By Markos Kounalakis
Regret is what Ukrainian leaders must be feeling these days, as Russia amasses troops along the border. There’s nothing that says “keep your hands off my territory” like fully armed, nuclear-tipped weaponry — the sort that Kyiv surrendered shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Now officials have no nuclear option to deter an invasion.
It’s hard to dispute that nuclear weapons have proven to be the ultimate deterrent. They have prevented nuclear powers from consciously going to war against each other for 76 years. No nuclear weapons have been fired in hostility on other nations since the Americans bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, in August 1945.
Nuclear weapons were once held by Ukraine, though Russia maintained full operational control of them. Kyiv gave up the nukes in a disarmament deal with Russia in the 1994 Budapest agreement, in exchange for security assurances. This essentially surrendered nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory.
That deal lasted until the end of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Russian President Vladimir Putin then invaded Ukraine, annexing Crimea and taking other areas of eastern Ukraine, despite international law and United Nations resolutions.
Belarus and Kazakhstan, like Ukraine, also gave up their nuclear arsenals, partly as a response to American desires and incentives. Today, all three nations are either partially occupied by Moscow-backed troops or harbor Russian security forces and advisors.
Any win for Putin in Ukraine could lead to a renewed global pursuit of nuclear weapons. Indisputable support for Ukraine could minimize that appetite. They have an opportunity now to demonstrate that Ukraine’s resistance to Russia can be backed by international norms and allies instead.
Ukraine’s peril now may well send a message to other governments that giving up nuclear weapons will reduce their national security. The U.S., NATO, and others must do what it takes to prove a nation like Ukraine can remain sovereign even though it gave up weapons of mass destruction.
(Courtesy: The LA Times)