If You Want to Deter a Military Invasion, Should You Go Nuclear?

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — North Korea, whose economy has been severely undermined by rigid sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the United States, in retaliation for its active nuclear weapons program, has long justified its growing military arsenal on sheer political and ideological grounds.

The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, were perhaps facilitated by one fact: none of these countries either had nuclear weapons or had given up developing them.

“And that is why we will never give up ours,” a North Korean diplomat was quoted as saying while pointing out that the invasions would not have taken place if the countries were armed with nuclear weapons.

The same argument seems to have surfaced in Ukraine, which was once home to “as many as 3,000 nuclear weapons” that the Soviet Union stationed on Ukrainian soil during the Cold War and were subsequently dismantled.

“In today’s world, where many countries waste time dealing with the United States with submission and blind obedience, there’s only our country on this planet that can shake the world by firing a missile with the U.S. mainland in its range,” said a statement from North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week.

The multiple tests, since January, represented “remarkable achievements” that strengthened North Korea’s “war deterrence,” according to the ministry’s website.

“There are more than 200 countries in the world, but only a few have hydrogen bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and hypersonic missiles,” it said.

Iran, which has been threatened by Israel, is another country that is seeking nuclear weapons as a deterrent against any attacks by Tel Aviv.

With Israel as the only Middle Eastern country which has gone nuclear, there are several Arab nations, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which have long-term plans to build nuclear facilities.

Ukraine reportedly had the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal after the US and Russia.

But after years of negotiations involving the US, Russia and Ukraine, U.S. President Bill Clinton announced a breakthrough in 1994, with Ukraine agreeing to remove all nuclear weapons from its soil in exchange for assurances that Russia would respect its sovereignty.

“We gave away the capability for nothing” Andriy Zahorodniuk, a former Defense Minister of Ukraine was quoted as saying, in a report in the New York Times February 6 which was headlined, “Years Ago, Kyiv Gave Up a Huge Nuclear Arsenal. Today, there is Regret,” since the deadly weapons were the only reliable means of deterring Russian aggression.

Reminded about the security agreement, he said: “Now, every time somebody offers us to sign a strip of paper, the response is: ‘Thank you very much. We already had one of those some time ago.’”

As the US and Russia continue their diplomatic standoff, there are reports of an estimated 130,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s eastern, northern, and southern borders, along with battle tanks and anti-aircraft batteries apparently ready for an invasion.

Tariq Rauf, former, Head of Verification & Security Policy, at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told IDN unfortunately, in some Ukrainian circles there is remorse about sending back USSR nuclear weapons on its territory at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine.

Both Presidents Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma clearly understood that Ukraine did not have the technical capabilities and the financial capacity to maintain an operational nuclear weapons arsenal, he said, pointing out that the Ukrainian military units in charge of some of the bases and storage areas for the nuclear weapons also clearly understood this.

“Both Presidents stated that these weapons over the longer term would become a burden and a safety/security threat to Ukraine itself. Equally important, it was clearly understood and agreed between the US and the Russian Federation that there would only one successor State to the USSR as a nuclear-weapon State and a P5 member of the Security Council and takeover the international legal obligations of the USSR: the Russian Federation”.

The US was not going to tolerate Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine keeping the USSR nuclear weapons, said Rauf, and neither was Russia.

Under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, the US provided financial assistance to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine as incentives, and the nuclear material contained in the warheads was down-blended into civilian nuclear fuel and the equivalent sent to Ukraine to fuel its Soviet-supplied nuclear power reactors, he added.

Finally, in the Budapest Memorandum of December 5, 1994, giving security guarantees to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine—the three NPT depositary States: Russia [ex-USSR], UK and US—repeated positive security assurances from the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 255 of 1968 in connection with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

But it gave negative security assurances, along the lines given to (Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones (NWFZ) parties and later in UNSC Res 984 of 1995, in advance of the 1995 NPT extension conference. The only new assurances were on economic sovereignty etc in accordance with the Vienna Document and a promise to “consult” in the event of threats.

Rauf also pointed out that the document is a “memo”, not an agreement nor a treaty, and it became “applicable” upon signature, but no entry-into-force. Russia, UK, US did not give legally binding security assurances.

In 2014, ex-President Kuchma said Ukraine had been cheated when Russia occupied Crimea. If Ukraine had kept nuclear weapons, very likely it would have been attacked by Russia to take back the weapons and Ukraine brought under great pressure by the US and treated as a pariah state, he declared.

Meanwhile, a February 4 joint statement delivered by US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield—on behalf of Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, Japan, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States—said the DPRK’s (North Korea’s) January 30 launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) is a significant escalation in the DPRK’s recent violations of multiple Security Council resolutions and seeks to further destabilize the region. “We condemn this unlawful action in the strongest terms.”

The statement also said “this IRBM marks the regime’s longest-range test since late 2017. It also marks a new and troubling record—the nine ballistic missiles launched in January is the largest number of launches the DPRK has conducted in a single month in the history of its WMD and ballistic missile programs.”

“We also welcome the Secretary General’s statement which condemned the DPRK’s IRBM launch as a clear violation of Security Council resolutions. We call on all Council members to speak with one voice in condemning these dangerous and unlawful acts.”

“The cost of the Council’s ongoing silence is too high. It will embolden the DPRK to further defy the international community; to normalize its violations of Security Council resolutions; to further destabilize the region, and to continue to threaten international peace and security. This is an outcome that we should not accept,” the statement added.

“We reiterate our call for the DPRK to cease its destabilizing actions and return to dialogue. We remain committed to seeking serious and sustained diplomacy. The DPRK must make this same commitment in order to ease regional tensions and to ensure international peace and security.”  

“We continue to urge the DPRK to respond positively to the offers from the United States and others to meet without preconditions. We stand ready to engage in dialogue, and we will not waiver in our pursuit of regional peace and stability and the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula consistent with relevant Security Council resolutions”. [IDN-InDepthNews — 10 February 2021]

Photo: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) agreed in April 2021 to continue to work together, in cooperation with Ukrainian authorities, towards safe and cost-effective solutions to decommission the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant and manage radioactive waste in the Exclusion Zone. Photo: M. Klingenboeck/IAEA

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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