On December 5, 1994, leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation met in Budapest, Hungary, to pledge security assurances to Ukraine in connection with its accession to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapons state. The signature of the so-called Budapest Memorandum concluded arduous negotiations that resulted in Ukraine’s agreement to relinquish the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, which the country inherited from the collapsed Soviet Union, and transfer all nuclear warheads to Russia for dismantlement. The signatories of the memorandum pledged to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and inviolability of its borders, and to refrain from the use or threat of military force. Russia breached these commitments with its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and aggression in eastern Ukraine, bringing the meaning and value of security assurance pledged in the Memorandum under renewed scrutiny.
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the memorandum’s signature, the Project on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, with the support of the Center for U.S.-Ukrainian Relations and the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, hosted a conference to revisit the history of the Budapest Memorandum, consider the repercussions of its violation for international security and the broader nonproliferation regime, and draw lessons for the future. The conference brought together academics, practitioners, and experts who have contributed to developing U.S. policy toward post-Soviet nuclear disarmament, participated in the negotiations of the Budapest Memorandum, and dealt with the repercussions of its breach in 2014. The conference highlighted five key lessons learned from the experience of Ukraine’s disarmament, highlighted at the conference.