BURMA: A THREAT TO INTERNATIONAL SECURITY AND PEACERoland WatsonJuly 1, 2007
The following article is compiled from a number of sources. None of the specific items described, though, has been confirmed by additional independent sources. Nonetheless, we judge the information to be credible.We would have liked to provide a smoking gun: an irrefutable document or photo. However, it would be extremely dangerous to attempt to secure such proof, and in any case we do not have the necessary resources.Journalists would probably not run this without confirmation. We appreciate that, but we are not journalists. We are advocates, for freedom and democracy in Burma and against the military junta that rules the country, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). We have this information; we are confident it is correct; so we published it. The world needs to know.The SPDC as international threatBurma and the SPDC are a threat to international security and peace on many grounds, including that the country is one of the largest sources of refugees and human trafficking, and narcotics, and through both of communicable diseases and other public health and law enforcement problems. All of these undermine security and social order, particularly in Burma’s neighboring nations.The country therefore was legitimately discussed in the United Nations Security Council, but the resolution against the SPDC that was prepared by the United States was vetoed by China and Russia, and also voted against by South Africa. These nations applied an outdated definition of international threat, one limited to military conflict and terrorism. They did this, for China and Russia, because they are the SPDC’s allies, in return for the right to pillage the nation’s natural resources (and for other reasons); and for South Africa, as a favor to China, befitting its similar status as Beijing’s client.Burma is a threat to international security and peace for the above reasons, and also because of military and terrorist threats, as this article will describe. Our objective is to provide information that the United States can use to reopen the Security Council debate and to get China and Russia to back down.Uranium traffickingWe have previously reported that the SPDC has a major program underway to exploit Burma’s reserves of uranium ore, including through its processing into the refined form known as yellowcake. This is being bartered to North Korea and Iran for their respective enrichment programs (in contravention of the Security Council sanctions on these nations). It is also likely being bartered to both China and Russia, in return for weapons from the former and weapons and nuclear assistance, including a reactor, from the latter.For North Korea, while the country has made a commitment to close its reactors and end its atomic weapons program, the extension of this commitment to its secret but nevertheless well-established uranium enrichment activities is unclear. The U.S. itself has said that the shutdown will be a long, arduous process. There is no reason to expect that enrichment in the North will cease anytime soon. (Also, even if it did, Kim Jong-il would still have an interest in stockpiling yellowcake supplies.)It is public knowledge that the SPDC wants to increase its hard currency inflows. (Its barter arrangements with Russia will not be sufficient to pay for the reactor.) It would therefore not be surprising if the junta seeks cash-paying customers for its uranium. Also, the market price is skyrocketing. It is now approximately $135 a pound, up from $7 in 2000. The nuclear power industry is also growing (unfortunately!), so this trend is unlikely to reverse. Some thirty countries now have nuclear power plants. An additional forty have research reactors. Thirteen are known to have enrichment facilities. This is an obvious business opportunity for the junta, which it clearly would not want to miss.Dictator Watch has received first-hand information that SPDC representatives are looking for industrial customers for yellowcake in Bangkok, and that large quantities are available. This certainly represents a business that Thailand would prefer not to host. Furthermore, while the intended customers, power utilities, are in a sense legitimate, there is no guarantee that small quantities will not be diverted. For the right price, the SPDC would no doubt happily sell to terrorists. While yellowcake is not an ideal substance for a dirty bomb, due to its low radioactivity, it can be used for such a purpose, and anywhere in the world. The impact of a well thought out attack would be incalculable.Missile launch facilitiesDictator Watch has further learned that the SPDC has constructed launch facilities for surface-to-surface missiles of North Korean origin. The sites are spaced along the Thai/Burma border, from archipelagoes in the Andaman Sea to Shan State. We are able to conclusively identify two of the sites:1. Maung-ma-gan Islands, about 20 miles off the coast of Tavoy.2. Ka-la-goke Island, about 18 miles north of Ye.Construction of these facilities began in 2002-2003. Some are complete but others are still in progress. The sites contain launchers, storage buildings, a communications center, and air defense radar.The missiles are surface-to-surface, with a maximum range of 300 miles (500 kilometers). We believe at least one if not two of the sites are already fully operational. The missiles are targeted at Thai air bases including in Bangkok, Phitsanulok, and elsewhere.An April article in Asia Times said there were reports that the SPDC was interested in acquiring from North Korea the Hwasong SRBM (short range ballistic missile), a SCUD-type missile with a range of 500 kilometers (the Hwasong-6). It is likely that this is the missile that has been deployed.The secret of the cargo in the North Korean ships that have been visiting Burma is now at least partially revealed. (We have also received information that North Korean ships, after docking at Thilawa Port in Burma, continued on to Iran.)The Hwasong-6 is twelve meters tall and weighs 6400 kilograms. It carries a conventional high explosive warhead of up to 800 kilograms, although it is also capable of being armed with chemical or biological agents. North Korea reportedly has several hundred. The missile was first developed in the mid-1980s, tested in the early 1990s, and then phased out of production in the mid-1990s as the manufacturing of the longer range No-dong was scaled up. Hwasong-6 generally come in groups of four, one on the launcher and three on a reload carrier. They can also be launched from ships.As we understand it, the SPDC’s military strategy is as follows. During the time of Ne Win and the BSPP (Burma Socialist Program Party), China was considered the main enemy (other than the people, particularly the ethnic nationalities). This changed in 1989, after the collapse of the Burma Communist Party. The designation of main enemy then shifted to Thailand, because of its alliance with and extensive materiel supply from the United States.The Thai Army is well equipped, but it is not considered to be a serious threat because topographical features – the nature of the terrain – would prevent a deep penetration into Burma. The Tatmadaw also has large supplies of anti-tank weapons including SAMs and possibly TOW missiles. (Also, as we recently reported, the SPDC is working with North Korea to create a domestic production capability for 120 mm rockets.)This confidence does not extend to the air. Burma has only two squadrons of MIG-29s, and its pilots are under-trained. Thailand has a large fleet of fighters, including some sixty F-16s and thirty F-5s. The F-16s are stationed in Khorat and Nakhon Sawan. They are also equipped with deadly ordinance, including AMRAAMS (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles), and their Thai pilots are highly skilled. In any combat, it would be a mismatch. The missiles are therefore viewed as an offset. In case of war, they would be fired at the Thai air bases in an attempt to disable the fleet.One problem with this strategy, though, is that ballistic missiles have only limited accuracy. When launched, they initially follow programmed guidance but then continue to the target through a free fall trajectory. They are not capable of making flight adjustments en route, as with cruise missiles. The Hwasong-6 CEP (circular error probable) is not known, but it is estimated at 1-2 kilometers. CEP is the radius of the circle around the target in which fifty percent of fired missiles will land. This is of insufficient accuracy to effectively attack airbases – to be certain of damaging the runways – unless large quantities are used.The missiles also have strategic implications beyond the possibility of conflict with Thailand. The SPDC has two main fears: a popular uprising, and a foreign military intervention led by the United States. For the first, they have imprisoned the democracy movement’s charismatic leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (who could instigate such a rebellion were she free and so inclined), and also other potential uprising leaders. The junta has further created local paramilitary forces, including the Swan Arr Shin militia, to brutally suppress mass popular expressions of discontent. Further, as we have also reported, the SPDC has a plan to initiate a military incident with Thailand, to create a distraction in the event of such an uprising.For the second, and taken together with the SPDC’s nuclear aspirations and our recently announced news that again with North Korea it intends to produce sea-mines to have the ability to mine nearby shipping lanes, it seems clear that the junta is taking very seriously its defense against a possible U.S. organized intervention. To this we can add the emplacement of ballistic missiles. Viewed this way, the missiles are not only a defense against Thai unilateral action. More realistically, their basic function is to intimidate Thailand, to dissuade the country from offering meaningful assistance to the United States.When combined these different items create a picture of a fanatical SPDC leadership that is prepared to go to any lengths to retain power. (Those people who are still calling for dialogue would be well advised to consider this fact.) Burma under the SPDC is unquestionably a threat to international security and peace, which threat must be addressed in the Security Council.Political implications for ThailandAs with the trade in refined uranium, Thailand should not stand for being the target of ballistic missiles. The SPDC has taken advantage of the country. This has particularly been the case during the last five years, since Thaksin Shinawatra put his personal affairs above the interests of the nation. (One wonders if Thaksin even had a business involvement in the communication systems for the missile installations, which, if so, would make him a traitor.) Thailand needs to bring this to an end. These are real defense and internal security issues. It is completely unacceptable that Burma target Thailand with North Korean ballistic missiles.This, and Thai relations with Burma in general, over refugees, migrant workers, narcotics, the Salween dams, etc., should be major issues in the upcoming Thai election. Every candidate, beginning with Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, should be questioned about his or her intended Burma policy, especially in light of these revelations.Thailand has historically pursued “Bamboo diplomacy.” This policy stresses flexibility (the analogy is the ease with which bamboo bends) if not, as with Switzerland and Sweden, neutrality. One positive consequence of the policy is that Thailand has never been colonized. On the other hand, the country immediately capitulated to the Japanese (just as Sweden did to the Nazis). By doing so, however, it suffered only minimal damage during the war.Flexibility is an excellent approach for many international policy concerns, but its utility is questionable in the face of distinct and direct threats. Should Thailand accept SPDC intimidation, and the never-ending stream of problems from its neighbor? We would argue that even bamboo diplomacy has limits, and that the targeting of ballistic missiles is one of them. Thai relations with Burma should be completely reevaluated. The best policy for Thailand would be to assist the movement for freedom and democracy in every way that it can. (This extends to India as well.)ConclusionThe information above is not the type of thing that is normally made public. Even when such situations are known, they are usually kept under wraps. This is the province of diplomats and the intelligence community, and they can handle it. They understand what’s best. The people do not need to know.We beg to differ. Diplomacy on Burma has achieved nothing since the massacre in 1988, which drew the world’s attention to the country. It is difficult to envision how this nineteen-year record of failure is going to change. For the intelligence community, we would not be surprised if it is completely aware of the substance of this report. Will the spies of the world and their political masters use the information to create pressure for change? While we would certainly hope so, please excuse us if we harbor doubts .In a democracy, the people have a right to know everything. The basic reason for this is that democracy is a system predicated on and designed to protect human rights. There must be full disclosure, so the people in society can ensure that their various rights, starting with the right to life, and to equality and freedom, are in fact being protected.In addition, democracy is being applied around the world in its representative form, but it remains government by and for the people. For the people to make the best decisions about whom to elect as their representatives, they must have access to all information that pertains to this choice. They must know everything about the current state of society, and government, so they are able to ask of the candidates for office what they intend to do.John F. Kennedy saw fit to reveal the presence of missiles in Cuba to Americans and the world. In our own small way, we are trying to do the same thing.Also, we are only the messengers. Please don’t shoot the messenger. Particularly for Thailand, this is an opportunity to get your foreign policy in order. Please grasp it!For Burma and diplomacy, we are decidedly skeptical of the appointment by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of Ibrahim Gambari as special advisor. It is difficult to see how this will accomplish anything. If Mr. Gambari presses, publicly, for Security Council action on the basis of the above information and arguments, we will applaud his appointment. But if, as is most likely, he continues the party line that the U.N. itself has no real power and must defer to the member states on all issues, then his involvement is a waste of time.This means, yet again, that it falls to the people of Burma, and their international supporters, to instigate change. The people of Burma are ready to go. There is great dissatisfaction inside the country, and a readiness to revolt. The open question though is of timing. All sorts of preparations are undoubtedly in place, but the people are waiting for the right opportunity, for the right time. To this we can only say that there is no need to wait for the death of Than Shwe, or even freedom for Daw Suu. Anytime – Now – is the right time!Outside of Burma, a decisive timing opportunity is at hand, which the people of the country also can grasp. China is the main supporter for the SPDC. It is clear that if China were to relent in its support, freedom would be much easier to achieve. A worldwide boycott of the Beijing Olympics is going to be launched on August 8th, to press for change on a wide variety of issues (China’s backing of the Sudanese dictatorship and its culpability in the genocide in Darfur, its conquest of Tibet, human rights abuses in China itself, the environmental destruction caused by Chinese consumption of tropical hardwoods and endangered species, etc.). This is one year before the Olympics themselves open, and it also happens to be the anniversary of the 1988 massacre in Burma. Everyone in the pro-democracy movement should join this boycott. While Dictator Watch does not ordinarily organize protests, we are calling for a Worldwide Day of Action, of protests at Chinese embassies in as many different countries as possible, on August 8th. We hope that other Burma organizations will join us in this call, and on the protest line. Boycott the Genocide Olympics!(Please see www.youtube.com/noolympics)Most importantly, if we make enough noise on the outside, perhaps the people inside Burma will decide that the time is finally right as well and launch their own revolution for freedom. Daw Aye! Daw Aye! Daw Aye!