Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said during an interview Wednesday that he regrets forcing Ukraine to dismantle its nuclear program amid the country’s ongoing war with Russia. He said the war likely would not have happened if Kyiv still had the nuclear weapons.
The war has continued for more than 400 days and includes hundreds of thousands of casualties, including soldiers and civilians.
During an interview with Irish news service RTÉ released on Tuesday, Clinton suggested that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine if Kyiv still had its nuclear deterrent.
“I feel a personal stake because I got them [Ukraine] to agree to give up their nuclear weapons,” Clinton said. “And none of them believe that Russia would have pulled this stunt if Ukraine still had their weapons.”
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The comments closely correlate with the argument pro-Second Amendment advocates use when discussing gun ownership and the presence of firearms as a deterrent to escalated violence.
In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the Ukrainian government in Kyiv agreed to surrender the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, which consisted of around 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads.
In exchange, the U.S., Russia, and Britain provided Ukraine with security assurances, agreeing “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against the country.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Ukraine’s first president, Leonid Kravchuk, remained unconvinced by the 1994 agreement – stating immediately after signing the agreement, “If tomorrow Russia goes into Crimea, no one will raise an eyebrow.”
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Clinton said Russia pursued an invasion of Ukraine as soon as it “became convenient.”
“When it became convenient to him, President Putin broke it and first took Crimea,” Clinton said, according to Business Insider. “And I feel terrible about it because Ukraine is a very important country.”
Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, told the Insider that a “nuclear-armed Ukraine would enjoy high confidence of territorial integrity.”
Miles added: “We would not see this invasion, in all likelihood.”
Both of Russia’s invasions of Ukraine have occurred during the only two Democratic administrations that came after Clinton, in 2014, under former President Barack Obama, when Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula, and again in 2022, under President Biden.
Clinton’s argument for deterrence is similar to that used by Second Amendment proponents, like the National Rifle Association, who have contended that crime will decrease as guns become more available.
“For decades, gun control activists have predicted that crime will increase as more people own more guns or burdensome restrictions on gun rights are repealed. The opposite has been true,” the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action reported in Dec. 2021. “Americans own more firearms and Americans in more states can lawfully carry a concealed firearm than they could decades ago, but crime rates have fallen significantly.”
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“The violent crime rate has decreased 52% from the 1991 all-time high. Americans have acquired more than 215 million new firearms in the same time period – more than doubling the number of privately-owned firearms in the United States,” the NRA stated in the report. “As violent crime has decreased, the number of Right-to-Carry (RTC) states and the number of people who carry guns for protection away from home have risen to all-time highs.”
Critics of private gun ownership have disputed these findings and claim the decline in violent crime could be attributed to several other factors such as gun control, social programs, the availability of mental health services, or the growth of non-firearm security protocols.