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Why Ukraine should not issue threats about leaving the NPT

04 February, 00:00

Speaking about the situation of Ukraine’s state security, Yurii Shcherbak (The Day No. 2, Thursday, 21 January 2010) said that “Ukraine should do everything to get stronger and obtain legally binding assurances from Russia, the United States, and Great Britain, in relations to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum,” and, in order to achieve this goal, he suggested to make “a public statement about the possibility of Ukraine’s withdrawal from the NPT (the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) prior to the April 2010 NPT session in New York — if the demands of Ukraine are not satisfied.” It looks like, while trying to comprehend the mysterious codes of the first decade of the century, the author suggests a blunt but firm response: either you provide assurances, or we get out of NPT.

I just hope that Ukraine’s top authorities will have enough common sense not to listen to this perilous and provocative suggestion.

Firstly, Ukraine’s announcement of leaving the NPT before the revision session of this act would be viewed as an action aimed at eroding the non-proliferation regime. Without any doubt it would receive a negative response from the international community, in particular from leading Western countries. Such an announcement would surely be used by Russia in its propaganda and diplomatic war against Ukraine.

Secondly, the announcement of Ukraine’s possible leaving of the NPT, shortly before or during negotiations about obtaining additional security assurances, would be an ultimatum to the other participants of the negotiations. The history of international relations includes a number of cases when ultimatums worked. But it only happened when the country making those claims enjoyed authentic power, and possessed the tools necessary to act upon its threats. The announcement of leaving the NPT is a de facto statement of intent to develop one’s own nuclear weapons. Thus, the question arises whether Ukraine would be able to produce such weapons. This question is rhetorical. In the years since Ukraine’s independence, its officials, mostly due to lack of political will, did not manage to start production of nuclear fuel for Ukrainian nuclear power plants. Under such conditions the announcement of possibly leaving the NPT will be viewed as pure bluff, and it will cause disrespect and irritation amongst other participants. The ensuing negotiations would not be successful, as Ukraine is in a much lower bargaining position.

Thirdly, even if such negotiations ended successfully, and a document about the new security assurances for Ukraine would be issued, I am afraid that those assurances would only be on paper. There will be no effective mechanism for their implementation. This is particularly true because one of the guarantors of those assurances will be Russia, which has many times violated the regulations of the Budapest Memorandum. Moreover, it has not shown any positive changes in its attitude towards Ukraine. The longevity some Western security mechanism specifically designed for Ukraine would be ephemeral. The issue of Ukraine leaving NPT could be raised only when Ukraine would be actually ready: 1) to produce its own nuclear fuel in a short period of time; 2) to withstand, for a long time, international sanctions which could be applied against it.

In order to demonstrate credible resolve, Ukraine must first fulfill a myriad of conditions: the political crisis has to be overcome and all arguments between political forces settled, democratic institutions have to be built, corruption must be eliminated, the economic and financial systems should function properly, the necessary research and material provision should be taken care of, the military defensive complex must be reformed, and effective armed forces have to be formed. The state must also be managed by leaders who are supported by the population, and who show uncompromising political will in protecting Ukraine’s interests.

Thus, instead of speculating on false and dangerous, for the national interests of Ukraine, alternatives such as pseudo assurances or nuclear status, efforts should be made to speed up Ukraine’s integration into NATO. In this context I should mention that Shcherbak agrees that EU integration and acquiring NATO membership are the main foreign policy priorities for Ukraine. This was my principle position, which I expressed in a discussion with Oleksandr Chaly (The Day No. 37, December 15, 2009).

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