The Ukraine crisis has for all practical purposes sounded the death knell of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which came into force in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995.
Once the cornerstone of the international community’s effort to prevent or at least limit the spread of nuclear weapons ~ with the West in particular using all its persuasive powers to try and get countries such as India to join the treaty in the two decades preceding the 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran ~ signing the NPT is seen as a strategic mistake by many nations.
Tragically, because a world without nuclear weapons would be an infinitely safer place provided all countries including the permanent members of the UN Security Council gave up their nukes. There can be no better example of this than Ukraine. An insightful recent article by Brookings’ director of research on foreign policy Michael E. O’Hanlon and his colleague Bruce Riedel points out that at the end of the Cold War, Ukraine had the world’s thirdlargest nuclear arsenal.
In 1994, Ukraine returned to Russia almost 2,000 nuclear weapons that it had inherited receiving in return a guarantee, in the form of the Budapest Memorandum (also signed by America and the United Kingdom), that Ukraine would not be attacked. Today, Kiev is probably ruing the day it agreed to do so.
The bottom line is this: If a country has nuclear weapons, it should keep them. Because it is this very arsenal of mass destruction which has proven the most effective deterrent to full-fledged wars between nations from the Bay of Pigs crisis onwards. That this state of affairs is a depressing commentary on contemporary international relations is self-evident.
After all, when a repressive dictator such as Kim Jong Un of North Korea emerges as the smartest cookie in the jar for resolutely refusing to give up the nukes bequeathed to him by his father and grandfather despite intense US-led pressure to denuclearise the Korean peninsula, the world is clearly at the thin edge of the wedge.
For smaller or weaker states, owning nuclear weapons helps ensure that a large country will not be able to attack them and overthrow their government. Put another way, “not having nukes clearly leaves one vulnerable”. Perhaps it is time for a fresh approach towards universal nuclear disarmament with the P-5 plus India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran leading the way despite their differences. Japan, as the only nation to have suffered the horrific consequences of a nuclear attack, would be the obvious choice to lead such a campaign.
Let’s be clear: It is either this approach, unrealistic as it may seem, or the world needs to accept that we will have to live under the lurking shadow of a nuclear Armageddon for the foreseeable future. It is worth keeping in mind that the history of the 20th century – and now, with the invasion of Ukraine, the 21st century’s too ~ has shown that absolutist demands wherein some nations are expected to give up their nuclear weapons while a select few get to retain theirs just won’t fly.