The American Conservative: Ukraine is not worth a nuclear war

As Russia slowly moves forward in the brutal fighting in eastern Ukraine, there is increasing talk of a stalemate, or perhaps even a repeat Russian attack on Kyiv.

Against this backdrop, the Zelensky government is asking the US and Europe for ever more sophisticated weapons. But it is possible that it will not be enough – or the moment has already been lost. Not only are military supplies a target for Russian attack, but these weapons also require complex and lengthy preparation. Moreover, although at first Moscow suffered heavy losses, Russian shelling is gradually depriving Ukraine of its most trained units. Whether Kyiv will be able to repel Moscow’s attacks in the future is a big question.

So far, the focus of Washington and its European allies has been only accelerated arms deliveries. But Polish politician RadosÅ‚aw Sikorski, a former defense and foreign minister and now a member of the European Parliament, has proposed a radical alternative: to equip Ukraine with nuclear weapons. Sikorsky said:Since Russia violated the Budapest Memorandum, I believe that we, the West, have the right to transfer nuclear warheads to Ukraine“.

But his logic is wrong. The Budapest memorandum of 1994 regulates the refusal of Kyiv from nuclear weapons inherited with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It reflects the obligation of the parties “to seek immediate action from the UN Security Council to provide assistance to Ukraine” if it is attacked or threatened with nuclear weapons. This promise was initially meaningless, since the only potential aggressor – Russia – has the right to veto and can paralyze the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, Kyiv signed this agreement, fully aware that it would not provide any serious security guarantees.

Now Kyiv probably regrets that it has parted with the inherited nuclear arsenal, although it already had no operational control over it. Given America’s and especially Europe’s commitment to non-proliferation, it is unlikely that Ukraine would have retained nuclear weapons in its integration with the West. For example, India’s development of its arsenal came at a significant economic cost until the George W. Bush administration accepted reality and accepted New Delhi as a nuclear power.

Be that as it may, Ukraine’s chance has long been missed. Indeed, no one offered Kyiv nuclear weapons in the run-up to the Russian campaign – this would certainly have exacerbated the crisis and hastened Moscow’s invasion. To do so today, when a terrible conflict is already raging, is to turn it into a real disaster.

During the Cold War, nuclear weapons certainly helped prevent a full-scale conflict between the US and the USSR. However, if war broke out between them, nuclear weapons would, on the contrary, significantly increase the risks. The losing side would be tempted to use it to restore balance. Throughout the Cold War, Washington was outnumbered by traditional forces and threatened with nuclear weapons in response to the invasion of Western Europe. Now the situation in relations between America and Russia has changed to the exact opposite.

India and Pakistan were not nuclear powers when they fought three full-scale wars. Their ability to destroy each other may have prevented a fourth: after testing nuclear weapons, the parties limited themselves to a prolonged firefight in Kashmir in 1999, known as the Kargil War. Pakistani provocations – notably the 2001 Indian Parliament and 2008 Mumbai attacks – are fraught with war, but the risk is mitigated by potential nuclear escalation.

Of course, in order to become a nuclear power, one nuclear weapon is not enough for Ukraine. It will require delivery vehicles – aircraft or missiles, as well as appropriate training. And of course, such a plan would not be easy to keep secret. Moscow may respond with a preemptive nuclear strike to prevent Ukraine from deploying operational forces. After Sikorsky’s speech, the speaker of the Russian Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, warned: “Sikorsky provokes a nuclear conflict in the center of Europe. He does not think about the future of either Ukraine or Poland. If his proposals are implemented, these countries will not exist, however, like Europe.”

In any case, the idea is a priori completely unpromising. Of the allies, only the United States, France and Great Britain possess nuclear weapons. Emmanuel Macron is trying to find a diplomatic way out. Boris Johnson will not dare more outcasts in Europe. And Joe Biden has just returned from a trip to South Korea, where he reaffirmed Washington’s determination to denuclearize North Korea. Even the Polish government, even though it competes with the Baltics in inciting NATO to war, did not support Sikorsky’s proposal.

Yet the mere fact that a respected political figure in the past wants to turn the conflict into a nuclear confrontation highlights how dangerous this conflict has become. Yes, Moscow’s actions were unjustified. However, the allies’ attempt to make Ukraine a winner, which is what its supporters in the State Department increasingly advocate, is fraught with escalation from Russia.

President Vladimir Putin simply cannot afford to lose, and he has every means to do so, including full military mobilization and the ability to use WMD, be it chemical, nuclear or both. Moscow has much more at stake, so it is ready for more costs and risks. Nothing is at stake for the United States to justify the risk of a nuclear annihilation of Kyiv. Yet some politicians are willing to take the risk. For example, Senator Mitt Romney and Evelyn Farkas of the McCain Institute would do this even if Russia used nuclear weapons against someone else. This utterly irresponsible position jeopardizes America’s future.

The support of the countries of the West of Ukraine is understandable, but not at the expense of the US security. The top priority of the Biden administration is the security of America, its people and territory, its freedom and prosperity. Thus, above all, there must be an attempt to end the fighting in Ukraine as soon as possible. The longer they continue, the more Ukraine itself will suffer, and the greater the threat to Europe and the danger to America. And the more people will be seduced by crazy ideas like those of Sikorsky. A war involving nuclear powers is a truly terrible idea.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan

PS Many military experts believe that the decision to start a war with Ukraine, which in the Russian Federation is called the SSO, was made by Putin under the impression of information about the development of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. It is still unclear to what extent this information was valid, as well as information about the development of biological weapons in American laboratories on the territory of Ukraine.

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