One of my jobs in Russia years later was to accompany U.S. inspectors on visits to those storage facilities to count and eventually barcode every nuclear warhead in storage. Had we not spent that money then, we would be facing a very different situation in the current crisis in Ukraine.
One key to the removal of the nuclear weapons from Ukraine was the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Falling short of the security guarantees that Ukraine wanted, the Budapest Memorandum called for Russia, the U.S. and the United Kingdom. to respect Ukraine’s borders, refrain from the use or threat of force against Ukraine, to support Ukraine against attempts to use economic coercion against it (a reference to possible Russian manipulation of Ukraine’s oil supply), and to bring any incident of aggression before the United Nations Security Council. Ukraine accepted these commitments, signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and facilitated eventual removal of all the weapons.
The Budapest Memorandum is one of several diplomatic commitments agreed to by Russian President Yeltsin that have been challenged by last weekend’s invasion of Crimea. Under the Memorandum, Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine are only committed to “consult” in the face of Russia’s apparent violation of its commitments. But this opens a diplomatic door that all parties would do well to enter. What’s needed now is quiet diplomacy, not dramatic statements, threats, or military maneuvering.
Jack Segal is co-chair of Northwestern Michigan College’s International Affairs Forum and teaches foreign policy courses at NMC. He will be teaching an NMC extended education course on Russia March 6 and 13. He made numerous visits to Ukraine as National Security Council Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia (1999-2000), and as State Department Office Director for the western Slavic countries (including Ukraine) (1997-98). He lives in Traverse City.