Arms Control: It's Ukraine, Stupid!

SPURGEON M. KEENY JR.

September 29, 1993|By SPURGEON M. KEENY JR.

More than two years after its original signing, START I remains in limbo, hostage to Ukraine's failure to ratify the treaty and adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.Ukraine's blockage of START I has in turn prevented the ratification and implementation of START II, signed nine months ago by former U.S. President George Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Today, these two critical treaties appear further from realization than when they were signed.

Failure to resolve this issue before the NPT Conference in April of 1995 would be by far the most serious threat to the U.S. goal of an indefinite extension of the NPT.

The Ukrainian position, which has hardened over the past year, unambiguously violates Ukraine's commitment to the United States and Russia. The Lisbon Protocol, signed in May 1992, converted the bilateral U.S.-Soviet START I treaty to a five-nation agreement, making Ukraine a party to the treaty and also requiring it to adhere to the NPT ''in the shortest possible time'' as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Moreover, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk gave President Bush a legally binding written commitment that all nuclear weapons would be removed from Ukraine within seven years of START I's coming into force. While the former Soviet states of Belarus and Kazakhstan have ratified START I, increasingly strident voices in the Ukrainian Rada, or parliament, have called for its repudiation. The Rada has now overwhelmingly adopted legislation claiming sole ownership of all nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory.

Mr. Kravchuk, who was previously ambivalent, has supported the Rada's position and asserted in violation of his own commitment to President Bush that Ukraine could retain all 46 of the 10-warhead SS-24 ICBMs on Ukrainian territory.

It is difficult to postulate any development that will have a more negative impact on the indefinite extension of the NPT than failure to persuade Ukraine to honor its commitments to adhere to the NPT and ratify START I.

In building the final consensus on indefinite extension of the treaty, the two defining issues will be how well the NPT has worked and how well the nuclear-weapon states have honored their commitment to reduce nuclear arms under Article VI of the treaty.

If Ukraine is seen as successfully maneuvering to become the third-largest nuclear-weapon state, with some 1,700 strategic nuclear weapons, the underlying credibility of the treaty will be called into question and other countries will be forced to reassess their long-term security interests.

If by then START I and II have not entered into force, the argument that the United States and Russia have indeed honored Article VI will be devastated because no formal constraints on strategic nuclear offensive arms would exist. Many countries might then opt for only a short extension of the treaty pending further developments. But by the same logic, Ukraine's ratification of START I and adherence to the NPT would be seen as a powerful reaffirmation of the vitality of the NPT, justifying its indefinite extension. That is the outcome the United States and Russian must now work toward achieving.

The writer is president of the Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C., and a former deputy director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

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