Should Ukraine Have Gotten Rid of Its Cold War Nukes?

A woman protests against Russian military intervention in the Crimea region of Ukraine on Sunday in New York City.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman
Add to Briefcase
Elaine M. Grossman
March 3, 2014, 8:55 a.m.

With Rus­si­an troops now oc­cupy­ing Ukraine’s Crimean Pen­in­sula, Kiev’s belea­gered in­ter­im lead­ers may be think­ing twice about their na­tion’s 1994 de­cision to aban­don nuc­le­ar weapons.

The East European coun­try ac­tu­ally held the world’s third-largest nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al after the dis­sol­u­tion of the So­viet Uni­on. But Kiev in 1994 agreed to trans­fer all its atom­ic arms to Rus­sia for elim­in­a­tion, shortly there­after joined the Nuc­le­ar Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty as a non-nuc­le­ar na­tion, and with­in two years was weapons-free.

At the time, John Mearsheimer was one of very few who saw it as an un­wise move.

“As soon as it de­clared in­de­pend­ence, Ukraine should have been quietly en­cour­aged to fash­ion its own nuc­le­ar de­terrent,” the Uni­versity of Chica­go schol­ar wrote in a 1993 For­eign Policy piece. “A nuc­le­ar Ukraine … is im­per­at­ive to main­tain peace between Ukraine and Rus­sia. … Ukraine can­not de­fend it­self against a nuc­le­ar-armed Rus­sia with con­ven­tion­al weapons, and no state, in­clud­ing the United States, is go­ing to ex­tend to it a mean­ing­ful se­cur­ity guar­an­tee.”

Today Mo­scow is send­ing more troops to Ukraine, where it bases its Black Sea Fleet, amid con­sterna­tion in Wash­ing­ton and throughout Europe that the na­tion’s en­tire east­ern re­gion might soon fall un­der Rus­si­an con­trol. Pres­id­ent Obama last Fri­day threatened there would be “costs” to Rus­sia if it in­ter­vened, but stopped short of of­fer­ing spe­cif­ics.

Is Mearsheimer — still a polit­ic­al sci­ence pro­fess­or at Chica­go — feel­ing vin­dic­ated?

“I do think they should have kept their nukes,” he said on Sunday via email. “If Ukraine had a real nuc­le­ar de­terrent, the Rus­si­ans would not be threat­en­ing to in­vade it.”

Even giv­en Rus­sia’s Cold War-re­min­is­cent ac­tions over the past week, oth­ers are think­ing Ukraine’s two-dec­ade old move to jet­tis­on its nuc­le­ar stock­pile was the right call. In fact, Krem­lin-backed Ukrain­i­an Pres­id­ent Vikt­or Ya­nukovych in 2011 called for oth­er na­tions in the re­gion to join his coun­try in cre­at­ing an East European nuc­le­ar weapon-free zone.

“Ukraine with nuc­le­ar weapons is one heck of a dan­ger­ous idea,” John Isaacs, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Coun­cil for a Liv­able World, said in a Monday email. “There is already in the mix east­ern Ukraine vs. west­ern Ukraine, East vs. West Cold War over­tones, Rus­si­an vs. U.S. in­ter­ven­tion­ism. … It would be like toss­ing a pack­age of lighted matches in­to a vat of flam­mable flu­ids. The res­ults would be un­pre­dict­able, but haz­ard­ous for every­one’s health.”

Yet, re­wind­ing his­tory just a few weeks, Mearsheimer said it is pos­sible that none of the re­cent in­stabil­ity in Ukraine would have oc­curred if the na­tion had kept its atom­ic arms at the close of the Cold War.

“I doubt wheth­er we would have been so anxious to foster a coup,” Mearsheimer said of the United States, had Ya­nukovych and his gov­ern­ment wiel­ded a nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al. “One treads very lightly — to put it mildly — when threat­en­ing the sur­viv­al of a nuc­le­ar-armed state, or even the re­gime in charge of it.”

Isaacs, however, sees the risk of nuc­le­ar war as simply too high for these arms to act re­li­ably as a sta­bil­iz­ing tool for con­flict de­terrence.

“There is no pre­dict­ing what Rus­sia would have done if Ukraine had re­tained nuc­le­ar weapons,” he told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire. “We do know that the risk of nuc­le­ar holo­caust would have in­creased im­meas­ur­ably.”

What We're Following See More »
HAD ATTRACTED A CROWD TODAY
Alt-Right Leader Spencer Removed from CPAC
15 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
SAYS LEFT WILL GO INTO “MELTDOWN”
Cruz Predicts Another SCOTUS Vacancy “This Summer”
19 hours ago
THE LATEST
THE QUESTION
How Many Signatures Has the Petition for Trump’s Tax Returns Received?
21 hours ago
THE ANSWER

More than 1 million, setting a record. More than 100,000 signatures triggers an official White House response.

Source:
TIED TO RUSSIA INVESTIGATION
Sen. Collins Open to Subpoena of Trump’s Tax Returns
21 hours ago
THE LATEST

Sen. Susan Collins, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, "said on Wednesday she's open to using a subpoena to investigate President Donald Trump's tax returns for potential connections to Russia." She said the committee is also open to subpoenaing Trump himself. "This is a counter-intelligence operation in many ways," she said of Russia's interference. "That's what our committee specializes in. We are used to probing in depth in this area."

Source:
NPR ALSO LAUNCHES ETHICS WATCH
Obama Staffers Launch Group to Monitor Trump Ethics
21 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"Top lawyers who helped the Obama White House craft and hold to rules of conduct believe President Donald Trump and his staff will break ethics norms meant to guard against politicization of the government — and they’ve formed a new group to prepare, and fight. United to Protect Democracy, which draws its name from a line in President Barack Obama’s farewell address that urged his supporters to pick up where he was leaving off, has already raised a $1.5 million operating budget, hired five staffers and has plans to double that in the coming months." Meanwhile, NPR has launched a "Trump Ethics Monitor" to track the resolution of ten ethics-related promises that the president has made.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login