By Gunnar Westberg
”Ukraine is going to make nuclear weapons. You’ll see. There is strong support in the parliament. All the intercontinental missiles in the Soviet Union were made in Ukraine, and there are at least 25 of them left. And we have uranium. And we have the know-how. Just wait, you’ll see!”
So said an officer in the Ukrainian army whom I met about a month ago. This prediction, that Ukraine is going to make nukes, can also be found in some Western news media.
Fortunately, this is not going to happen.
There is no uranium of weapons grade in the country. To produce a sufficient amount of high grade uranium thousands of centrifuges for enrichment are needed. Only Pakistan could sell them, as was done to Iran, but both the USA and Russia will stop this trade. Ukraine could conceivably make these centrifuges itself, but it cannot be done in secret and production would take many years. Neither Russia nor the United States would ever allow this.
When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1990 Ukraine had 1900 inter-continental missiles and 2500 ”substrategic nuclear weapons”. For a few years Ukraine held the third biggest nuclear arsenal in the world.
In the Budapest treaty of 1994 Ukraine pledged to leave all its nukes to Russia, and in return was given a guarantee that its territory should not be infringed upon. The weapons were transported out or destroyed in a rare cooperation between Russia and the USA. Washington also paid more that half a billion dollars to Ukraine in compensation. The last nukes left Ukrainian terrotory in 1996. Some weapons grade uranium, about 90 kg, was left behind but transported to Russia as late as in 2012.
What if Ukraine had kept its nuclear weapons?
If nuclear weapons had remained in Ukraine this would not have stopped Russia from taking over Crimea. Russia has some very important naval bases there. The province has a population of which a majority desired reunification with Russia. Ukraine would not have used nukes against Russia in order to defend its possession of Crimea.
In the situation today when separatists and Russian soldiers fight against the government forces in eastern Ukraine, nuclear weapons would have been useless. Where could they be used? And what would the Russian response be?
Conclusion 1: Nuclear weapons are militarily useless.
But if Ukraine had possessed nuclear weapons, would NATO then have invited the country as member or into some kind of association as is discussed today? Probably not. The provocation against Russia would have been too strong.
But: If there had been nuclear weapons in Ukraine, how would we feel today, remembering that a civilian passenger plane has been shot down by some idiot operating from Ukrainian territory, with access to advanced missiles? Would this idiot also have access to missiles carrying nuclear charges?
Conclusion 2: Nuclear weapons are too dangerous to be allowed to exist. Anywhere.