The Weakness of a Ukrainian Nuclear Deterrent: Counterfactuals and the Stability-Instability Paradox

(updated below)

Since the Russian incursion in Crimea at the end of February, a meme has been circulating among some national security commentators that Ukraine should have kept the nuclear arsenal it inherited following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The most forceful proponent that Kiev would have been better off maintaining a nuclear deterrent was and is University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer. At the end of the Cold War, Mearsheimer argued in Foreign Affairs (pdf),

A nuclear Ukraine makes sense for two reasons. First, it is imperative to maintain peace between Russia and Ukraine… Ukraine cannot . . .
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Obama's "Hot Mic" and America's Pointless European Missile Defense System

By now the GOP national security establishment is sufficiently apoplectic over President Obama’s off-the-cuff statement at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul to outgoing Russian President Dimitry Medvedev that he’d have more “flexibility” on missile defense after November’s election.  There have been the usual accusations of Obama’s appeasement of Moscow and his selling out of American national security.  Fortunately Jacob Heilbrunn at the National Interest responds to the wailing with a cold dose of reality:

The good news would be if Obama really was prevaricating—if he was secretly prepared to jettison an expensive and worthless missile-defense program that is . . .
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Testing the Mearsheimer Hypothesis in Europe

If we are lucky (and by ‘we’ I mean political scientists), we will soon find out if John J. Mearsheimer was right—maybe not on offensive realism, but at least on the purpose of U.S. troop presence in Europe. The new strategic framework put out by the Obama administration represents what some have called a pivot towards the Asia-Pacific. Implicit in this shift is less attention and resources put towards Europe. In practical terms this will likely mean drawing down the troop presence in Europe, which today numbers 80,718 active duty service members (as of September 30, 2011).

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Needlessly Kicking a Bear

Recent announcements by Russian President (for now) Dimitry Medvedev raise the specter of a new round of confrontation between the United States and its former superpower rival.  In response to planned American missile defense deployments in Europe Medvedev has said Moscow will deploy Iskander missiles, target land-based interceptor sites that will be activated later this decade, and shut down the Northern Distribution Network to Afghanistan that runs through Russian territory—a serious problem in its own right but even more so given the recent deterioration in U.S-Pakistan relations.  Russia, as well as its Soviet predecessor, has a history of making . . .
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