Friday, November 23, 2012

Lessons from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan

I am currently making my way through Mitchell Reiss fascinating book Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Contstrain their Nuclear Capabilities (1995). In his book, he describes how various countries decided to give up their nuclear weapons and shut down their nuclear weapons programs. Included in this book are the stories of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. These stories offer several lessons that people should keep in mind when looking at denuclearization options for other countries today. Not all of these lessons apply to every situation, but practitioners should at least determine whether they apply or not.

  1. Keeping Nuclear Weapons is Expensive. Maintaining nuclear weapons costs a lot of money and these three countries realized that they did not have the financial resources to maintain them if they were to focus on growing their economies.
  2. Removing Nuclear Weapons is Expensive. Because of economic considerations these countries wanted to get rid of their nukes, but also because of economic considerations these countries slow-walked their removal. To varying degrees, these countries tried to get economic compensation for the removal of these weapons.
  3. Nuclear Weapons are Bargaining Chips. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan all realized the risks of keeping nuclear weapons in their country. They did not have the financial resources or the local expertise to maintain them. Ukraine, especially, realized that having nuclear weapons made them a target in a Nato-Russia war. All that being said, these countries used nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip. Both Ukraine and Kazakhstan (Belarus not as much) bargained with Russia and the United States in order to get financial assistance and more international recognition.
  4. Denuclearization Takes Time. In all cases, denuclearization took at least a few years. Denuclearization included removing tactical and strategic nuclear weapons by train and also signing onto START and the Nuclear Nonprolifearation Treaty (NPT). Denuclearization takes times even if all parties want to see it.

All in all, a reading of these three cases offers the lesson that denuclearization is a complex matter with many different considerations (including economic). Negotiating an agreement with a country is really just the tip of the iceberg.

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