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While Europe and America focus on how to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine, the long-term implications of this debacle will need to be examined through the transatlantic prism. We will have to assess its impact on our global efforts.
The West has for a long time lived in a dream world, one that never actually existed. If Ukraine is permanently occupied, god forbid secedes under the guardianship of Russia, our credibility will incur huge damage. Unfortunately the damage is not going to be limited to Ukraine.
In 1994, the United States and the UK, together with the Russian Federation, signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances to Ukraine. It was the most important element in the difficult process leading to the Ukrainians giving up their nuclear weapons.
They did this with the strong belief that if their sovereignty was ever tested, if they ever needed to invoke the help, there will be guarantees that the West will indeed come to its assistance. They trusted us.
In the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we can clearly state that the Budapest Memorandum was worth nothing in the face of overt aggression. Ukraine gave up its nuclear arms and with this left the exclusive club of nuclear states. It gave up its ability to deter an aggression by being a nuclear power. It gave up its international status. And indeed, the world, including us, has not taken Ukraine as seriously since. Were it still nuclear, we would behave differently.
What does this mean for countries with Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programmes? Well let's look first at Syria, a country which has been embroiled in Maidan-style turmoil for the past three years.
Why is Assad holding off handing over his chemical weapons? The much-lauded deal inked in September 2013 by Russia and the US with President Assad of Syria, which called for the destruction of the country's chemical weapons arsenal, has been a failure so far. Syria has been missing deadlines and dragging its feet to provide the chemical weapons. Syria is not ready to abandon its WMD programme, including Assad's covert Biological Weapons programme.
Because of national security implications and a strong will to remain military independent, Assad is not willing to just give in to external pressure to please the international community. Once his WMD are gone, he is unlikely to be taken seriously. He is looking into the mirror and seeing Gaddafi's Lybia.
Gaddafi was a dictator, who gave up his WMDs; he was considerably weakened and then he was gone. Which is a good thing, except in the process we developed a pattern, which will make it difficult in the future to get other leaders like him to make deals.
How will the West's inability to make good on its promise to secure Ukraine's territorial integrity influence the Iran talks? The P5+1 interim six-month agreement with Iran, which came into effect on 20 January 2014, is at best a sham, even though it has been described by the US and the EU at that time as a victory for peace and a major breakthrough in curbing Iran's nuclear menace.
Let's assume for a moment that Iran agreed, in good faith, to dismantle its nuclear programme –something very unlikely in light of Tehran's past history of deceit. What kind of guarantees will the Iranians get that they will still be taken as seriously as a regional power?
The Ukrainian precedent will actually give a boost to countries that are thinking of going nuclear because they will come to the conclusion that possessing such weapons is the key to their international status.
Ukraine today surely has second thoughts about having given up its nuclear status. The problem is that others in the world will draw similar conclusions. This is very bad news indeed.
Olivier Guitta is the Director of Research at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank. Andras Simonyi, former Hungarian Ambassador to the US and NATO, is currently the Managing Director at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at John Hopkins University.