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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

West Is Right To Press Kiev On Missiles

At a time when Russia has begun crudely flexing its muscles toward its nearest neighbors and Ukraine's collapsed economy has the country on its knees, the Western powers are threatening Kiev with international isolation unless it gives up its nuclear deterrent to Russia.

This is the appearance, at least, of what emerged from this week's meeting of NATO and former Warsaw Pact nations. Two participants said Ukraine would be excluded from NATO's "Partnership for Peace" plan for eastern Europe unless Kiev signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

If the threat, which is not yet official, were carried out, that would leave Ukraine virtually naked and still more at the mercy of its unpredictable and vastly stronger neighbor.

However unfair this may seem, it is probably the right policy for NATO to follow.

At first sight, NATO would appear to have caved in to aggressive Russian demands both by delaying the alliance's expansion into eastern Europe, and by siding with Moscow in its dispute with Kiev over possession of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal. But it is not that simple.

The only argument to let Ukraine keep its weapons is that it needs them as a deterrent against Russia at a highly unstable moment in the history of their relations.

First, it is against the interests of Europe and the world to approve the creation of a new nuclear state at this time. If Ukraine, then why not India, Pakistan, Iran or North Korea? They too have real security concerns.

Second, Ukraine's missiles are not a deterrent. They are controlled from Moscow, not Kiev, and are built to strike faraway Washington - not Moscow, a mere 10 hour drive away. Ukraine does not have the money, technical staff or equipment to maintain the missiles safely, nor to convert them into an effective deterrent against Russia's huge military machine. What the Ukrainians have is the illusion of a nuclear deterrent, which is the most dangerous kind of all.

The Ukrainian leadership also deserves less sympathy than might at first appear. Russia has not caused the Ukrainian economy to collapse; rather the willful failure of the Ukrainian president and parliament to introduce economic reforms has achieved that.

Ukraine's parliament has balked on the nuclear question primarily because the missiles are virtually the only asset Kiev has left that the rest of the world cares about. With its economy in collapse and a slate of political disputes with Russia unresolved, Kiev is holding onto that asset for dear life.

But these are nuclear warheads, not bargaining chips. Both Europe and NATO have an overriding interest in making sure that the missiles are safely disposed of and that Ukraine does not destabilize the world's fragile nuclear order.