With Russia poised to seize control of Ukraine, Rachel Maddow might be among the few remaining fans of voluntary nuclear disarmament -- as is Russian president Vladimir Putin, specifically for former Soviet republics that have gotten too uppity for their own good.
How will Maddow handle this one, I wondered, after the Russian military took control of the Crimea. Sure enough, in her first show after the crisis began, Maddow addressed the awkward fact that Ukraine relinquished control of its nuclear weapons to Russia twenty years ago. But typical of Maddow, she couldn't bring herself to ask the blindingly obvious question -- did Ukraine's fateful decision to disarm in the mid-1990s leave it vulnerable to future Russian aggression? (Video after the jump)
"Not to put to fine a point on it," Maddow said right out of the gate, "but this is being called the most serious crisis for Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall," as claimed by German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Maddow revisited the landscape of post-Cold War Europe and Russia, specifically focusing on the decision of three former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, to cede their nuclear weapons to Russia --
When the Berlin Walll did fall in 1989, it started this chaotic, centripetal process by which the Soviet Union spun off into Russia and all these new countries, all these new countries that had previously been Soviet socialist republics. One of the most immediate crises to arise from that break in history was about all the nuclear weapons of the U.S.S.R., right? At the time when the Berlin Wall came down, the United States had about 22,000 deployed nuclear weapons. For context, we still have about 5,000 of them now. Then we had 22,000 of them and we think that the Soviets had about the same number. And yes, a lot of the Soviets' 22,000 or so nuclear weapons at the time were in Russia proper, but a lot of them were not. A lot of them were in Belarus and Kazakhstan and Ukraine and when Belarus and Kazakhstan and Ukraine spun away from Russia to become their own nations as the U.S.S.R. collapsed, there was a real pressing and practical question as to who those thousands of deployed, fully operational nuclear weapons belonged to.
This was not a sidebar issue at the time, it was kind of the issue. This was the headline in the LA Times on Dec. 3, 1991 -- 'Ukraine votes to quit Soviet Union - More than 90 percent of voters approve historic break with Kremlin.' Then look at the subheading on the headline -- 'President-elect calls for collective command of country's nuclear arsenal.' So that was kind of the framing then, right? Question one was, are you still Soviet? If the answer to question one is no, then please proceed to question two. Question two is, what about your nuclear weapons then?
It's kind of an overlooked miracle of modern diplomacy and political strategy that Belarus and Ukraine and Kazakhstan, when they all became independent, all these countries when they became independent, new countries, when they split off away from Russia, they agreed to give up the nuclear weapons that were within their borders by the hundreds and by the thousands. What a different world this would be had they not made that decision.
A different world indeed -- one in which Russia might not be poised to forcibly seize a largely defenseless Ukraine. Surely the citizens of the equally defenseless Belarus and Kazakhsta are watching what unfolds with keen interest.
One could, if so inclined, look back at the decision by these former Soviet republics to transfer possession of their nuclear wepons to their former Soviet slavemasters and tout this as a "miracle" -- much the same way that Neville Chamberlain's return from negotiating with Hitler at Munich in 1938 initially appeared miraculous to many dewy-eyed observers.
Chamberlain is remembered for branderishing "the paper" upon which Hitler affixed his signature and a promise not to invade Czechoslovakia -- which he invaded six months later. His predations having gone unchecked by the West, Hitler invaded Poland the following September, setting off the bloodiest and most destructive war in history.
Fifty years later, a newly-independent Ukraine, Russia, the United States and Britain entered into a similar agreement, the so-called Budapest Memorandum. It stipulated that, in exchange for Ukraine surrending its nukes, Russia pledged to "respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine." Or as Maddow put it, "we agree to leave you alone to be your own country." Sadly, Putin appears not to have gotten the memo.
At no point during her interview with House Democrat Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, co-chair of the (newly formed?) congressional Ukrainian caucus, did either of them ask whether Ukraine might be more secure today today if it still possessed nuclear weapons.
Why the hesitancy to address such an obvious question? Because to liberals, everything nuclear is objectionable, whether it's nuclear power, arms or fissile materials. And the same left-wing illogic that supports gun-free zones applies to nuclear-free zones, that they are inherently more safe. Which they are, until the predator armed with nukes shows up on your border.
Nuclear weapons have gotten a bad rap over the decades since World War II, which ended shortly after their first and only use in conflict. But the case can be made that inventing them did more than anything to end the suicidal cycle of horrific global wars every generation. A nation that possesses nuclear arms isn't given immunity from war, but is all but guaranteed freedom from invasion.
This is why nearly every country that has nuclear weapons is unlikely to ever willingly relinquish them, especially after Russia has retaken control of Crimea, because nukes are a far greater guarantor of security than any piece of paper or memo.