Denuclearization Again? Lessons from Ukraine’s Decision to Disarm

By Polina Sinovets and Mariana Budjeryn

On Dec. 25, 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation and handed off his nuclear strike authorization unit, the so-called Cheget briefcase, to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. With this final act, the Soviet Union was no more. What remained, however, was Soviet Union’s gargantuan nuclear arsenal and the military-industrial complex that produced it. The problem was that now it was situated not in one, but in four sovereign states: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine. This unprecedented development spurred fears that the biggest wave of nuclear proliferation in history was in the offing, fears that fortunately failed to materialize.

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