When Ukraine acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1994, the country’s leaders fulfilled a vow they had made as soon as Ukraine became an independent state in 1991. Ukraine would relinquish the thousands of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles on its territory – its “nuclear inheritance” – after the collapse of the USSR.
Looking back at that decision through the lens of Russia’s invasion almost one year ago, some observers now contend that Ukraine made a mistake by voluntarily ceding its potential nuclear deterrence – although Ukraine never had independent operational command and control over the weapons. Moreover, as political scientist and nuclear historian Mariana Budjeryn demonstrates in her new book, “Inheriting the Bomb,” most Ukrainian political and military leaders in the early 1990s viewed holding onto the nukes as more dangerous than it might be worth.
In this episode of History As It Happens, Ms. Budjeryn discusses the momentous events and decisions that resulted in Ukraine transferring all its nuclear weapons to Russia to be dismantled. She illuminates an important chapter in international relations that left Ukraine in a diplomatic and political no man’s land from which it could not completely extract itself over the next 30 years. Ukraine once hoped that by claiming ownership of the nuclear weapons after 1991, it could bargain for significant security guarantees from both the West and Russia. In the end, Ukraine had no nukes and fragile security.
“We cannot judge that decision back in 1994 based on what we know today. I get asked all the time, was that the right thing to do, to give up nuclear weapons,” said Ms. Budjeryn, a researcher at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. “The jury is still out. We are still capable of proving Ukraine right … to say that the country that does the right thing by the international non-proliferation regime … that country will not be left to stand alone.”
Listen to Mariana Budjeryn discuss Ukraine’s nuclear inheritance and the reasons why its relationship with Russia remained stuck in the past, by downloading this episode of History As It Happens.