Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No Nuke Republics the Ukraine and Kazakhstan Are the Most Likely to Want to Hold onto Nuclear Weapons, but Pressures from the West Can Deter Them

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No Nuke Republics the Ukraine and Kazakhstan Are the Most Likely to Want to Hold onto Nuclear Weapons, but Pressures from the West Can Deter Them

Article excerpt

SUDDENLY, the breakup of the Soviet Union has handed the Bush administration a real chance to get serious about preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

The USSR's collapse could lead to the birth of new nuclear-armed states, most likely the Ukraine and Kazakhstan. If these nations go nuclear, ethnic tensions and political instability will be dangerously exacerbated. More broadly, global efforts to halt nuclear proliferation would be undercut.

This alarming prospect need not come to pass. A concerted Western effort to stop this potential proliferation could ease the gravest international issue arising from Soviet disintegration. At the same time, a tough Western stand would deter would-be proliferators elsewhere.

Regrettably, George Bush's recent speech on nuclear arms missed an opportunity to warn the republics directly on nuclear weapons. Moreover, it is no longer clear that Mikhail Gorbachev will have the authority to make good on his pledge to scrap or withdraw the tactical nuclear weapons in the republics.

At the moment, it is unclear whether the Ukraine and Kazakhstan ultimately will claim the sizable portions of the USSR's atomic arsenal stationed on their territories. For now, the 27,000-warhead Soviet stockpile remains under central control, where it is subject to elaborate safeguards against unauthorized launch, theft, or misuse.

Yet politicians in both the Ukraine and Kazakhstan are sending mixed signals about their nuclear intentions. Even if such proliferation seems unlikely, the mere possibility calls for the West to establish firm opposition now.

Ukrainian leader Leonid Kravchuk has reportedly assured President Bush that he wants a Ukraine free of nuclear weapons once it has gained full independence. But that hopeful statement cannot be accepted at face value.

Mr. Kravchuk himself, an opportunistic ex-communist who made a late conversion to the nationalist cause, has given vague and somewhat contradictory responses when quizzed about the Ukraine's nuclear intentions.

Last year the Ukrainian parliament passed a nuclear-free declaration, and initially after the coup Kiev indicated that the weapons should be removed, presumably to Russia. However, Rukh, the Ukrainian nationalist movement that may dominate politics after coming elections, has objected. Some Rukh officials feel that the Ukraine would be comparatively weakened if the weapons are moved to Russia, a historical rival.

Ukrainians were understandably worried by a warning from Boris Yeltsin's Russian government that breakaway republics could not assume that current borders with Russia would remain unchanged. The Ukrainians now believe that nuclear weapons on their soil will be useful bargaining chips in independence talks with Russia and the central government. …

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