May 10, 2016

Nuclear-Armed Ukraine: Conclusions from Israel's Experience

The Independent Analytical Center for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel” affords ground to the analysts generation for expressing their point of view regarding the political, economic, security, information situation in Ukraine and in the world in general, according to their personal geopolitical studies and analyses.


Note that an authors’ point of view
can disagree with the editor’s one

Author — K. Teslenko, Analyst-Trainee at Free Voice IAC


In a situation where a military powerful country is hostile to the other — namely, its behavior and actions are dangerous for the residents of the other country, the first thing that comes to mind is that to be safe it is necessary to have nuclear weapons.

Based on the theory of international relations, we can conclude that nuclear weapons are created for a specific purpose, namely to intimidate or deter; to ensure safety; as a means by which to prevent war. Apart from this, countries create atomic weapons, when their military partners are not able to guarantee their safety, or when the country is trying to increase its influence in the international arena. But most researchers concerned with the question of nuclear proliferation, are inclined to believe that the threat to the security of the country or, in other words, an existential danger is the main impetus for the creation of a nuclear arsenal.

Ukraine as a state, directly having got confronted with the security problem and having not received the necessary support from the partners, in this situation can consider restoration of its nuclear potential. But then, how to proceed, or to create “from scratch” nuclear weapons and not to fall into the situation, in which Iran found itself, working on the program for a nuclear bomb, and because of it became subject to international punitive sanctions, inspections and the possible threat of military force to be used against it?! Or Libya, which gave up nuclear weapons for several reasons — or rather, because of the fear to get onto the USA's list of sanctions.

History knows only one country that has managed to create (it is not known for sure, but it is possible), one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world. Moreover, it was supported in its creation by the USA and Europe and has not got under the well-known sanctions, having it (its nuclear arsenal — transl.) for decades, having not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. And this country is Israel.

One can't help trying to draw a parallel between Ukraine and Israel. Both the countries have experienced an existential threat, conduct regular military actions, exist in a hostile environment. But could Ukraine move along Israel's path?

First of all, the basis for the decision on creation of nuclear weapons in Israel is a political decision made by the country's political leaders. Many scientists often underestimate the role of a leader as such, but it is on the Israeli example that we see how a personal vision, perception and life experience may influence the adoption of a decision. Circumstances such as compulsory military service, direct participation in combat actions and military operations, as well as the factor of the Holocaust have led to the fact that the level of patriotism, national identity and a strong sense of justice are the most important for them. Safety is also a key issue in the political, economic, or military decisions. Ben Gurion's words voiced in 1955, at dawn of Israel's nuclear history, confirm this thesis: “... In our case, the issue of security plays a more important role than in other countries..., for us security means fighting at sea and in the air... for us, security is economic independence, for us security is the leading research and development in the sphere of science”.

However, to build a nuclear weapon, desire and finance are not enough, materials are needed, of which they were short. Of those countries, who at one time or another assisted Israel, France and the United States should be mentioned. And the first of these two countries was France. Israel and France have a mutual interest in cooperation in this sphere. It was the bilateral collaboration in exchanging nuclear technologies, aerospace electronic equipment and jet rockets. Each of these countries sought to withdraw its nuclear technology to a new level. But the main reason for France's support to Israel was the then threat of revolution in Algeria. As you know, Egypt sympathized with the Algerian rebels, so under such circumstances a nuclear Israel could act as a kind of force deterring Egypt.

It's no secret that the USA is the world's arbiter in the matter of spread or containment of nuclear weapons. Despite the fact that the United States initially refused to help Israel in the issue of creating a nuclear arsenal, later the USA put a blind eye to it, and even helped Israel in this matter. There are several reasons why Israel has enlisted the support of the United States. Israel and the United States are countries professing Western values ​​and principles. Therefore, to have the Middle East's pro-Western alliance with a country that also has nuclear weapons is very beneficial for the United States. For example, once it was Israel that acted as the main force opposing Egypt, actively supported by the Soviet Union. Moreover, the USA is benefits from Israel's being militarily powerful: it is a guarantee of security of oil supplies. Also, Israel will fulfill the USA's role in the region in the USA's actual absence in the Middle East.

Therefore, from the above-said we can derive a formula for success in developing nuclear weapons. First of all, to look like a reliable partner, it is necessary to have a political will, a strong economy, to actively work on the latest technologies and to profess Western principles. And most importantly — the country's desire to be a “happy owner” of the nuclear arsenal is not enough. Its partners must also be interested in this.

As for Ukraine, today we do not have any part of this “formula”. In the eyes of the West Ukraine is not a reliable partner, worth being sponsored to renew its nuclear potential. We cannot do without the help of partners, because Ukraine has neither industry for the enrichment of uranium, nor reactors to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Ukrainian leaders are not the persons interested in the security guarantees for Ukraine at the highest level.

The Russia factor also must be borne in mind. Ukraine's slightest attempt to resume nuclear arsenal would lead to an escalation of the conflict in the relations between Russia and Ukraine, Russia and the West. Not a single European country is interested in dealing with this problem.

It is unlikely that Ukraine would be supported by the United States. The idea concerning the limitations of the world's nuclear weapons, is based exactly on the example of Ukraine — the state, one of the first to give up its nuclear arsenal. And if the USA violates its own principles, then how in the future will it be able to promote and to some extent, to impose the idea of ​​disarmament and reduction of nuclear weapons? All that Ukraine would finally get, would be international isolation, because no one is interested in a nuclear state with an unstable political regime and a military conflict on the part of its territory.

But the most important thing which Ukrainians should do, is to remember the famous cases in history where the aggressor attacked the countries which already had nuclear weapons. For example, Argentina's attempt to capture the British Falkland Islands, or Arab states' multiple attacks against Israel or Pakistan's attempt to seize Indian Kargil in Kashmir.

That is, the existence of nuclear weapons is absolutely no guarantee for any country that it won't be attacked; or that such weapons would save Ukraine from Putin's Russia's aggression.

The poor management of the country, lack of effective reforms, inability and unwillingness to deal with corruption, nepotism and factionalism, as well as the weak economic situation constitute a much greater threat to Ukraine's security than the absence of its nuclear arsenal.