Myanmar Signs On To Landmark Agreement Opening Up Its Nuclear Program

The President of Myanmar agreed to grant international inspectors unprecedented access to its nuclear material and facilities, signalling a major step forward for the reforming authoritarian pariah state. Right on the heels of President Obama’s visit (part of a broader American attempt to smooth the country’s path to democracy), Myanmarese leader Thein Sein issued a statement announcing his government’s intention to move towards greater nuclear transparency:

Myanmar announced it would sign an international agreement that would require it to declare all nuclear facilities and materials. Although it would be up to Myanmar to decide what to declare, it could provide some answers concerning its acquisition of dual-use machinery and its military cooperation with Pyongyang that the U.S. and other nations regard as suspect. …

David Albright and Andrea Stricker of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based nonproliferation group, said in an analysis it was a “remarkable decision.” “This latest move by Burma is extremely positive for its ongoing push for openness about the nuclear issue and for building confidence and transparency with the international community,” they wrote.

As recently as 2010, some analysts had worried that Myanmar was following in North Korea’s footsteps and attempting to insulate itself from foreign pressure to reform by acquiring a nuclear weapon. There is some evidence that Myanmar had plans to build a nuclear weapon in 2006. While this most recent agreement is not an ironclad guarantee that Myanmar is abandoning any nuclear ambitions, it is good evidence that the military junta that still controls most of the government is serious about reforming. It’s also a success for President Obama’s stated goal of limiting the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide.

Though the military government violently put down monk-led protests as recently as 2007, the government held parliamentary elections this April that brought long-suffering opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into the legislature. The American sanctions-and-diplomacy approach is widely credited with playing a role in the military’s decision to take steps, however tentative, towards a more democratic political system. According to the New York Times, the Obama administration’s “series of cautious [diplomatic] moves…have significantly eased tensions between the United States and Myanmar.”