West’s dithering over Ukraine could spark nuclear arms race, Poland warns

Radek Sikorski said an arms race could be triggered by the lack of a united resolve over  Ukraine
Radek Sikorski said an arms race could be triggered by the lack of a united resolve over Ukraine - AP/AP

Countries without nuclear weapons may soon begin scrambling to acquire them if the West fails to send Ukraine the weapons it needs to defeat Russia, Poland has claimed.

The warning raising the spectre of nuclear proliferation came amid continued wrangling in the United States over the future of a $60-billion military aid package for Kyiv, and growing frustration in some European quarters over Germany’s reluctance to provide Ukraine with cruise missiles.

This week, Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, said the impasse in Washington over the support package and a perceived lack of a united resolve over the defence of Ukraine could trigger an arms race.

“If America cannot come together with Europe and enable Ukraine to drive Putin back, I fear that our family of democratic nations will start to break up. Allies will look for other ways to guarantee their safety,” he said during an interview with the Atlantic Council think tank.

Far East

“Some of them will aim for the ultimate weapon, starting off a new nuclear race. I’m thinking of the Far East,” he continued, later referring to Japan and South Korea, in particular.

Underscoring these warnings is the fact that Ukraine once was a nuclear power. It inherited a chunk of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal upon the collapse of the red empire in 1991 but under the terms of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which Russia signed, Kyiv gave them all up in return for recognition of its independence, sovereignty and national borders.

If Ukraine had kept its nuclear weapons, the theory goes, Russia would not have dared to invade. The point is probably not lost on South Korea and Japan, two countries threatened by a nuclear-armed North Korea.

While more countries, unsure that the West will provide the security they need, might seek nuclear weapons to give them their own deterrent, experts warn that autocratic powers could take note of how Putin has used the threat of nuclear war to force the West to back down.


“Autocrats around the world will take note of Putin’s success in Ukraine and draw the logical conclusions for their own expansionist agendas,” Peter Dickinson, a Ukraine expert at the Atlantic Council, wrote this week. “If nuclear intimidation works for Moscow, why not for Beijing or Pyongyang?

“This has the potential to spark a dangerous arms race. If Russia manages to normalise nuclear intimidation as a foreign policy tool, numerous countries will soon be scrambling to acquire nuclear arsenals of their own.”

And even if countries are unable to get their own nuclear weapons, they might try to seek shelter under somebody else’s nuclear umbrella.

Poland neither has the capacity nor the intent to produce or acquire nuclear weapons but it has expressed a willingness to join Nato’s Nuclear Sharing programme. Under the programme, Nato states without nuclear weapons can participate in the planning for their use.

It could also mean Poland hosting American B61 air-dropped nuclear bombs on its territory or certifying its F-35A aircraft to carry nuclear weapons – a step that for many in Poland believe will help ensure the country’s security against what they regard as an expansionist and imperialist Russia.