After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were a few nuclear east-European nations. Ukraine was one such nation. It stockpiled world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. However, for a purported intention to safeguard common human good, Ukraine made an accession to the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. For such a step by Ukraine, which would lead to abandoning its nuclear arsenal to Russia, security assurance was provided by the signatories of Budapest Memorandum (5th Dec 1994). The signatory members of this memorandum included United States, UK and Russia. The assurances included: respect for Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders, refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine and refrain from using economic pressure on Ukraine in order to influence its politics, among others. The assurances are significant because, they were extended under the conditional clause of Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal. But the question to be mustered upon is: If Ukraine had not given up its arsenal, would the contemporary crisis be any different? And if so, what could its fallout be throughout the globe?
Breach of the Budapest Memorandum
Both Kremlin and Allies of Washington resorted to economic pressures over Ukraine to influence its politics. With the former resorting to oil and gas payment bailout, the later choose to lure Ukraine through IMF bailout packages and free trade benefits of joining the European Union. That is, the aforementioned assurances of territorial integrity, sovereignty and refrain from the use of force were clearly violated by annexation of Crimea and a purported West backed Pro-Democracy demonstrations at Kiev.
It is by now clear that the signatories together have violated the terms of Budapest Memorandum but refuse to accept their fallacy.
So, if Ukraine had not given up its nuclear stock pile, then would Kremlin be as capable to use force to abrogate the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine? And, in that case, would the United States of America be potent enough to support a pro-democracy coup and installment of a pro-western government?
Implications of the umbrella protection
The answers to these questions seem to be a strong “no”. Nuclear deterrence would have been a credible alternative to the protection umbrella of Russia. Recently, China developed its long range missile Dongfeng-31B, which has a range of 10,000 km and includes Europe and West coast of United States under its horizon. Further, it is capable of mounting multiple nuclear warheads. This is also a potential threat to the already dispute-embroiled region.
East Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Australia are amongst the many nations in the region with deeper military engagement with the USA, and enjoy its ‘nuclear protection umbrella’. This situation is no different from the prior existing situation in Ukraine with just a change in umbrella provider. With the precedents set by the US and Russia in Ukraine, it seems plausible that these East Asia nations would like to rejig their nuclear doctrine.
A cold war may not be at the corner, but if similar precedents are left by these two old cold war rivals elsewhere, there is all reason to believe that many nations with a threat perception would like to rethink the narrative of nuclear disarmament.
In such a situation the only alternative would be similar to India’s nuclear doctrine of “credible minimum deterrence”. Another nuclear arms race may not be at the corner; however, a realization of nuclear deterrence may sweep nations-states, especially Asians.