In the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even the most ardent supporters of nuclear disarmament, at least in Pakistan, would now be clear in understanding the existential need for nuclear weapons for the state of Pakistan. Just two days ago, the country celebrated the 24th Youm-e-Takbir, a day to commemorate the test of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in response to India’s nuclear test on 11th and 13th May 1998.
A lot has been written in this context since 1974 when India first tested a nuclear device ironically terming it as “Smiling Buddha” to portray the ‘peaceful’ nature of these tests. However, this year’s Youm-e-Takbir celebrations have essentially vindicated Pakistan with its rationale of pursuing a nuclear program that culminated in the nuclear tests of 28th May 1998.
From 3rd largest nuclear arsenal in the world to an invasion
Russian attack on Ukraine began on 24th February 2022, marking an escalation of the conflict that had been going on since 2014. Russia deems Ukraine’s membership in NATO as an existential threat to its territorial integrity.
As the result of the invasion, a third of its population, 6.7 million Ukrainians have been displaced, the largest and growing refugee crisis in Europe since WWII. There is no comparison between both the countries as Russia is almost 3 times bigger in landmass compared to Ukraine and has nearly the same difference in the size of military personnel and hardware.
However, arguably, Ukraine did not necessarily have to be in such a vulnerable position had it not given up its nuclear weapons which were the third largest inventory at the time. In 1991, after Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union, the country possessed nearly 1900 nuclear warheads, 176 intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), and 44 strategic bombers.
During its efforts to gain independence, Ukraine had pledged to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for support from the international community towards its independence cause. However, not everyone in Ukraine was on board with the idea that nuclear weapons should be given up as they feared Russia as a security threat to the country in the future.
A series of agreements and protocols were discussed between the two states between 1991 and 1994 to dismantle the nuclear weapons possessed by Ukraine. It culminated in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances to Ukraine where Russia, the United States, and the UK signed the political agreement.
The security assurances were against the threat or use of force against Ukraine, a promise that the country’s political independence, territorial boundaries, and sovereignty would be respected. 28 years later, the paper on which the security guarantees were signed remains just a piece of paper as Ukraine is fighting a war for its survival, primarily on its own.
As the war continues, leaders in Ukraine regret giving up the nuclear weapons which they believe might have fended off Putin from attacking their country. It paints a very accurate picture of the prevalent global political system that endorses the Realist fears of anarchy and every state for itself.
A lifeline for Pakistan
In the light of ongoing turmoil in Europe, Pakistan’s principal decision of becoming a nuclear power in response to the belligerent ambitions of a much bigger India stands vindicated. There has been an imbalance between both the countries since 1947 and the unresolved issue of Kashmir has been a bone of contention between the two sides.
Read more: The tale of Pakistan’s civil nuclear program
Pakistan had already fought three wars with India, having lost East Pakistan in 1971, before the latter’s ‘peaceful’ nuclear explosion. It had become a matter of life and death for Pakistan therefore its leaders at the time made the right call instead of believing any security guarantees.
The anarchic nature of global politics, and Pakistan had learned it from experience as well, pinpoints accumulating all means of defense on your own rather than relying on a savior that never comes.
Akash Shah works as a Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. His work mainly focuses on Military Technology, Developments, and Militarization in Outer Space. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.