Proliferation & Putin's Ukraine crisis
Updated: Mar 31
Threatening crises promote tunnel visions as those affected focus on their immediate effects. It’s only later, after normalcy returns, that their broader impacts and influences become visible. In this context, few are considering how Mr. Putin’s unprovoked brutal invasion of Ukraine is driving perceptions and influencing decisions and decision-makers in Jerusalem, Riyadh, and Teheran. Intensifying the crisis's effects is the Biden Administration’s decision to negotiate a new deal with Iran while offering security reassurances to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Those assurances were not particularly reassuring before Putin’s aggression and are almost worthless today.
Mr. Putin’s latest war of expansion and the West’s response don’t stand in historical isolation. They are the latest chapters to strengthen hindsight biases and deepen suspicions on the limited value of nuclear disarmament and international security agreements. Ukraine became a test case when it relinquished its sizeable nuclear arsenal in 1994 and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state. It did so after negotiating and placing its faith in security guarantees from Russia, the US, and European countries. Ukrainians have not forgotten how Mr. Putin later ignored the Russian pledge and violently annexed Crimea; ditto the West’s tepid response.
Neither will others in distant lands. Ukraine’s fate and the limited value of security promises are affecting Israeli and Saudi leaders much more than their simple sum. They will also influence security perceptions and the value of nuclear weapons in India, Pakistan, and North Korea. I discussed these issues in a Middle East context in Going Nuclear: The influence of history and hindsight on the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations and later in Decision-Making in a nuclear Middle East: Lessons from the Cold War. My analyses concluded that Israel would not allow Iran to go nuclear and that Saudi Arabia would pursue nuclear deterrence. I also predicted that Saudi Arabia and the other Arab States would collaborate openly and privately with Israel to check Iranian ambitions. Some of these predictions have come to pass. Emerging events on the European continent are making the rest, for better or worse, increasingly likely. You can review my books and listen to excerpts on my website.