Gregory Koblentz, member of the Scientists Working Group on Chemical and Biological Security, co-authored a piece in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Myanmar’s chemical weapons past.
In November 2012, US President Barack Obama arrived at Aung San Suu Kyi’s mansion, the place where the iconic democracy activist had spent much of the last two decades under house arrest, a political prisoner of the Myanmar military junta that controlled the isolated Southeast Asian nation. By the time of Obama’s visit, Suu Kyi was free, and, in fact, already a member of parliament. Her jubilant supporters thronged the gates of her house as Obama, the first US president to visit Myanmar, left his motorcade. Many in the crowd were doubtlessly soaking up a moment that they never could have imagined. In Suu Kyi’s garden, Obama announced that “flickers of reform” had given him the confidence to open “a new chapter between the United States and Burma.”
But even during those early feel-good days of the thaw, there were background issues the United States couldn’t just paper over with the pleasing narrative of a democratizing Myanmar. Most prominently, there was the persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group in the predominantly Buddhist country. And then there was a significant, but less noticed problem, one that went unmentioned in Obama’s 2012 speech in Suu Kyi’s garden: Myanmar’s secret chemical weapons program. Indeed, no US government official had publicly discussed the program since the Reagan Administration. Read more