A Lesson from the Ukraine

5 Mar

… Or keep your powder dry.

Londo Mollari: Mass drivers? They have been outlawed by every civilized planet!

Lord Refa: These are uncivilized times.

Londo Mollari: We have treaties!

Lord Refa: Ink on a page!

-Babylon 5: The Long, Twilight Struggle

There are quite a few interesting points about the whole affair in the Ukraine, but one point that we should pay close attention to is the existence of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. To sum up a long story, the post-USSR Ukraine gave up its stockpile of nuclear weapons (the third-largest in the world at the time) in exchange for a guarantee that their borders would be respected. Russia was one of those signatories, along with the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

So Ukraine gave up its nukes.

And what is happening now? Ukraine is being victimized by Russia. And no one is doing anything effective to help.

There are plenty of justifications for Putin’s actions, some valid and some not so valid, but the crucial point is that the Ukraine, alone, is no match for Russia. Russia outnumbers them, has a vast fifth column and the chances of anyone actually doing more than verbally protesting are pretty much nil. And, without nukes, there’s no way the Ukraine can even the odds.  In short, Putin can bully them safely.

In other words, the Ukraine gave up the ultimate guarantee of their independence in exchange for worthless ink on paper.

This is a serious point. Nukes have their limitations, a nuclear power can be defeated, but a nuclear power can never be crushed. If the Russians were to threaten to invade France, for example, the French can threaten a nuclear exchange that will cripple Russia, even if they win the war. The French can be curtailed, but they cannot lose completely. And, to some extent, the same can be said of just about every other major nuclear power. The existence of nuclear weapons automatically puts limits on war.

The world changes. Maybe Russia intended to keep its word in 1994, when the Budapest Memorandum was signed. Maybe Britain and America actually intended to assist the Ukraine if Russia got stroppy. But the world changed; right now, help is unlikely to be forthcoming and the Ukraine has no nukes. They will lose if it comes down to a serious fight.

This is why we need to keep nukes. As long as we have them, we can lose battles, but we can never be truly defeated.  And that alone makes keeping them worthwhile.

22 Responses to “A Lesson from the Ukraine”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard March 5, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

    The people who are against nuclear weapons also believe “violence never solves anything”. [Frown]

    Treaties are followed only when nations believe the cost of “breaking” them is worse than the befit of “breaking” them.

    Putin apparently believes that Russia will gain more by breaking the treaty than it will cost Russia and apparently he’s correct.

    So it appears that violence (and the threat of violence) is working for Russia.

    Will Europe be willing to counter Russia?

    Even if Obama was willing to take strong action, there’s a strong case that there’s little the US could do without Europe’s support.

  2. G Cheal March 5, 2014 at 10:28 pm #

    The thing is, Russia will get away with it. Ooh! Scary trade sanction threats! Maybe their action will unify Ukraine. The media comparison to Georgia is silly, and maybe they should take part of Ukraine. Germany is taking the eu and all over the world countries take others land etc. China and Taiwan will be next or Argentina and Falklands Maybe Britain should be great again.

  3. t March 6, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    Exactly correct, Chris…just goes to prove that one must be strong to keep the wolves from devouring you…whether it’s personal or national…

  4. Caleb Wachter March 7, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    Nicely said, Chris. We never can decide which we like better, your stories or your historical perspective.

    Congratulations on Ark Royal! I’m beyond jealous 😉

  5. thelyniezian March 7, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    This is an interesting justification, but at the same time what if it is part of the reason no-one dares touch North Korea? (Granted their arsenal and launch capability is so small and poor it’s probably insignificant by itself, but then again, if any offensive is backed up by the Chinese…?)

    My point is this- if there are evil regimes in the world that manage to possess nuclear weapons, can they not justify themselves possessing them on the strength that their enemies also possess them? And if we are to convince them not to pursue their nuclear ambitions, does our failure to disarm not make us hypocrites?

    What I do think is that certain major powers, if they are going to continue being the large, powerful nations they are and not further Balkanise or downgrade their military capabilites, need nuclear weapons as a way of preventing them from attacking each other and starting another long and bloody world war. I don’t know how Britain or France fits into this, since we and they are no longer the forces they would have been in the original postwar settlement. The US, Russia and China I can certainly understand. Perhaps even Ukraine, seeing as it needs protection from a much larger and powerful neighbour (I assume in saying so Russia is unjustified in its actions, which I am not too sure of). Britain and France do not have a Russia on their doorsteps.

    • chrishanger March 7, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

      Theres something of a difference between a responsible country (which even the USSR was) and one that cannot be trusted to abide by any form of international convention. Iran, for example, stepped well over the line when it attacked the American Embassy; I imagine that North Korea would do the same if it had the opportunity. That said, I suspect the Chinese eye the North Koreans with as much worry as we do, as they might well drag China into an unwanted and unwinnable war.

      A country ruled by a mad dictator or a group of fanatics simply cannot be trusted. Maybe this makes us hypocrites, but Id feel safer if there was no prospect of Iran getting nukes.

      Human history tells us one vital lesson; weakness invites attack. Would Stalin have attacked Finland if the Finns had nukes? Would Hitler have attacked Poland if the Poles had nukes? Nor is there any real guarantee that we wont wake up to discover that France has suddenly started to threaten British interests again, as absurd as that seems right now. The world changes as Ukraine is finding out right now.


      Date: Fri, 7 Mar 2014 13:45:51 +0000 To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com

      • thelyniezian March 10, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

        It is doubtful how much our so-called “responsible” countries really are, or how much hey are prepared to abide by international convention. As I recall the Iraq war was little less than a regime change on a highly questionable basis without a clear UN mandate (several conventions violated already it seems) with no clear exit plan and a country which is left unstable to this day. Iran… attacked an embassy. Yes, it supports militant/insurgent groups- so has the West. So has Saudi Arabia, who are our “allies”. But who has it outright invaded?

        And of course our main topic- Russia, who has de facto invaded Crimea. Not exactly “responsible” either, but they are an accepted member of the nuclear club.

        Mad dictators and fanatics these regimes might appear, but they are not that stupid. Nuclear capability is most likely a way of securing their own power, since with it other nations are less likely to step in and interfere militarily. If Kim Jong Un decided to launch an actual nuclear weapon, it would almost certainly be suicidal and probably used only in the act of desperation. Iran? Well, I guess it would just mean MAD with Israel, already with a significant enough nuclear stockpile? That is, assuming they are in fact developing actual weapons.

        “Weakness invites attack”- if there is a reason for the attacker so to do. You are assuming in your final paragraph that France might suddenly start “threatening British interests”- never mind what does that actually mean- yet we have been allies for at least a century. Granted if the antagonism towards the EU means we end up leaving, that might put our interests and theirs at odds, but how likely is that to happen? Making defence decisions on the basis of wild might-bes of the unforeseeable future seems less wise than making them on the basis of what is present or foreseeable, especially when the money spent replacing Trident would probably be better spent actually improving the lives of ordinary citizens in the UK in the here and now, rather than expecting vital public services to be cut. (Sir Humphrey Appleby in “Yes, Prime Minister” justified the nuclear deterrent based on the threat of France, and it was meant to be laughed at as ridiculous.) In the meantime, we do not have large, powerful neighbours at our door as Ukraine does with Russia, as Finland did with the USSR, etc.

        And assuming that otherwise weaker countries having nuclear weapons to defend themselves against potential attackers: does this mean that every country that is not a questionable regime which might pose a threat entitled to nuclear weapons now? Under current international law, it does not. Yet the existing members of the nuclear club are still allowed to possess them. Maybe this, then, is the true hypocrisy?

        Ultimately, yes, treaties are little more than “ink on a page”. But every nation seems to be quicker to violate them than we might let on.

    • The Deposed King March 9, 2014 at 10:55 am #

      I would like to make a few points.

      In response to the hypocrit question I would respond with a question of my own. Do we believe in anything?

      For instance… democracy or freedom. Because if we believe in nothing more than ‘humanity’ or ‘gaia universe’ or ‘nuke free world’ then all flavors under the sun are acceptable and we are hypocrits.

      If believe in nothing, no great ideology of freedom, or democracy or un-coerced citizen participation, nothing but humanity itself and its right to exist. Then we would definitely be hypoctits.

      It is hypocritical to want others to do what we do not.

      On the other hand if we believe in something. Be it the right of a man(or women) to have a right to have a say in his government, without resorting to a gun or Maiaden type event each and every time there’s a dispute, or if we believe in democracy or freedom, then us not wanting dictators or tyrants or unstable regimes that are as much a risk to themselves as they are to their citizens and neighbors, then this is not hypocritical. It is a principled stand.

      Yes it involves a value judgement. Meaning you must have values and there must actually be things worth fighting and dying for, etc. If you believe in your way of life then you must take a stand against allowing, or encouraging by refusing to speak out against, those who are diametrically opposed to letting you have your way of life, to have the ultimate weapons of mass destruction.

      On the other hand if every flavor under the sun, from direct democracy to Strong-men who rape and pillage their own people or Oligarches who slaughter their own people whenever they speak out against their government, like a rebellious cow that’s threatening to lead the rest of the herd in breaking through the fence. Then it is definitely hypocritical to make a value judgement and say they should not have what we have.

      The Deposed King

      • chrishanger March 9, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

        I like to believe that we believe in personnel freedom, as long as non-consenting others are not harmed. Thats the ethos of the West, IMHO, the freedom to live your life as you please and not to be threatened, harmed or killed just for being a little different. Theres something of a difference between something tasteless or even disgusting practiced by willing participants and something forced on others. Then theres the belief that everyone has a right to a vote, a say in how their society functions.

        The problem is that plenty of people believe that they have a god-given right to dictate to others how to live their lives and get sniffy when you tell them otherwise.

        The problem, of course, with tolerance is how far do you tolerate intolerance?


        Date: Sun, 9 Mar 2014 10:56:00 +0000 To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com

      • thelyniezian March 10, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

        It is all well and good to have a belief in democracy and freedom, and to stand up for that. Unfortunately the tyrants, dictators and their ilk do not, and they are not going away any time soon, nor will our attempts to try and prevent them from having nuclear weapons make them go away. These people are bound to put across that there is nothing wrong with what they are, and what they are doing is likely in response to aggression from outside forces, namely us in the West I suppose. Or perhaps more to the point they may think that having nukes puts them on a par with the major powers, that they have some status to rival us. They are mimicking us. What example are we setting?

        (Also, if we try and prevent what they are doing with sanctions, it would seem that all but the most targeted of sanctions only end up hurting the ordinary people of these nations, which is likely to make them antagonistic towards us in the long run.)

        The thing is, who are the members of the nuclear club, that we all tolerate? They include a one-party authoritarian state which routinely commits human rights abuses (China) and an allegedly democratic, but in practice corrupt and oligarchical state (Russia) which has a questionable record of its own. We can hardly say the UK, US or France are exactly squeaky-clean either, just because we are more open and a certain amount more democratic in practice than they. Be it Gitmo, “extraordinary rendition” and de facto torture of terrorist suspects, to spying on ordinary citizens, to support of regimes we would otherwise condemn in a heartbeat if it suited us (Saudi Arabia comes to mind- how democratic and free are they?), to no doubt supporting coups in various parts of the world which are anti-democratic; and that is not to mention how “democratic” the US or UK actually is in practice. Or whether laicite in France discriminates against some religious minorities in practice. Etc.

        Even ignoring our own record, why are we not coming down on Russia and China in any big way? And why are nations which are just as free and democratic as our own excluded from the nuclear club? Why does it seem we (or our governments) are happy to support questionable regimes when it suits us? Is this not hypocrisy? Is this not an example of how, in actual fact, realpolitik trumps any sense of so-called values we might actually have?

        Lastly, what good is having nuclear weapons? It is only to prevent yourself from being attacked, as any actual use of these weapons would invite serious consequences. Especially so for a smaller nation with more limited capabilities. The only harm that will come from North Korea or Iran having nukes is that we can do less to them, and maybe they might have slightly more leverage. But that is probably all.

      • The Deposed King March 11, 2014 at 4:18 am #

        Okay. In no particular order let me address some of your points.

        What good is having nuclear weapons? As Chris has pointed out and I agree with his point. I seriously doubt that Ukraine would have lost the Crimea if they’d had nukes. Take a look at world history since getting the Bomb. How many countries with Nuclear Bombs have been conquored or lost territory since they got them nukes and how many have that don’t have nukes. Now when I’m talking about territory, I mean an integral part of their country, a part that shares a common border with the rest of the country. Not some far off islands or small patch of land on another continent peopled predominently by the people of that continent. Personally I think that answers the what good is having nukes question.

        Furthermore look at Ukriane and Russia. Until recently, withing a lifetime, they were the same country. The difference is one of population density and some natural recourses (of which Ukraine has a vast amount of the second but far less of the first) and of course military size. Neither Georgia nor Ukraine have nukes and low and behold now both of them have lost provinces or cities and big territory to Russia who does.

        As for why we don’t throw down with Russia and China well I would say that it comes down to their ability to destroy our way of life. The countryside can survive without our cities but I doubt you’ll find a person who will say lets trade our cities for a nuke free world. Because if we try to take away their nukes the only way that’s happening is when they fire them at each and every city we have in our country. No matter how much city-country complains about one another no one wants to see our cities and half our population wiped from the board, other than crazies or loons, which is exactly what would happen if we threw down with either of those two powers.

        Alternately while I think we could take russia if we suddenly appeared in a nuke free world if say angels, devils or alien space bats came down and permanently removed them from our arsenals. I’m very much afraid that China would whipe the floor with our armies. A couple million men against a couple hundred, without nukes, is a recipe for disaster. In the past couple decades we’ve focused on social projects instead of military ones. Now unlike the city, our country side still hasn’t been disarmed, despite the best efforts of some of our leaders, so any invasion of our mainland by china would bog down. But there’s no way we could invade and hold china’s 1 billion population with out what 0.25 million man army?

        Say our tech edge is 5 to 1 superior. We kill 1.25 million and they slaughter our armed forces, invading us with the remaining 0.75 million troops. Our reserves are matched by the 10 million man militia they call up, etc and so on and so forth. They could soak up our army, taking insane losses, only to bury us under numbers. Our hope at this point is that we can keep them from coming across by sea. If we fail, the chickens come home to roost in our local streets as we fight them for every inch. alternately if by some miracle we defeat their army, our armed forces would get swallowed up by theirs if we tried to invade. And if for some reason we didn’t invade, they’d just build back up and come at us again.

        Like Russia’s been doing with Georgia and Ukraine, they set a ten or twenty year plan and send ‘colonists’ to our china towns and after they’ve got a couple million red party loyalists on our soil then its much harder to just squash their invasion.

        Since we don’t have nukes, we can’t just blow away their cities. We can’t just kill a couple million insurgents, and we’re back to Iraq all over again trying to bomb out their infrastructure, only its not just one desert country we’re trying to destroy (note we ran out of first line conventional warheads and were back to using reserves of military surplus stuff that was decades old before we were done with ‘shock and awe’ and infrastructure annihilationi) china is a temperate region and just plain huge. How are we going to get all their factories?

        All things being unequally in our favor except number and nukes and we’re screwed. Cause they’ve got the numbers and without nukes good bye.

        As for our morals and squeaky clean. I agree we’ve done some crappy things. However. We did the vast majority of them to people we picked up on the battlefield that were fighting against us. And frankly any citizen of hte usa holding a weapon and shooting it at our army on a foreign battlefield is a traitor. So I will say that what we do to enemies, traitors and I’ll even concede possibly foriegn citizens, while not nearly as bad as what those same enemies do to their ‘own’ people. Is still bad enough.

        However I am not one of those who says, its morally equivalent. I don’t recall hearing any of our guys ‘raping’ any of our captives. Like our female service women have to watch out for if in enemy hands. I don’t recall any of our enemies losing limbs or fingers or being lined up and executed. So horrible as we are its still not morally equivalent to what the enemy is willing to do. Meaning in my mind that as powerfully as we rage and say we’re better than this or should be, and as hard as we should rightfully fight against bad behavior by our own troops and government interrogators, up to and even death, this is not an excuse to in anyway slow down our battles against an enemy who does worse than we do.

        So as for the example we are setting both on the nuke and non-nuke front, I will say that a piss poor job as we are doing, its it still head and shoulders above the competition and thus tragically, it need and must be emulated.

        Our hypocricy is that our ink on a paper, means we will not do what we promised to do (defend others who give up the bomb). Russia’s hypocricy is that it will do the exact opposite that it promised to do (invade and take from them when their weak). Again tragically, if those are the two options, we need and we must follow our example because the two examples flawed and piss poor as they are, clearly show that ours is head and shoulders above the other one.

        I’m all for cleaning up our house. And if I’m a small country, democratic or not and I look at how well we’ve kept our promises to smaller nations who signed our treaty fo protection in exchange for loss of nuclear deterents, I’m damned well going to build and keep a nuke arsenal of my own. Ink on a paper and loss of my country is buloni. Yet if I’m USA I’m still going to fight tooth and nail to keep extremist dictators who might actually be crazy enough to pull the trigger if they get mad at someone and destroy a couple million people and a city, from getting the bomb. Or if they have it to get them to stop.

        Tragic and sad as it is. We can’t trust insane people or those whose value system includes the destruction of our own, and thus hypocritical or not, we must stop those people from getting nukes, whenever and for as long as we can. We can’t do anything about russia or china because to do so would destroy our country and cause everyone else to build nukes as fast as they can possibly build them.

        The Deposed King

  6. Ian Innes March 7, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    Never judge your enemies by their intentions but by their capabilities.

    Can’t wait for Ark Royal part two! Hint

  7. william barnes March 14, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    I just read Fall of Night and it is a very prophetic novel of what is happening in the Ukraine. The Russians always have a plan. First small bites to see world reaction. Lots of chest thumping and bluster of serious consequences but no teeth in it. They will take back the Ukraine and the rest of the world will again bluster and threaten but will do nothing. So next step in my opinion will be Poland..or one of the Balkan countries..and Since the United States went public with its intent to reduce its armed forces to the levels of 1940,except the Naval part, I am sure Russia sees no serious threat and will continue on its course of bringing back the Soviet Empire. Hopefully I am wrong….

    On another more pleasant note I am a huge fan keep up the good work and looking forward to your new books…

    • David W April 7, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

      Chris asks in “Fall of Night” for feedback on whether a sequel would be desired by his readership. Count me in as a buyer / reader 🙂


  1. A Counterfactual History of Ukraine - Amazing Stories - March 11, 2014

    […] have criticized Ukraine for dismantling its nuclear weapons, including Amazing Stories own Chris Nuttall, and have argued Russia would not have made its play for Crimea with a nuclear armed Ukraine. […]

  2. Some day a new post will come… | republicoflyniezia - March 18, 2014

    […] a rather interesting post Christopher Nutall, a fellow counter-factual.net member of note, wrote (https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/a-lesson-from-the-ukraine/) about how the Ukraine should have kept its nuclear weapons for the day the Big Bad Bear threw out […]

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