George Woloshyn: Ukraine’s nuclear option
A quarter-century ago the leaders of four states – Ukraine, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation – met in Budapest to sign a document of historic and far-reaching importance in abating the threat of global nuclear annihilation.
For the very first time, a nation agreed to rid itself of nuclear weapons and to forswear their future use and development. It represented a momentous first step towards global nuclear disarmament and a model to the world. But its more immediate outcome was perhaps the greatest contribution that any nation had ever made to American and European security. The 176 nuclear warheads targeted from Ukrainian soil at American cities and strategic sites would have reduced the United States to cinder and left Europe defenseless. Ukraine destroyed not only the ICBMs carrying these warheads but also the very platforms from which such missiles could be launched.
Ever mindful of their millennial history of wars, invasions, and devastation, Ukrainian leaders held out for only one condition – i.e., that the document – now known as the “Budapest Memorandum” – contain assurances and “commitments” from the three other signatories against threats to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
All three signatories committed to:
(a) “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine”;
(b) “refrain from the threat or use of force” against Ukraine’s “political independence” and that “none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine”;
(c) refrain from “economic coercion”; and
(d) “consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.”
It should be noted that the U.S. Constitution vests the president with primary responsibility and authority for the nation’s foreign policy, including presidential agreements and commitments with foreign powers. This has been especially the case since World War II when presidents have even initiated military action without seeking Congressional approval.
America’s “affirmation and commitment” to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity was made by President Bill Clinton, and – even if drafted as a “memorandum” – represents a solemn promise that can not be discarded by any future president. Otherwise, the vast majority of contracts, agreements, commitments, etc. spanning more than one presidential term would not be worth the paper on which they are written. Ukraine would never have given up its nuclear arsenal and, thereby, entrusted its survival to a president whose written “commitment” would not extend beyond his two remaining years in office.
It should be obvious that one of the four parties – Russia- has violated every single commitment it made, and that – most assuredly – it had created a “situation …that raises a question concerning these commitments.”
So where is the U.S.? Where is the U.K.? Why hasn’t Ukraine formally and diplomatically and through its public diplomacy – as the aggrieved party – insisted on a 4-party meeting with the other three signatories to “consult” concerning these commitments? How will Russia explain its land grab of Crimea? Its use of weapons against Ukraine? Its support for two puppet states? Its economic coercion? And what about the “Normandy” format?
The Kyiv Post, in an editorial published right after the recent meeting in Paris, referred to it as a “charade.” And that is what it is….a French president who no longer sees Russia as an enemy and hankering for resumption of profitable relations with Russia; a German prime minister who will be out of office soon; the wily fox always happy that the agenda is about preparing a chicken for dinner; and the chicken, itself, resisting inclusion in the menu.
Why would Vladimir Putin even be interested in such a format and meeting if he didn’t see it as favorable for Russia? And why should Volodymyr Zelensky even give lip service to the Steinmeier Formula?
It was agreed to under duress and in the course of Russia’s gross violation of its Budapest commitments. The formula itself and the conditions under which Ukraine’s agreement was extorted are themselves blatantly in violation of Russia’s solemn Budapest commitment. Russia is entitled to “zero” concessions from Ukraine and even the insistence of “legalization” of the Steinmeier Formula has to be viewed as Ukraine’s acceptance of an infringement of its sovereignty – contrary to the Budapest Memorandum.
Ukraine has a legal and moral right to call for “consultation” among the four parties to the Budapest Memorandum as a replacement to the Normandy format. It has a legal and moral right to rescind its acceptance of the Steinmeier Formula.
If one or another of the four parties refuse to attend the meeting, that party will be in breach and the U.S. and U.K. would have an additional reason to assert economic and diplomatic pressure on the violator.
After all, each party committed separately to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, even if the document failed to include the measures they would take if “consultation” were to fail. If they all attend, what resolution other than the restoration of Ukraine’s territory can there be? Even if there is no resolution, the world will be informed of the Budapest Memorandum, and acknowledge that Ukraine has a moral and legal right to look to the U.S. and U.K. for support – not as a supplicant but as a party who was wronged and insists that the other signatories honor their agreement. Ukraine removed a fatal Damocles sword hanging over America, and now America should return the favor.
No one other than Ukraine can or will invoke the Budapest Memorandum…and if the other parties should consider it to be unenforceable, then perhaps Ukraine should reconsider its own commitments under that agreement. We can be certain, however, that both North Korea and Iran, and perhaps a host of other nuclear wannabes – friendly and unfriendly – will be watching closely to see if U.S.and/or U.K. security assurances mean anything and if there remains any further reason to trust their national securities to future Budapest Memorandums. Enforcement of the memorandum’s security assurances remains the Western world’s best chance to reduce the threat of a nuclear holocaust.
George Woloshyn is a retired senior executive and Senate-confirmed presidential appointee in the Reagan Administration. He had served as head of government-wide civilian personnel security, national security emergency preparedness, and as inspector general of a regulatory agency. He has also been active in philanthropic programs involving Ukraine.