Ukraine’s relinquishing of nuclear weapons and war with Russia: important lessons
How Ukraine relinquish of nuclear wepons and why it influence on current warfare with Russia.
On December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev announced his retirement, and handed over the so-called “nuclear suitcase” to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Although the Soviet Union went into oblivion, its huge nuclear arsenal remained intact, now dispersed among few Soviet states. A lot of time has passed, and a number of lessons can still be learned from the Ukrainian experience of abandoning nuclear capabilities, says a new analysis by Senior a researcher at the Belfer Research Center at Harvard University, and associate professor at the Odessa National University Polina Sinovets.
In the analysis published on the English-language analytical portal War and the Rocks, researchers point to Ukraine’s path to abandoning the world’s third largest nuclear potential and present some historical lessons to address the current problems of nuclear proliferation.
“The case of Ukraine is the most instructive among other Soviet nuclear heirs. The United States and their allies formulated the hopes that, after the collapse of the USSR, there should be only one nuclear power, and everyone understood that this state was Russia. While Belarus and, after a brief hesitation, Kazakhstan adhered to these expectations, Ukraine was more intricate in this regard” – the authors note.
Ukraine, which inherited the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, received 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) armed with 1240 nuclear warheads and 44 strategic bombers with hundreds of cruise missiles.
Cutting off strategic bombers Tu-22 at a military airfield near Poltava, November 12, 2002
In 1994, the state acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a non-nuclear state and agreed to transfer all [its nuclear stockpile] to Russia. In return, Ukraine received compensation for nuclear material in warheads and security guarantees from other nuclear powers.
According to the authors, particular attention should be paid to a number of factors that accompanied Ukraine’s relinquishing of nuclear potential.
Ukraine had technical potential but had no political motivation
Researchers studying proliferation of nuclear weapons believe that there are usually two factors for its acquiring: technological power for its development, and political motives explained the authors.
“Ukraine’s most important asset was the scientific know-how and military-industrial power that contributed to the Soviet nuclear facility,” the article said.
The example of Ukraine has shown that the availability of technological potential is far from being a decisive factor, as the authors of the analysis believe.
That is, Ukraine not only inherited nuclear weapons. It “inherited significant scientific, technological and production capacities, which would create an enviable starter pack for any potential nuclear power”, the authors emphasize.
Those analysts explain: today, Ukraine is not a nuclear power, not because of the lack of technology or scientific power, but because of its lack of political motivation for nuclear deterrence.
Journalists stand underground launch facility (LF), that was destroyed within the framework of Ukraine’s relinquishing of nuclear weapons, as was stipulated by the Budapest Memorandum signed in 1994. Pervomaysk, September 29, 1998
Ukraine took care of a decent international position
Ukraine, after [obtaining its] independence, took steps towards establishing its positive international image, did not want to be isolated, says the article.
“The case of Ukraine shows that the motivation for a nuclear program was also shaped by how the country defines itself in relation to the international order maintained by the West,” explain the researchers.
After collapse of the USSR, relations between Ukraine and Russia were quite tense: “As we have found through archival studies …, Ukraine sought to be recognized as equal to the successor State of the USSR, on a par with Russia, and believed that such equality should be achieved by keeping its nuclear status”, – the article says.
However, the authors emphasize that Ukraine also could run the risk of finding itself in international isolation, and potential sanctions could hurt its integration into the world economy.
“Moreover, Ukraine, a young sovereign state that emerged after the disintegration of a communist empire, sought to become a European liberal democracy and a trustworthy international citizen / state. Ukraine relinquished its nuclear status not only because it wanted to get something, or to avoid something, but also because it wanted to become a country of a certain type, ” the authors emphasize.
But today, the threat of sanctions to countries like North Korea, for example, is unlikely to have the similar results, because some countries see position themselves as opposite to the pro-Western international rules.
The authors note that the Ukraine’s example shows that in countries like Iran, it is very important to support any political forces that seek to unite with the West. Because the desire to cooperate with the West was the key to the implementation of nuclear agreements in the early 1990’s in Ukraine.
They focused on political rather than military factor
Back in the 1990s, John Mirsheimer, a renowned international scholar, told Foreign Affairs magazine that Ukraine should keep its nuclear arsenal; otherwise, the war with Russia would be inevitable.
His words finally came true: “It’s unlikely that anyone in Ukraine ever spoke about nuclear weapons in terms of deterrence. An intensive discussion of the nuclear issue in Ukraine in mid-1993 was due to the political rather than military value of nuclear weapons, “the article said.
For Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and diplomats, the country’s nuclear stockpile simply meant the right to a fair compensation, and even the country’s political factions that tried to postpone nuclear abandonment focused on a political factor rather than a military one: “the presence of nuclear weapons in Ukraine meant that the West would continue to pay attention and mitigate potential conflicts with Russia “.
The fact is that at that time, the Ukrainian political leaders had insufficient experience to properly deal with the intricacies of nuclear strategy, analysts explain. They emphasize that the overall Ukrainian experience indicates that “the nuclear deterrent policy, as a set of concepts and practices, does not automatically come with nuclear weapons,” and understanding the benefits of nuclear weapons may not come at once.
The agreements signed by Ukraine regarding relinquishing of its nuclear arms had been achieved / made possible in a relatively short time and with a fairly low price for the West, and, all in all, this story, despite all the intricacies, can be considered quite a success.
Nevertheless, today not all in Ukraine are convinced that those decisions were the correct ones: the annexation of Crimea by Russia and its participation in the war in the East of Ukraine, despite the security guarantees provided to Ukraine, have led to the spread of talks on the restoration of the country’s nuclear capabilities.
According to the analysis, there is one more lesson [to take] from the Ukraine’s ordeal, and it’s that in the future such agreements would have a higher price and would require more reliable guarantees of a country’s security from the nuclear powers.
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