Honoring Neither the Letter nor the Law

In 1994, Ukraine and Russia made a deal: Nukes for sovereignty. Moscow took Kiev’s 1,900 nuclear weapons. Now, 20 years later, it wants to take its sovereignty.

Against the backdrop of the crisis caused by Russia's military occupation of Crimea, Tuesday's flight-test of a Topol intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was, to say the least, badly timed.

It also served as a good reminder that Ukraine, not so long ago, had the world's third largest fleet of ICBMs -- as well as the third largest nuclear arsenal. In 1994, Kiev agreed to hand over its nuclear stockpile to Russia for dismantlement in return for certain commitments, including to respect the former Soviet state's sovereignty. This agreement became known as the Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances. And today, Moscow's actions in Crimea are in flagrant violation of those commitments.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine housed 130 SS-19 ICBMs -- each capable of carrying six nuclear warheads -- in underground silos. A single SS-19 warhead had an estimated nuclear yield more than 20 times that of the bomb that leveled Hiroshima in 1945. In addition, 46 SS-24 ICBMs, individually capable of carrying 10 nuclear warheads, were deployed in central Ukraine, giving the country a total of 176 ICBMs. The newly independent country also inherited 44 Tu-95 Bear-H and Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers, as well as hundreds of Kh-55 nuclear air-launched cruise missiles to arm those aircraft.

Immediately upon its split from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine had 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads -- a larger arsenal than those of Britain, France, and China combined.

In 1992, Kiev agreed to dismantle its strategic delivery systems, transfer the nuclear warheads to Russia for elimination, and accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. The Ukrainians insisted, however, on certain conditions, including compensation, assistance for eliminating missiles and bombers, and security assurances. U.S. diplomats worked with their Ukrainian and Russian counterparts to broker a trilateral statement, signed by U.S. President Bill Clinton, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in January 1994. It specified the commitments that the United States and Russia would undertake to address Ukraine's conditions.

The Ukrainian government attached particular importance to three concerns. First, Kiev insisted on compensation for the commercial value of the highly-enriched uranium in the nuclear warheads. Thus, the statement ensured that Russia would provide Ukraine with the equivalent amount of low-enriched uranium in fuel rods for the country's nuclear power plants, which generated 50 percent of Ukraine's electricity at the time.

Second, Ukraine lacked the resources to dismantle the missiles, bombers, and missile silos on its territory. The United States agreed to provide the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program assistance to cover those costs.

Third, Ukraine asked for security assurances. The statement provided that, once Ukraine acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state, the United States, Russia, and Britain would undertake certain commitments for the independent Ukrainian state.

In December 1994, Clinton, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (who succeeded Kravchuk), Yeltsin, and British Prime Minister John Major signed the Budapest memorandum, which committed the United States, Russia, and Britain "to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine" and "to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine." The agreement noted that "none of their [U.S., Russian, and British] weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations."

The Budapest memorandum is a politically-binding agreement rather than a legally-binding treaty. Nevertheless, former Ukrainian officials in office at the time described it as crucial to Kiev's decision to give up nuclear arms.

When the four parties signed the memorandum in 1994, they agreed to meet should a nation feel that any of the commitments had been violated. For Ukraine, the violating country is, of course, Russia. And for the first time since the agreement was signed, Kiev has requested a meeting of the four nations.

Over the past week, Russian military forces have occupied Crimea, which Russia previously recognized as part of Ukraine. On Tuesday, March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that Russian forces have taken over the peninsula, asserting that "local militias" are manning checkpoints, blockading Ukrainian military bases and controlling Crimea's main points of entry. That claim defies credibility. Putin explained that the militias wore Russian-style combat fatigues because they could be purchased in army stores in post-Soviet states. (The reporters did not think to ask whether the Russian army jeeps and armored personnel carriers seen all around Crimea also could be purchased in those army stores.)

Russia has long based elements of the Black Sea Fleet and associated units in Crimea -- with Ukrainian agreement. Kiev has made no threats against those bases, and Ukrainian military forces on the peninsula have exercised great restraint. Moscow has no basis to claim self-defense and indeed has not invoked the right of self-defense. The Russian government, which normally insists that military action other than self-defense can be undertaken only with the approval of the U.N. Security Council, has not sought such approval. Instead, the Russian U.N. representative has been castigated by his counterparts for Russia's seizure of Crimea.

Given the violation of the Budapest memorandum, the Ukrainians invoked the commitment to consult. On Wednesday, March 5, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Minister William Hague and Acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchitsya met in Paris. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, although in Paris, chose not to attend.

Russian officials offered a novel defense for not carrying out the commitment to consult. They said that they had not signed the Budapest memorandum with the current government in Kiev. But the agreement is among the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Britain -- not particular governments. Were this bizarre diplomatic logic applied more generally, states would have to again sign every agreement they have with another state when the latter changed its government.

The United States must live up to its Budapest commitments, if for no other reason than this is part of the price that Washington agreed to pay in 1994 to eliminate 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads and some 220 ICBMs and bombers that were designed to attack America. In the first instance, that means providing political support to Kiev and working with the International Monetary Fund and European Union on financial credits for Ukraine. Second, it means consulting with Kiev and the European Union to find a negotiating path to resolve the crisis. And third, it means coordinating with European and other countries to penalize Russia until it alters its behavior.

This is not just a question of living up to past U.S. commitments; it is a question of protecting the value of security assurances as leverage for resolving future proliferation challenges. It is possible, for example, that U.S. security assurances of some kind to Iran might play a role in finding a permanent settlement to the Iranian nuclear issue. But security assurances in the future will have little credibility unless the United States fulfills those that it undertook in Budapest.



Snap Poll: The View from the Ivory Tower

Nearly a thousand scholars weigh in on Ukraine vs. Russia, trusting Syria, and how the Pentagon manages its money.

In partnership with Foreign Policy, we are pleased to present the inaugural Snap Poll of the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project at the College of William & Mary (of the Ivory Tower Index), which asks international relations scholars for their views on the three hot-button issues du jour. We posed a combination of questions and hypotheticals about Syria and the disposal of its chemical weapons; the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine; and the proposed cuts to the U.S. defense budget. The idea behind a snap poll is, in the midst of breaking news, to take a real-time picture of the reactions and thoughts of a distinct group -- in this case academics, specifically international relations (IR) scholars. Unlike longer, more traditional surveys, a snap poll quickly captures the reactions to contemporary issues in the immediate aftermath of an international crisis while policy debate is still very much ongoing. The short timeframe allows the survey's results to become part of the public and policy discourse, even as an issue continues to evolve. 

For this TRIP Snap Poll -- the first in a series hosted here on FP -- we surveyed all IR scholars who are employed at a U.S. university in a political science department or policy school and who teach or conduct research on issues that cross international borders. (All told, we identified 2,805 individuals who fit these criteria.) The Snap Poll was open for a total of 75 hours -- from 9 p.m., Feb. 24 to 11:59 p.m., Feb. 27. Of those invited to participate in this first survey, 909 scholars responded to our nine questions -- a response rate of more than 30 percent. The characteristics of participants -- such as gender, professional rank, university type, and university ranking -- are broadly representative of the discipline as a whole.  

TRIP Snap Polls include questions about policy preferences, anticipated policy effectiveness, expected outcomes of international crises or negotiations, as well as questions that hopefully illustrate the differences as well as the similarities between the scholarly take on affairs and public opinion. In this survey, we asked scholars if the United States spends too much, too little, or just the right amount on defense. The contrast between scholarly and public opinion on this issue is stark -- just 5.4 percent of IR scholars believe that the United States is spending "too little" on defense, whereas Gallup recently found that this figure stands at 28 percent among the U.S. public.

In addition, we asked participants to predict the outcomes of pressing conflicts -- will the Syrian regime deliver on its commitments, what Ukraine will look like six months from now, and whether Russia would intervene militarily in Ukraine. (On this last question, we didn't have to wait for the survey to close to find out whether our earliest respondents were correct -- along with much of the world, the IR scholarly community was surprised by Russia's heavy hand in Ukraine. Only a small minority of respondents (14 percent) correctly predicted Russian actions, while a majority (57.5 percent) said that Russia would not intervene militarily.)

By providing real-time, systematic estimates of academic opinion on contemporary global policy and politics, TRIP Snap Polls add a new and much-needed voice to the fast-paced dialogue of news analysis by communicating scholars' views to policymakers and the public and bridging the gap between the ivory tower and the Beltway.

TRIP Snap Polls are conducted with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Click here for complete results.


In September 2013 the United States and Russia agreed to a framework under which Syria would relinquish its chemical weapons. According to the agreed framework these weapons would be destroyed under the supervision of international inspectors by June 30, 2014. Do you believe that Syria will fulfill its obligations under the agreement by the June deadline?

If Syria fails to comply with this agreement by June 30, 2014, do you believe the United States will use military force against Syria?

If Syria fails to comply with this agreement by June 30, 2014, would you support the use of military force by the United States against Syrian government forces?

If Syria fails to comply with this agreement by June 30, 2014, which of the following U.S. foreign policy options would you support?

Six months from now, which of the following do you believe will best describe the political situation in Ukraine?

Did the recent international attention focused on the Olympics restrain Russia from becoming more directly involved in the political crisis in Ukraine?

Will Russian military forces intervene in response to the political crisis in Ukraine?

Do you think the United States is spending too little, about the right amount, or too much on defense?

On Monday Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel proposed a new defense budget, which includes an overall reduction and a substantial reprioritization of spending. On balance, these changes would...