Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ukraine and the Budapest Memorandum

What does violation of the Budapest Memorandum mean for the future of nuclear non proliferation and arms reduction?

As the war in Ukraine becomes more obvious to those who have not been following the situation with the downing of the Malaysian jet with the loss of 295 civilian lives, people who were uninvolved in this conflict, I feel that I need to bring up some of the other issues that I see. This is now a regional war, not even involving the territory of a whole country, but the risks extend much further.

In 1994, Ukraine, together with Russia, the United States and United Kingdom signed the Budapest Memorandum. It guaranteed the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine in return for signing over the nuclear weapons in its possession to Russia. Later, this was expanded to include France, China as guarantors, and Belarus and Kazakhstan along with Ukraine as nations that would give up their nuclear weapons.  Since, the launch codes for many of these warheads were kept in Moscow, the weapons in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus were really not under the control of the respective governments. In this sense, the transfer was perhaps less significant. Nevertheless, it was the first time that governments gave up nuclear weapons for the promise of peace.

More recently, with the expansion of the European Union and NATO into formerly communist countries of East Central Europe and even into the Baltic countries, which were part of the Soviet Union after World War II, Moscow has expressed concern about western interference. Similarly, it has felt pressure from the south, both in terms of Islamic influence in the republics with large Muslim populations, and with American bases being placed in some of these countries to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. To counter the European Union’s trade benefits, Russia has proposed a Eurasian Union including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan as the core.

But, some former republics wanted more change. First there were the Chechen wars of 1991 to 1994 and 1999 to 2000 and the ongoing Chechen terrorist attacks and suppression in Chechnya. And more recently the Maidan movement in Ukraine. Due to both the size and historical significance of Ukraine to Russia, this was a blow to heart. Propaganda has been intense on both sides. Finally, Russia took over the Crimean peninsula and parts of eastern Ukraine are still being contested.

Russian annexation of Crimea is a clear violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity making this a violation of the Budapest Memorandum. It is clear why Russia has not come to the aid of Ukraine. But, while both the US and UK issued statements and applied political and economic pressure, what more could they do? After all, Russia was on the other side and the possibility of war with Russia is something they want to avoid. Once again, those in former communist dominated countries feel they are again being sacrificed to political expediency.
Clearly, as Ira Helfand said in his May editorial (, nuclear war would be disastrous for the planet. A nuclear war between the United States and Russia, once again a possibility, is something we must avoid.But, are there other concerns in the Ukraine crisis? Does a nuclear power have the right to attack or annex a non-nuclear one simply because of the fear of nuclear war? This precedent is very disturbing. Just as when the US invaded Iraq a decade ago in search of weapons of mass destruction, while it did little about the real nuclear weapons in North Korea. Comments were made then that possession of nuclear weapons was protective. Not exactly the message we should want to send if we want nuclear disarmament. Now, again with the annexation of Crimea and further incursions into Ukraine’s territory, we again have a situation that appears to demonstrate that not having nuclear weapons, this time by giving them up, makes a country vulnerable. How can we convince these countries that the path to peace and security is through eschewing such weapons rather than by building more?

And, what is the impact of violation of the Budapest Memorandum on the behavior of smaller nuclear or near nuclear states? There was a multilateral agreement guaranteeing the territorial security and freedom from external influence protecting Ukraine. How can the larger nuclear nations be trusted when they offer security to a smaller nation again? What of other multinational agreements?

Other questions also arise? Are some people expendable? This has been a concern for half a century as the great powers have fought their wars through surrogates. Most of these people had dark skin and died so the great powers did not fight directly. Now again, the question arises in relation to those who live in proximity to Russia, and who remember, through their grandparents, the massive population destruction and relocation of the Second World War, its precursor Holodomor in the Ukraine and the aftermath of World War Two under communism. Timothy Snyder called this region “Bloodlands” since so many people died in the area of Ukraine, Poland and Belarus before and during the Second World War as Germany and the Soviets first divided then fought over this land. These memories are also causing Poland to lead pressure on the West and its guarantees to newer members of NATO and the EU. Poland remembers both the lack of help, despite treaty agreements, in 1939 from Britain and France, and the Yalta agreement which relocated it, and many of its people to the west, yet gave the Soviets control of its government. As a result, NATO is putting more troops and weaponry in Poland and the Baltic countries, and carrying out war games in the region. While this is very understandable, it further enflames the situation.

So how are those of us in the peace community to reconcile these issues? It isn’t easy. So far, the world has chosen appeasement, in essence encouraging Ukraine not to fight Russia. But is appeasement the right answer? But how can we change this path without taking to task one of the world’s largest nuclear powers? And what would that choice mean for the world? What does that choice mean for the people of Ukraine and Eastern and Central Europe?

How do we convince countries considering nuclear weapons not to develop them? So many of the messages of the past decade seem to suggest that a country is safer with nuclear weapons than without. We are sending the wrong message. I worry that more countries will embark on the course toward developing nuclear weapons, and this will also increase the risk of nuclear war in the future.

I find that reviewing this situation has left me with far more questions than answers. And more concern for the future of the world.

1 comment:

  1. The loss of 100 AIDS researchers on their way to a meeting will be a loss for the world. Thus, the war in Ukraine has already had a widespread impact in a way no one would have predicted.