Ukraine’s sta­tus as a non-nu­clear weapon state: past, present and fu­ture

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Volodymyr Va­sylenko

Ukraine’s sta­tus as a non-nu­clear weapon state: past, present and fu­ture


In May 1992, the Pro­to­col was signed in Lis­bon to rec­og­nize Ukraine, Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, Kaza­khstan and Be­larus as equal suc­ces­sors of the for­mer Soviet Union for the Strate­gic Arms Re­duc­tion Treaty (START-1) signed by the USA and USSR on July 31, 1991. In prac­ti­cal terms, this sig­naled the recog­ni­tion of Ukraine’s right to own the share of the soviet nu­clear ar­se­nal that ended up on its ter­ri­tory af­ter the restora­tion of its in­de­pen­dence in 1991. Un­der Art. 5 of the Lis­bon Pro­to­col, Ukraine com­mit­ted to join the Treaty on the Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion of Nu­clear Weapons signed on July 1, 1968, as a non-nu­clear-weapon state.

Ac­cord­ing to the Lis­bon Pro­to­col, Ukraine was be­com­ing a mem­ber of START-1 on a par with all other sig­na­to­ries, in­clud­ing the US, and had to rat­ify it.

START-1 obliged the US and the Soviet Union to re­duce the num­ber of strate­gic nu­clear de­liv­ery ve­hi­cles by 36% and nu­clear war­heads by 42%. This meant that the Soviet Union had to dis­man­tle 900 de­liv­ery ve­hi­cles (from 2,500 down to 1,600) and 6,000 war­heads (from 10,271 down to 4,271). When the Soviet Union dis­ap­peared from the po­lit­i­cal map of the world, Ukraine ended up with 17% of the soviet nu­clear weapon ca­pac­ity on its ter­ri­tory.

Ukraine could use the Lis­bon Pro­to­col frame­work to in­ter­act with the US with­out Rus­sia in be­tween. It could de­velop its own po­si­tion in ne­go­ti­a­tions and de­ter­mine the con­di­tions un­der which it would agree to join the Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty as a non-nu­clear-weapon state. The Pro­to­col did not set out any spe­cific dead­line for rat­i­fi­ca­tion, al­though Art. 5 said that Ukraine should join it as soon as pos­si­ble.

Ac­cord­ing to the Pro­to­col, Ukraine was free to de­ter­mine when it would rat­ify it. There­fore, it could also de­ter­mine the time­frame it deemed nec­es­sary for ne­go­ti­a­tions. The Lis­bon Pro­to­col thus marked the ir­re­versible recog­ni­tion of Ukraine’s sta­tus as a non-nu­clear weapon state un­der in­ter­na­tional law. Even­tu­ally, this re­sulted in the sign­ing of the Bu­dapest Mem­o­ran­dum on De­cem­ber 5, 1994, to guar­an­tee Ukraine’s se­cu­rity upon its join­ing of the Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty.

Ever since, Ukrainian politi­cians, ex­perts and av­er­age cit­i­zens, as well as mass me­dia have seen heated de­bates on the con­se­quences of Ukraine’s quit­ting of the nu­clear ar­se­nal in­her­ited from the Soviet Union in 1991. The armed ag­gres­sion by Rus­sia, a sig­na­tory of the Bu­dapest Mem­o­ran­dum, against Ukraine has trig­gered an­other surge of this de­bate.

Some in Ukraine’s civil so­ci­ety, po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment and ex­pert com­mu­nity harshly crit­i­cize its non-nu­clear weapon sta­tus. They be­lieve that Ukraine thus stripped it­self of a re­li­able se­cu­rity guar­an­tee. A closer anal­y­sis of their think­ing shows that they view the record­ing of Ukraine’s sta­tus as a non-nu­clear weapon state and in­ter­na­tional guar­an­tees for its se­cu­rity as a one-mo­ment act, not as a com­plex geopo­lit­i­cal process linked to the restora­tion and es­tab­lish­ment of Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dent state­hood and the his­tor­i­cal con­text of the late 1980s and early 1990s in which this process took place.

To­day, there is gen­eral agree­ment in Ukraine that the Bu­dapest Mem­o­ran­dum has se­ri­ous flaws. These flaws are widely be­lieved to have caused the many se­cu­rity chal­lenges faced by Ukraine that cli­maxed with Rus­sia’s armed ag­gres­sion. What’s lack­ing is a clear con­sol­i­dated na­tion­wide stance on how to guar­an­tee Ukraine’s se­cu­rity in the fore­see­able fu­ture in the mod­ern con­text.


Af­ter the Verkhovna Rada voted for the Act of Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence of Ukraine on Au­gust 24, 1991, Ukrainian lead­ers con­firmed more than once and at many lev­els, of­fi­cially and un­of­fi­cially, the readi­ness to stick to the in­ten­tion to be­come a non-nu­clear-weapon state and to re­ject soviet nu­clear weapons lo­cated on Ukraine’s ter­ri­tory.

Dur­ing his first visit to the US, VR Speaker Leonid Kravchuk met with George H. W. Bush and as­sured him that the in­ten­tion an­nounced in the Dec­la­ra­tion re­mained ir­re­versible even af­ter the restora­tion of Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dence. On Oc­to­ber 1, 1992, Kravchuk once again de­clared this at the 46th ses­sion of the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

Res­o­lu­tion No1697-XII On Non-Nu­clear-Weapon State Sta­tus of Ukraine passed by the Verkhovna Rada on Oc­to­ber 24, 1991, was very im­por­tant. It out­lined prac­ti­cal steps to dis­man­tling nu­clear weapons of the for­mer Soviet Union on Ukraine’s ter­ri­tory. On Oc­to­ber 25, Hen­nadiy Udovenko, Ukraine’s Am­bas­sador to the UN, trans­ferred the Res­o­lu­tion to the UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral. Its full text was dis­trib­uted as an of­fi­cial doc­u­ment at the 46th ses­sion of the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly. On Novem­ber 2, 1991, Leonid Kravchuk sent a let­ter to the US Pres­i­dent with the Res­o­lu­tion at­tached. Among other things, it stated the fol­low­ing: “The es­tab­lish­ment of in­de­pen­dent Ukrainian armed forces does not change Ukraine’s in­ten­tion to be a non-nu­clear-weapon state as an­nounced in the Dec­la­ra­tion on State Sovereignty.”

In De­cem­ber 1991, Kravchuk as Pres­i­dent of the in­de­pen­dent Ukraine, signed doc­u­ments and agree­ments within the CIS on be­half of Ukraine that, too, en­vis­aged its sta­tus as a non­nu­clear-weapon state.

This con­sis­tent com­mit­ment to nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment backed by the con­vinc­ing re­sults of the All-Ukrainian Ref­er­en­dum to Ap­prove the Act of Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence of Ukraine brought wide in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion of Ukraine by the lead­ing western coun­tries and the over­all in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Dur­ing 1992, 132 coun­tries rec­og­nized Ukraine. 106 signed agree­ments es­tab­lish­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions with it. This cre­ated solid po­lit­i­cal and le­gal ground for the be­gin­ning of Ukraine’s re­la­tions with the world in a fa­vor­able in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment.

There­fore, it was thanks to the pro­vi­sions of the Dec­la­ra­tion fo­cused on gain­ing the sta­tus of a non-nu­clear-weapon state that Ukraine avoided non-recog­ni­tion, some­thing that had been the fi­nal fac­tor in the de­feat of the Ukrainian Peo­ple’s Repub­lic in its strug­gle against the bol­she­vik Rus­sia in the early 20th cen­tury. Carpatho-Ukraine, too, had no chance to pre­serve its in­de­pen­dence af­ter declar­ing it on March 14, 1939, in Khust, Zakarpat­tia. Un­rec­og­nized and un­sup­ported by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, Carpatho-Ukraine of­fered armed re­sis­tance but was even­tu­ally il­le­gally oc­cu­pied by Hun­gary with Ger­man and Pol­ish sup­port.

When no coun­try in the world rec­og­nized the Ukrainian State de­clared on June 30, 1941 in Lviv, or the Ukrainian Chief Lib­er­a­tion Coun­cil es­tab­lished in Lviv Re­gion on July 13, 1944, the armed strug­gle of the Ukrainian In­sur­gent Army for the cre­ation of the sovereign and united Ukrainian State turned out to be doomed even though it lasted from the early 1940s un­til the mid-1950s.

Ukraine re­lied on the Dec­la­ra­tion in its suc­cess­ful at­tempts to counter Rus­sia’s at­tempts to use the CIS to rein­te­grate for­mer union re­publics and im­ple­ment its neo-im­pe­rial come­back. Ukraine rat­i­fied the CIS foun­da­tion treaty on De­cem­ber 10, 1991, with an im­por­tant con­di­tion that was later

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