President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych addressed the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, proposing, among his other initiatives, to convene a conference on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation with a view to adopting a legally binding international document, which should include security guarantees for nations that abandoned their nuclear arsenals and non-aligned nations. The Day asked a security expert, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former US Ambassador to Ukraine Steven PIFER to comment on the initiative.
“Given its decision in the early 1990s to give up what was then the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal (after those of the United States and Russia), Ukraine has special moral weight in the area of nuclear disarmament. The example it set helped create positive conditions for the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, which resulted in that treaty’s indefinite extension.
“As a result of Ukraine’s accession to the NPT, it received in the Budapest memorandum security assurances from the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom. France and China separately extended parallel security assurances.
“Countries that have foresworn nuclear arms should receive negative security assurances from nuclear weapons states. In 2010, the Obama administration modified its negatives security assurances, pledging not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapons state that is a member of the NPT and in good standing with its obligations – even if that state attacked the United States with chemical or biological weapons.
“This is a US policy declaration, not a legally-binding commitment. Other nuclear weapons states have different policies with regard to negative security assurances. The challenge for the proposal that President Yanukovych made at the UN General Assembly for a legally-binding international document is that it would be very difficult for the nuclear weapons states – the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China, let alone others such as India and Pakistan – to come to agreement on a single set of negative security assurances and to agree to reflect those in a legally-binding treaty. I would not be optimistic about the prospects for success in that endeavor.
“The odd thing I noted in Mr. Yanukovych’s speech was that, although he addressed Syria and chemical weapons, he did not repeat the offer that he made last Friday [on September 20. – Ed.] in Yalta of a Ukrainian contribution to eliminating Syrian chemical weapons. Implementing a plan to eliminate the chemical weapons stocks in Syria will be hugely difficult, and there are reasons for skepticism about whether Syria is really prepared to go through with it. But if that plan moves forward, Ukraine could make a useful contribution.”