The Burma Model



In December, we considered the dribs and drabs of evidence on a North Korea-Burma nuclear link in connection with Secretary Clinton’s historic trip to the country. Most of these claims have emanated from a very small handful of military defectors, amplified by the Democratic Voice of Burma.   David Albright and Andrea Stricker at IISS have a useful dossier on the issue, which remains skeptical even as it presses Burma to sign the IAEA special protocol.

As the domestic political changes in Burma have accelerated, the changes in the country’s foreign policy are also become more pronounced. Last June, the country informed an American delegation led by Senator John McCain that it was giving up its small non-weapons nuclear research program. Nuclear renunciation played a central role Secretary Clinton’s trip.

These comments were recently extended to the North Korea connection. Speaking before the 11th IISS Asia Security Summit in Singapore—the so-called Shangri-La Dialogue—Burma’s Defense Minister Lieutenant General Hla Min outlined quite clearly the irrationality of a nuclear option for a country seeking deeper integration with ASEAN. In the Q and A, he was pressed on the North Korea question and spoke quite candidly about the constraints of being a rogue regime:

“Regarding relations with North Korea, according to our country’s foreign relations policy, we would like to have relations with all countries, so we only have ordinary diplomatic ties with North Korea. While there were many sanctions against Myanmar, we considered where we would get support for the benefit of our country. As every country puts their own benefit first, we thought: who could help us, who could support us? So we had relations based on the economic military, and political climate. As the country is now transparent, as I said earlier, we do not continue to do so.”

The Minister said the country was committed to upholding its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and would make the relationship with North Korea “more transparent in the future.”

The Burma story confirms the links between domestic reform and foreign policy behavior. Hla Min could not be more explicit: “under this new government, as this [nuclear] activity is not acceptable to the international community, we no longer continue it.” No wonder Ambassador Bob King has talked openly  of the Burma model for North Korea.

He is not alone. During his trip to Burma earlier this month, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak drew the obvious parallels between Burma and North Korea:

"Myanmar, despite ample natural resources and a large territory, has a per-capita income of only $700, similar to North Korea's due to...a closed socialist economy and international isolation in the past… I asked President Thein Sein to relay Myanmar's message of opening a new era to North Korea, which is close to the country," Lee said. More recently, according to the Financial Times, when asked about the possibility of a North Korean collapse Lee averred, saying it was not appropriate to talk of such a scenario, again citing the obvious parallels between North Korea and Burma, stressing that North Korea should revive its economy for an eventual reunification, and offering to help Pyongyang revive its economy if it followed the Burmese example.

Apparently a Coke would be waiting when North Korea comes in from the cold. The company announced that it would be returning to Burma after a 60 year absence, leaving North Korea and Cuba as the only countries left where the firm does not do business.

Whatever floats your boat. Personally, when we think of Burmese models and sweet edibles, our tastes run more toward Annabella Lwin and candy…

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