Burma's North Korean gambit: a challenge to regional security?

Author/s (editor/s):

Andrew Selth

Publication year:


Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 154

Bilateral relations between Burma and North Korea were abruptly severed in 1983, after Pyongyang sent secret agents to Rangoon to conduct a terrorist attack against a visiting South Korean presidential delegation. Formal diplomatic ties have still not been restored. Over the past few years, however, these two economically stricken but highly militarised pariah states seem to have found some common ground. Depending on how it develops, this relationship could extend beyond mutual support to have much wider strategic implications. In particular, reports that the military government in Rangoon has sought to acquire strategic weapon systems from Pyongyang, such as submarines and ballistic missiles, have aroused concern in regional capitals and in centres like Washington. There have even been suggestions that North Korea is secretly helping Burma to build a nuclear reactor, raising the spectre of a future Burmese nuclear weapons program that could be used as a bargaining chip against the United States.

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