The dissolution of the Soviet Unionmarked a tectonic shift in international relations. For the United States, itmeant the end of the Cold War and the precipitous decline of their long-timegeopolitical and ideological rival.
It also meant the risk of a full-blownnuclear confrontation between the two superpowers was drastically reduced. Tomany, these were welcome changes. But the drastic shift in geopolitics broughtwith it an entirely new set of challenges for U.S.
foreign policy leaders.Chief among these was negotiating the consolidation and disarmament of nucleararsenals still possessed by three of the newly independent former-Soviet states- Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine. In the decades before its demise,the Soviet Union amassed an enormous nuclear arsenal: nearly 40,000 nuclearwarheads at its peak.
iThose weapons, once controlled by a single unified state, were now in the handsof four sovereign nations. The lack of unified control meant a heightened riskof proliferation. To best minimize this risk, U.S. foreign policy leaders tooka two-pronged approach. First, existingnuclear weapons had to be consolidated and dismantled. Second, measures had tobe taken so scientists with the knowledge to build new nuclear weapons did not fall under the sway of unprincipledforeign actors.
U.S. foreign policy leaders weretasked with persuading the three former Soviet states to relinquish theirnuclear weapons. The negotiations were shaped by two competing considerations.On the one hand, the nuclear arms represented a valuable bargaining chip forthe three nascent nuclear powers in the fight for limited resources and supportfrom Moscow and the United States. On the other hand, the collapse of theSoviet Union brought with it a severe shortage of medical supplies and food.This desperate need for aid meant that the U.
S. had the upper hand in theensuing negotiations. UnlikeUkraine and Kazakhstan, Belarus was quick to denuclearize. The reason wassimple.
As one Western ambassador to Minsk put it, they denuclearized withoutquestion “because the Russians told them to.”iiBelarusian President Shushkevich did not want to test their fragile politicalposition by defying Russia. Ukraine and Kazakhstan, however, did not followBelarus’s example of speedy and unquestioning cooperation. BothUkraine and Kazakhstan felt their heftier political stature had earned them aseat at the bargaining table with Moscow and the United States. Worried hewould be left out of the negotiations, Kazakh President Nazarbayev attempted todelay the disarmament process by feigning insurmountable logistical problems.In one address he declared that the nuclear warheads could not be removed fromKazakhstan because “moving them to another place is just impossible.”iii But in the end, Kazakhstanyielded.
Like in Belarus, the Kazakh leadership realized the fragility of itsposition, and worried that demanding control over their nuclear arsenal wouldalienate important actors in the international community – like the U.S. – whocould offer critical foreign assistance and investment. Ofthe three new nuclear powers, Ukraine represented the greatest potentialinternational security risk, commanding what was now the third-largest nucleararsenal in the world. Ukraine sensed that international and U.S. interest wasconfined primarily to their nuclear arsenal, and they worried that if theyreturned the weapons they would lose political leverage in the fight forlimited foreign aid.iv To this end, the newUkrainian leadership attempted to delay the removal of their nuclear arsenal.
Once again, however, the United States leveraged its superior negotiatingposition, rendering their ploy unsuccessful. In early April of 1992, Secretaryof State James Baker reminded Ukraine that U.S. aid could be reduced and theplanned Bush-Kravchuk meeting cancelled if Ukraine continued to prolong theconsolidation and disarmament process. Ukraine’s pressing need for foreign aidand their desire to gain legitimacy as a sovereign state proved too great, andin the end, they relinquished their nuclear arms to Moscow.
Onceall three countries had agreed to give up their nuclear arsenals, the work ofdisarmament could begin. To guide the process, Congress passed a bill designedto facilitate a “cooperative threat reduction” of nuclear arms, commonlyreferred to as the Nunn-Lugar Act after its main sponsors in the U.S. Senate.The bill laid the groundwork for an agreement between the U.S. and Russia toreduce their country’s strategic nuclear arsenals and has now led to the deactivationof 7,601 strategic nuclear warheads in the former Soviet Union.vThiswas a remarkable achievement for U.
S. foreign policy leaders. However, the riskof proliferation remained. American security officials worried that Sovietscientists, looking to recoup their crumbling economic prospects abroad, mightbe tempted to share their nuclear expertise with bellicose and unstable nationswho would misuse it. Once again, James Baker intervened.
He partnered with theForeign Minister of Germany to establish the International Science andTechnology Center in Russia. This, Baker hoped, would redirect former Sovietscientists and engineers to more peaceful purposes. A number of other centerswere established with similar intent, including the U.
S. Civilian Research& Development Foundation for the Independent States of the former SovietUnion and the NATO Science Program. Without the timely implementation ofprograms within the former republics, attendant proliferation risks would havebeen significantly higher.vi The disintegration of the SovietUnion spurred another dilemma: what would replace the communist political andeconomic systems in the newly independent states? The U.S. offered an answer:free-market democratic governance. With this goal in mind, U.S.
foreign policyexperts designed a set of policies to incentivize a smooth transition to aWestern liberal democratic political system. The crux of the plan was simple:the U.S. would provide aid and assistance programs in exchange for commitmentsfrom Russia and the newly independent states that they would adopt thenecessary economic and political reforms.After securing these commitments,policymakers turned their attention to the next hurdle: determining theappropriate level of aid to give to the newly independent states. This was thetopic of extensive debate within the U.S. Congress.
Many felt hesitant providingaid to a long-time rival. But as relations continued to warm, Congressionalleaders agreed to pass theFREEDOM Support Act, a legislative proposal that set guidelines for a technicalassistance program. In its final form, the bill authorized $505.8 million -$410 million in humanitarian and technical assistance; $70.8 million foreducational exchange programs; and $25 million for State Department expenses inthe region.viiTheaid wasn’t merely a gesture of good faith. It was designed to accomplish twoobjectives. First, to promote democratic governance.
And second, to helpestablish competitive market economies and provide investment and tradeopportunities for America. The conditionality of the aid was highlighted byU.S. foreign policy leaders.
On September 10, 1991, while on a trip to theSoviet Union, Secretary of State Baker emphasized that former Soviet nationshad to have made a commitment to a path toward free market economic reforms anddemocratic governance in order to receive U.S. aid.viiiBut the aid was not entirely effectivein meeting its objectives. The underlying assumption of the aid program wasthat support for a free-market economy would ensure the development of aliberal democratic society. In retrospect, it is clear that this approach wasflawed. Although the focus on establishingfree-market institutions and practices did, in many cases, improve productivityand living conditions for citizens of the newly independent states, the aid failedto sufficiently nurture labor unions and democratic political parties and civicassociations – fundamental building blocks of a thriving democracy.
The failureto support these efforts deprived pro-democratic and reform unions ofpotentially valuable institutional and grassroots support.The legacy of U.S. foreign policy inthe post-Soviet period offers two important lessons for today’sworld leaders.
First, a focus on structural economic reform should notsupersede supporting democratic institutions. Indeed, the failure to adequatelypromote democraticinstitutions during this period may be partially responsiblefor the geopolitical instability and oligarchical tendencies observed in theformer-Soviet states today. Second, the precedent of Soviet-era CooperativeThreat Reduction offers critical insight into successful nuclear disarmamentprocedures. It is more vital than ever that U.S. foreign policy leadersconsider these precedents to meet the nonproliferation challenges of today.Though the nuclear capacities of Russia and the former-Soviet states havedeclined significantly, the nuclear capacities of other nations, like NorthKorea and Pakistan, continue to grow. i Norris,Robert, and Hans Kristensen.
“Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories1945-2010.” Bulletin of the AtomicScientists, 1 July 2010.ii Reiss,Mitchell. Bridled ambition: Why CountriesConstrain their Nuclear Capabilities. Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995.(p.
136)iii “Weaponsof Mass Destruction: Reducing the Threat From the Former Soviet Union: AnUpdate.” U.S. GovernmentAccountability Office, 9 June 1995.iv Reiss,Mitchell. Bridled ambition: Why CountriesConstrain their Nuclear Capabilities.
Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995.(p.25)v Lugar,Richard G. “WMD Eliminations Lessons Learned” The Nonproliferation Review, 8 September 2016.vi “Weaponsof Mass Destruction: Reducing the Threat From the Former Soviet Union: AnUpdate.
” U.S. GovernmentAccountability Office, 9 June 1995.vii Ibid viii Ibid