18/12/2014 This content is not up to date

Ukraine crisis is not going to affect the non-proliferation regimes

An interview with Steven Pifer. Being a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution as well as the director of Brookings´ Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and a former United States Ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer had a lot to say about the Ukraine/Russia crisis and the current developments regarding non-proliferation regimes and arms control. In a short interview that he gave to us during the Prague Agenda 2014 Conference, Mr. Pifer talked about how he perceives the current state of play regarding arms control and how things could be resolved in the future.

As you were a United States Ambassador to Ukraine during the years 1998-2000, what were your perceptions on the relations between Ukraine and Russia back then? Have they changed throughout the time period?

There already were some bumps in the relationship between Ukraine and Russia back then, but it certainly was not like the current situation, where you see Russian military forces in Ukraine. It is disturbing to me personally because I helped negotiate the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, which the Russians have grossly violated. They have paid no respect to Ukraine´s territorial integrity and used force against Ukraine.

Considering the unfolding events in Ukraine and the evident animosity between the West and Russia, could we be talking about another “Cold War”?

I don´t think it is a Cold War, in part because there is no ideological aspect to it like we had in terms of capitalism versus communism. In addition, Russia is not the Soviet Union; it is a lesser power. Although the current situation has some characteristics of the Cold War, it is not going to be a Cold War II.

What do you think is the future of the multilateral non-proliferation regimes in light of the crisis in Ukraine/Crimea?

I don’t think the Ukraine/Russia crisis is going to affect the non-proliferation regimes. My greater concern is that the non-nuclear weapons states are going to come to a conclusion that the nuclear weapon states are not doing enough in terms of reducing nuclear arms and that they are not doing it fast enough. And then you have, of course, the specific cases of Iran and North Korea.

In one of his statements, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that Ukraine should not enter the NATO. Apparently the economic and political modernisation of Ukraine is a too long-term project. What is your view on this?

I don’t think we should say that Ukraine can never enter NATO. I do think that there will be a certain point in time, perhaps as part of the solution with Russia, that Ukraine may talk to the Russians and say, “Look, we will put NATO off the table for x number of years”. And last week President Poroshenko said that Ukraine would not look at NATO for at least six years, and there would have to be a referendum before any move toward the Alliance. So push the question off into the future, and that might be part of a solution. But I am not sure the Russians are prepared to accept any solution at this point. They actually may want things to go as they are now – a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine.

After the end of the Cold War it was believed that the role of arms control would diminish. Yet 20 years later it seems that this presumption is far from being true. What are your thoughts on that? Is arms control currently as significant as it was during the Cold War?

Arms control is certainly more significant now than it was a year ago, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) has more value. I also think that regarding nuclear weapons, arms control is a good vehicle that could help us move towards the goal of a more stable world by a step-by-step process.

Does the Global Zero campaign have a chance to succeed? Are their goals realistic - for example, the reduction of all nuclear arsenals to zero total warheads by 2030?

Being a member of Global Zero I support the objective, but I am sure it is going to be very hard goal to achieve. It must be by a step-by-step process. The idea is that you should design each step so that if you get stuck in one step and cannot go further, you are at least better off than where you initially started.

Mr. Pifer, what does the Prague Agenda conference mean to you? Will the outcomes of the conference be valuable for your own work?

I like the name of the conference, recalling President Obama’s Prague speech of 2009 and the objectives of looking at ways to reduce and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I think that what is important and what has been discussed here are the steps that would move us in the right direction. The conference will be valuable for me, and I expect to learn a lot from it.

Interviewed by: Emily Curryová

About the author

Emily Curryová is an intern at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and a PhDr. candidate in International Relations and European Studies at the Metropolitan University Prague. Her interests in the field of International Relations consist of the UK foreign policy, democratisation of Latin America and theories of conflict resolution.