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The advent of nuclear weapons was a turning point not only for the American defense policy but it managed to reshape the paradigm of the international security system. Due to its deterrence effects, nuclear weapons became a decisive factor in America’s relations with other states.

Later, when more countries joined the nuclear club during the cold war, it became imperative that nuclear weapons will influence international discourse. However, with the end of the cold war and bipolar system in 1990, the international security order under the USA as a superpower triumphed in uni-polarity international cooperation through multilateral economic and diplomatic forums, shared threat perception, common responsibility, collective security, etc… all the faBy Noreen Iftakhar ncy words. It was advocated to smaller nations that you don’t need to worry about your security.

Extended deterrence and collective security echoed more frequently. The newly established states, after the disintegration of the USSR, were given security assurance. These states were assured that since the major threat (USSR) was removed, so abandon the nuclear weapons that were kept by USSR at places that later became independent states. Three states that inherited Soviet nuclear weapons included Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. These states gave up their nuclear weapons on the condition of security guarantee and economic assistance.
Three factors played a significant role in these states’ decision to abandon nuclear weapons capability: considerable financial compensation, security guarantees from other nuclear states, and the need to establish political ties with the West. All this resulted in the Budapest Memorandums on Security Assurance signed in 1994, under which Ukraine abandoned its nuclear weapons by joining the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state. In return USA, the UK, and Russia are committed to respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Three states also pledged to refrain from the use or threat of military force against Ukraine.

This led to a new debate in security studies that if given a security guarantee, the state can relinquish its nuclear weapons capability, or once the threat has disappeared state should disarm. But events occurring in Ukraine, first as the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and now the Russian attempt on the Ukrainian mainland, revived the realist paradigm which believes that the system or structure is anarchic and is based on self-help. It cannot be concluded that once the threat has vanished, the state should disarm.

In the contemporary international security system, states are operating in a system characterized by anarchy, competition, and uncertainty where states lack mutual trust and to ensure their survival, the state has to follow the principle of self-help. Thus the state is the only referent object whose security needs protection and other objects or non-traditional security threats emanate from within states located in some specified territory. A wave of globalization can be seen worldwide but also the trends of nationalism are obvious too. In such a world where the security of nuclear weapons states is interlinked and interconnected, can nuclear states disarm unilaterally? Nuclear disarmament is primarily meant to eliminate nuclear weapons yet not to curb the reasons which led to their development.

In the realist world, until trust deficit and security dilemma exist between the states, they will try to maximize their power with nuclear weapons. Furthermore, until regional rivalries and conflicts amongst regional and global powers remain, the goal of nuclear disarmament continues to be unachievable. The recent Ukraine crisis will have a long-lasting impact on the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. It might give a jerk to the ‘noble cause’ of the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and the overall disarmament debate. Had Ukraine been equipped with nuclear weapons capability, the situation would have been different and the country would have a better bargaining position.

Three major takeaways of this crisis are: vulnerable states may regret surrendering nuclear weapons; the efficacy of extended deterrence will continue to be doubted; and more countries will see nuclear arms as their guarantee of security. Thus, it is safe to assume the Ukraine crisis is an indicator of the prospective value of nuclear weapons. In addition, this crisis has also weakened the disarmament plea. It has reinforced the realist paradigm that in the contemporary international security environment, states are operating in a system characterized by anarchy, competition and uncertainty where states lack mutual trust and the ultimate driving force is survival.

Writer is Senior Research Fellow at Islamabad based think –tank SVI.

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