The Ukraine: Lessons for Iran, North Korea, and others

The Ukraine (UA) became independent of the USSR in 1990, and inherited the third largest stock of nuclear weapons in the world, including mobile and silo-launched ICBMs, long-range bombers, and over a thousand cruise missiles. In 1994 they signed the SALT II agreement, and by 1996 they had given up all their nuclear weapons. In return for this, they got the Budapest Memorandum, which Wikipedia summarizes as follows:

Before voting on accession, Ukraine demanded from Russia, the USA, France and the United Kingdom a written statement that these powers undertook to extend the security guarantees to Ukraine. Instead security assurances to Ukraine (Ukraine published the documents as guarantees given to Ukraine), given on 5 December 1994 at a formal ceremony in Budapest (known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances), may be summarized as follows: Russia, the UK and the USA undertake to respect Ukraine’s borders in accordance with the principles of the 1975 CSCE Final Act, to abstain from the use or threat of force against Ukraine, to support Ukraine where an attempt is made to place pressure on it by economic coercion, and to bring any incident of aggression by a nuclear power before the UN Security Council.

Got that? No guarantees from anyone. Assurances that aggressive acts would be brought to the attention of the UN. They gave up their nuclear weapons and got promises in return, promises that (for good geopolitical reasons, as we’ll see in a later essay) have turned out to be empty.

What lessons are to be learned from this? The big one (other than the usual that diplomats lie, and countries don’t keep their word) is that if you aren’t a nuclear power, you don’t get no respect. If UA had kept even 10% of the almost 3000 warheads under their control, scattered amongst the various delivery systems, do you think that Russian troops would be on the ground in Crimea today, with 50,000 of them massing on the UA’s eastern border? Of course not.

The world is watching. And some countries are watching more closely than others. What lessons have North Korea and Pakistan and India and Israel drawn from this? Don’t give up your nukes. Ever. What lessons has Iran, and any other aspirant, drawn from this? If you don’t have a force in being, you get invaded. I’d say that, whatever the ultimate resolution, one of the outcomes of the Crimea Crisis — perhaps soon to be the Ukraine Crisis, perhaps with the possibility of becoming the next European War — is that the cause of global non-proliferation has been set back fifty years.



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