like, two-facedness here that is just astounding to me, i.e. taking one approach to the Iran situation (incredibly hawkish), and then taking a completely different approach to the Myanmar situation (incredibly dovish), for no apparent reason. And an incredible complete lack of self-awareness of this fact as well.

So what’s the takeaway here? First, Bob’s assessment of Myanmar’s clandestine nuclear weapons program is serious business that deserves attention. I don’t know what should be done about it, but so far I’ve heard ear-splitting silence about it from the U.S. and E.U. and the U.N. Security Council.  That’s hard to reconcile in light of all the attention being paid to Iran.

Second, what explains Heinonen’s and Albright’s schizophrenia here? I am genuinely puzzled. Is it because Myanmar is not on the USG’s list of “places we want to demonize,” and Albright and Heinonen are dutifully following the prime directive (i.e. always follow Uncle Sam’s lead)? Or is it something else? Thoughts welcome.  
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