Ukraine crisis triggers nuclear proliferation

Ukrainians are full of resentment today for the decision their leaders took way back in 1994. They feel that their leaders then should not have surrendered the country's nuclear weapons in exchange for security assurance from the United States, Britain and Russia. If it had not surrendered its nukes Ukraine today would have been the third most nuclear armed nation in the world next only to the United States and Russia. Ukrainians are convinced, if they retained their nuclear stockpile Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have dared to dismember Ukraine.

Today, when Ukrainians perceive Russian moves in Crimea as a brazen violation of the Budapest Memorandum and a move to resurrect Russian empire Pavlo Rizanenko, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, has been absolutely unequivocal in his argument in favour of re-acquiring nuclear weapons. He said, "Now there is a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake" by surrendering the nuclear weapons.

Kiev gave up its nuclear arsenal after the demise of Soviet Union as a signatory of the Budapest Memorandum, signed on December 5, 1994. The country was then holding world's third largest nuclear stockpile — 1,900 warheads strategically deployed during Cold War.  The Ukraine crisis has once again brought the efficacy of nuclear weapons back into focus. It is fast unsettling the fragile nuclear agreements.

Two weeks before Putin moved to chop Crimea off from Ukraine Russia was rather explicit in sending the West and the United States a chilling message laced with nuclear threats. Moscow tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads. And again, very recently, a Russian television channel graphically presented how capable Kremlin is of reducing the United States to "radioactive dust."

Well, nothing of that kind would hopefully ever happen. But, these suggestive threats prove that nuclear diplomacy is teetering on the brink of collapse. The Cold War trait, threat of nuclear Armageddon, is back and has been given a fresh lease of life.

Noted American author James S. Robbins says that Kiev is now exploring means to turn back the clock. He formed this opinion after what Former Ukrainian foreign minister Vladimir Ogryzko recommended.  Ogryzko advocated pulling out of the non-proliferation treaty and re-nuclearising Ukraine, saying this would be "the only measure which could secure (Ukraine's) security."

The Ukraine crisis has clearly brought re-nuclearisation back on the table and has carried "lessons for the rest of the world." Across the world the message is now loud and clear. Giving up nuclear arsenal and weapon programmes could be risky. Non proliferation seems to have gone for a toss. Echoes of Crimean lesson are perhaps the loudest in Asia.

To potential Crimeas in Asia, Japan and Taiwan, the lure of nuclearising themselves will now be even greater. These US allies may perhaps no longer be willing to rely on Washington for their national security. Rogue like North Korea will now be more unlikely to give up its nuclear weaponisation programme. This would only encourage an already nervous South Korea to explore the nuclear options.

In Middle East the scenario will not be any different. A world absolutely free from nuclear weapons no longer seems a good option. Search for nuclear deterrence appears to have already taken off the bloc.
The situation is not only deeply worrying but also unsettling. The case of Ukraine and violation of Budapest Memorandum are now being used to justify nuclear weaponisation programmes across our planet. France and Britain would probably never ever, at least in next fifty years, think of giving up their arsenals after what has happened to Ukraine.

Nuclear proliferation will not make the world any safer. Nor will any renewed pursuit for that kind of weapons be an effective deterrent in long run. But can nation states like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and a few in the Middle East be blamed if they opt for such weaponisation? And all the more when they have seen how reluctant the United States has been in enforcing its authorities to ensure that Budapest Memorandum is respected.

The countries of the world are no longer willing to take any chances with their national security. Washington's security guarantees no longer make sense to any of its allies. Lure to achieve nuclear deterrence is gaining in momentum. Kiev's plight has sent a wrong message.

These pro-proliferation arguments notwithstanding, questions remain. If Kiev had retained the warheads and still Russia had taken Crimea back could Ukraine stop Putin? Could Kiev use its nukes against Russia? Could those weapons really deter Kremlin?

The pro-proliferation arguments are, therefore, sheer pettifogging — being used to justify proliferation. In the United States keeping guns at home has not made the Americans any safer; the country has not yet become crime free.

None of the countries today, I am afraid, are willing to heed to this simple truth. The lure of nuclear weapons is getting stronger every day. And for the US President Barack Obama it is his biggest defeat.
He had won the Nobel Prize for his pet priority — to free the world of nukes. Today, he is seeing how the world is fast turning away from him on this issue.

His legacy is fast losing out to the predators who still stalk the world. We have already stepped into one of the most perilous phases of our existence. The world has only turned more dangerous.

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.


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