Ukraine’s Nuclear Mistake?

Stephen L. Carter flags a paper (pdf) by Robert Mathers “about the trade-offs involved in Ukraine’s 1994 decision to give up the weapons that had made it the third-largest nuclear power on earth”:

The West basically purchased the weapons, by investing in refitting Ukrainian industry. Some 1,900 warheads were transferred to Russia. Some 111 ICBMs and 46 heavy bombers were destroyed.

And, as Mathers points out, Ukraine also gave up the means to rebuild its arsenal: From the mid-1950s through 1991, a plant in Dnipropetrovsk “produced over eight types of intermediate-range and ICBMs, to include the 10-warhead behemoth SS-24.” In return for all of this, Ukraine received what Mathers presciently refers to as “perceived” promises that the U.S. would guarantee its safety against Russian attack.

Walter Russell Mead claims that Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine could mark “the end of a rational case for non-proliferation in many countries around the world”:

If Ukraine still had its nukes, it would probably still have Crimea. It gave up its nukes, got worthless paper guarantees, and also got an invasion from a more powerful and nuclear neighbor.

The choice here could not be more stark. Keep your nukes and keep your land. Give up your nukes and get raped. This will be the second time that Obama administration policy has taught the rest of the world that nuclear weapons are important things to have. The Great Loon of Libya gave up his nuclear program and the west, as other leaders see it, came in and wasted him.

It is almost unimaginable after these two powerful demonstrations of the importance of nuclear weapons that a country like Iran will give up its nuclear ambitions. Its heavily armed, Shiite-persecuting neighbor Pakistan has a hefty nuclear arsenal and Pakistan’s links with Iran’s nemesis and arch-rival Saudi Arabia grow closer with every passing day. What piece of paper could Obama possibly sign—especially given that his successor is almost certainly going to be more hawkish—that would replace the security that Iran can derive from nuclear weapons? North Korea would be foolish not to make the same calculation, and a number of other countries will study Ukraine’s fate and draw the obvious conclusions.