The Budapest Memorandum’s red lines were redrawn at Ukraine’s expense. Don’t think it can’t happen to Israel too.
By Pesach Benson, United With Israel
The roots of Ukraine’s problems today can be traced back to 6,000 nuclear warheads left on Ukrainian territory when the Soviet Union dissolved and to the subsequent international agreement overseeing their destruction.
The U.S., fearing that the weapons would fall into the wrong hands, wanted the warheads destroyed and Ukraine to join the international Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It wasn’t a difficult decision for Ukraine to give them up. The warheads weren’t operational without Russian codes and it would have taken at least a year, possibly two, for the Ukrainians to reconfigure them. Success was by no means certain, and they would have faced international pressure as well as heavy Russian backlash.
So Ukraine agreed to denuclearize in exchange for Russia’s recognition and security guarantees from the U.S. and Britain. The agreement of December 1994 is referred to as the Budapest Memorandum.
Ukraine’s road to hell was indeed paved with good intentions.
The Western security guarantees didn’t carry the weight of full NATO membership. But the agreement committed Russia and the West to respect Ukrainian sovereignty in its existing borders and refrain from the use of military force or economic pressure against Ukraine, among other assurances.
And so warheads were destroyed or transported back to Russia, while missile silos on Ukrainian soil were demolished. The former Soviet republic is indeed denuclearized and a recognized member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Unfortunately, the Budapest Memorandum and the West’s assurances didn’t stop Russia from seizing Crimea in 2014, meddling in Ukraine’s Donbas region, recognizing the independence of breakaway Ukrainian republics of Donetsk and Luhansk or — as feared — invading Ukraine.
The Ukrainian situation carries one key lesson for Israel.
Never, but never outsource national security to international guarantees, no matter how well-meaning or ironclad they may seem.
International guarantees to keep the Sinai de-militarized and the Straits of Tiran open to Israeli shipping didn’t mean a thing in 1967. Egypt kicked international peacekeepers out of the peninsula and amassed soldiers near the border.
Closing the straits to Israeli shipping was an act of war, while radio broadcasts from Cairo made graphic promises to wipe Israel off the map.
While international diplomacy dithered, Israelis dug mass graves, expecting 10,000 dead.
Israel was saved by the miraculous destruction of the Egyptian Air Force in three hours.
The West’s aversion to conflict doesn’t bode well for the Iranian nuclear agreement, its enforcement, or any guarantees the world powers may offer Israel.
The players, the circumstances and the national interests are always subject to change.
The Bush and Clinton administrations never made explicit military commitments to Ukraine because they didn’t believe the Senate would ratify such an agreement. The U.S. position is that the Budapest Memorandum is not a legally binding document, though Kyiv begs to differ.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Ukraine is not a country, does not deserve to exist, and that Moscow is no longer bound by the Budapest Memorandum.
The Budapest Memorandum’s red lines were redrawn and dissolved at Ukraine’s expense. Don’t think it can’t happen to Israel.
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