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The Lesson of Ukraine: Never Trust Anyone’s Assurances of Safety in Exchange for Disarmament

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A Ukrainian serviceman mans a heavy machine gun at a frontline position in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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A couple days ago, I came across a Twitter thread that sheds a lot of light on the current situation in Ukraine. The thread’s goal was to explain why calls for negotiations with Russia coming from the left are misguided. But it also sheds some light on the never-ending calls for civilian disarmament here in the United States.

In both cases, the problem is the same: promises of safety that can never be fulfilled.

Some Background

For those who are unaware (mostly government school-educated millennials), Ukraine was once part of the Soviet Union. It was the strongest communist government on the planet, and frequently worked to support communist uprisings and communist governments worldwide. When the U.S. and other democratic capitalist (or capitalist-leaning) allies moved to contain the spread of communism after World War II, the Cold War was born.

While containment had mixed historical results, it worked fairly well against the Soviets, but did suffer setbacks and problems. Both sides stockpiled massive numbers of nuclear weapons, but fortunately never used them in anger.

With a stagnating economy, a disastrous war in Afghanistan, and the Chernobyl disaster, Soviet leadership eventually became weak and lost public support. The shoot-down of a civilian airliner flying from Alaska to Korea also weakened them both at home and abroad.

Ronald Reagan seized on these weaknesses and pitted the U.S. government against the Soviets in an expensive space arms race he knew they could never win. Attempts at reform failed (the Soviet Union was held together by force), and the Soviet system collapsed under its own weight. The captive Soviet republics that had formerly been under Moscow’s control became independent countries and took a lot of Soviet military installations and equipment with them.

The “Loose Nuke” Problem

While the USSR never really had a strong economy, things got very bad in the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. The now-former satellite had a large number of the Soviets’ nuclear weapons, but they didn’t have the ability to adequately secure or maintain them all.

The United States and other world powers feared that unsecured weapons would fall into the hands of rogue states, terrorist groups, and other ne’er-do-wells. Instead of helping Ukraine keep and secure a small stockpile of weapons and dispose of the rest, disarmament was the preferred strategy. The United States and NATO promised to help Ukraine maintain its independence in exchange for giving up their nukes.

Promises, Promises

About 30 years later, Ukraine has no nuclear weapons and they’re now surrounded by massing Russian troops. President Obama made it clear that he was unwilling to defend Ukraine, and Russia quickly took advantage of this lack of commitment to past American promises.

Putin annexed Crimea and got little more than a sternly worded letter from the United States. Now, they’re either poised to take a little more or possibly the whole country, depending on who and what reports you believe.

On the international stage, experts point out that a failure to protect Ukraine would mean a serious setback for nuclear disarmament efforts. When it really counts, Team America: World Police never comes.

With an America that doesn’t fulfill its promises, any country facing threats of aggression from Russia or China and has the capability will seriously consider building their own nuclear arsenal. Australia would likely be deterred by participation in the AUKUS alliance, which gives them better access to nuclear submarine technology, but others who no longer trust U.S. assurances — especially Taiwan — have an incentive to arm themselves with nukes.

Safety Assurances to Civilians Are Worth Less Than Nothing

I’ve long maintained that the concept of nuclear disarmament is gun control writ large. The arms control industry’s “Who needs nukes when Team America: World Police are there to protect you?” sounds a lot like the civilian disarmament industry’s “Who needs a firearm when we have the police?”

Now, the very same people who are saying we shouldn’t defend Ukraine are the same people who tell us that Americans should disarm because that would somehow make us all safer.

We argue that when seconds count, the police are only minutes away, but we also need to keep in mind that the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that police have no obligation to protect any particular individual citizen. When the people arguing against defending Ukraine get in charge of a state, you basically end up with a miniaturized version of the Ukraine situation.

If the gun control industry and like-minded politicians have their way, good people would be disarmed and promised police protection to provide their security. Then those same people let criminals basically do whatever they want. Robbing stores? Decriminalized. Robbing trains? You’re a racist if you even talk about it. And, don’t you dare even criticize peaceful protesters when they’re burning, looting, and murdering in Minneapolis, Portland and elsewhere.

It’s pretty clear what happens when you give up the tools of self defense in exchange for promises of security, whether it’s on the individual or international level. Assurances of protection are always worth far less than the capability to defend yourself and your family.

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