Ukraine and nuclear disarmament

Even after the Crimean crisis, Ukraine continued to face challenges on its sovereignty from its eastern neighbor, Russia. Despite President Putin’s recent berating of the United States, his involvement in Ukraine posed a bigger threat to international security.  Regardless of Russia’s recent halt in aiding the rebels due to the effects of the sanctions, there may still be dents on the efforts for a nuclear-free future. There have been significant historical achievements in nuclear disarmaments; however, we can’t allow past successes to be ruined by current failures

The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances was signed by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation on December 5, 1994. According to the agreement, the newly formed Ukraine had security from external forces under the condition that it gave up its nuclear weapons stockpile, estimated to be approximately the third grandest at the time. This accord furthered the mission to disarm nuclear weapons and lessen the chances of nuclear warfare.

ADVERTISEMENT
Yet, this accomplishment may become meaningless. Ukraine’s sovereignty was clearly challenged and threatened by the Russian Federation. The Memorandum stated that the Russian Federation, along with the other signed states, would “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine”. It is also stated that there would be no weapon use against Ukraine by the Russian Federation “except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations”. However, Russia continued to disregard Ukrainian borders and supported the separatists with its military, certainly violating the Budapest Memorandum, which it signed.

Despite Putin’s continuous claim for Russia’s non-involvement, evidence, such as NATO satellite images depicting armed Russian soldiers in Ukrainian territory, shows that Ukraine faced external threats on its sovereignty. At this point, whether Russia was involved or not is not a matter of question. Russia was clearly involved in this conflict.

If the memorandum was broken so easily, why should states like Iran and North Korea ever listen to the liberal democratic plea for nuclear disarmament talks? Russia’s involvement in Eastern Ukraine has enlarged an already existing void of skepticism and distrust within the international community. Had there been no actions from the other parties of the Budapest Memorandum, notably the United States, trying to disarm nuclear weapons controlled by illiberal nations would have been like shoveling snow in a blizzard.

Already, Ukrainian Government has lost significant territory within its eastern borders and continues to struggle against the separatists in reclaiming it. When President Poroshenko described this conflict as being “Europe's and… America's war, too” he was right. The manner of which these global powers deal with this situation could have significantly affected the future of nuclear disarmament. The US and its allies were right to increase economic sanctions on Russia. The sanctions, which significantly hurt Russia’s economy and corporations, succeeded in constricting Russian action. For the Memorandum to be preserved, all external influence had to be removed; Russia had to be stopped.

In the end, the U.S. and its allies preserved the memorandum without physically involving themselves in the conflict or creating a military conflict with Russia. The sanctions did enough to limit Russian involvement without significantly humiliating Russia, as it indirectly lead Putin to make his own decision to pull out of Ukraine. The violence and fight against the rebels in Ukraine still remains; however, the situation is now void of external influences and Kiev is able to deal with the issue internally and sovereignly.

Continued neglect of past agreements and precedents will surely have negative impacts in the future. The importance does not lie in the creation of the memorandum and initiation of disarmament, but a maintenance and management of the agreement along with progressive cooperation in disarmament.  Broken precedents are meaningless. Neglect of the memorandum will only give weaker states incentives to build up their nuclear power in self-defense. A future in which past agreements are not honored will only consist of more instability, with states like North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan developing their nuclear powers even more. Rather than the derailing of the memorandum, replication of the memorandum by both the West and Russia (now China as well) will lead to more progress in the disarmament of current nuclear states.

Choi is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, double majoring in political science and peace and conflict studies. 

More in Foreign Policy

Doctors Without Borders to India: Protect the “pharmacy of the developing world”

Read more »