Historical Security Council: Post-USSR Collapse, Nuclear Implications

On December 26th, 1991, three independent nuclear states were born out of the ashes of the Soviet Union–Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. The dissolution of the USSR occurred under Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The fall of the USSR held many geopolitical ramifications, including the independence and newly gained sovereignty of fifteen states, the aforementioned three of which inherited portions of the USSR’s nuclear stockpile. As many as 35,000 nuclear weapons “remained at thousands of sites across a vast Eurasian landmass that stretched across eleven time zones” (Allison).


After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Belorussian S.S.R. changed its name to the Republic of Belarus. One of the first actions Belarus took as a sovereign state was to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), “a free association of sovereign states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union” (Adamovich et al.). In 1994 Belarus adopted its constitution as well as elected Alexander Lukashenko to the new office of president (Adamovich et al.). Belarus became a nuclear state when it inherited “81 Soviet SS-25 Sickle missiles with warheads and an unknown number of tactical nuclear weapons” (Nuclear Threat Initiative). The pro-Russian President Lukashenko was previously the only deputy to oppose the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and later “he addressed the Russian State Duma in Moscow with an appeal for the formation of a new union of Slavic states” (“Alexander Lukashenko | Facts, Biography, & Presidency of Belarus.”). Of the three nuclear nuclear states to emerge from the USSR, Belarus boasts the closest diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation.


The Republic of Kazakhstan declared sovereignty on October 25, 1990, and full independence from the Soviet Union on December 16th, 1991 (Hambly et al.). Kazakhstan inherited 1,410 nuclear warheads when the Soviet Union fell, making the new independent state the fourth largest nuclear state, behind Russia, the United States, and Ukraine. Additionally, Kazakhstan inherited the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapons test site, where the USSR had carried out 456 nuclear weapons tests, both above and below-ground, since 1949 (Putz).The health concerns for residents near the nuclear testing site sparked a two-year anti-nuclear campaign called Nevada-Semipalatinsk from 1989-1991 (“Kazakhs Stop Nuclear Testing (Nevada-Semipalatinsk Antinuclear Campaign), 1989-1991 | Global Nonviolent Action Database”). Besides the site, Kazakhstan did not have command and control over the nuclear weapons it inherited. However, it did inherit the nuclear material (weapons-grade uranium), scientists, and infrastructure that would enable the state to create its own nuclear weapons arsenal (Putz). After the USSR’s collapse, Kazakhstan also inherited many ethnic Russians as well as an economic recession, encouraging the new president Nursultan Nazarbayev to maintain friendly diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation. Additionally, Kazakhstan later joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which is composed of all former Soviet Socialist Republics except Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (“Commonwealth of Independent States | Facts, Members, & History”).


Ukraine became an independent state on August 24th, 1991. Of the three nuclear states post-USSR, Ukraine inherited the largest nuclear arsenal. Before the state had its own constitution, it inherited 15% of the USSR’s nuclear stockpile, approximately 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads (Hajda et al.). Like Kazakhstan, Ukraine did not have the command over the inherited nuclear weapons; those, primarily electronic codes, belonged to the now Russian Federation (Riabchuk). Ukraine also has a complicated history with nuclear weapons and power. History’s worst nuclear disaster occurred on April 26, 1986 at Chernobyl, and caused most of Ukraine’s people to be hesitant to accept any nuclear capabilities (History.com Editors). Post-independence, Ukraine had shaky relations with both the West and Russia. Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia all joined the new Commonwealth of Independent States, that would persist after the fall of the USSR (Hajda et al.). However, after Ukraine’s declaration of independence, Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin’s press secretary implied that Russia would need to renegotiate Ukraine’s and Russia’s borders in order to reclaim the primarily Russian-speaking and ethnic territories in Ukraine’s southern and eastern territories (Riabchuk). Additionally, in May of 1992 the Russian parliament deemed the 1954 transfer of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine to be illegitimate, and challenged Ukraine’s claim to the territory (Riabchuk).

The goal of the UN Historical Security Council is to negotiate whether Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine will continue to keep and gain control over their inherited nuclear arsenals, or to partially or fully denuclearize.

Questions to Consider:
  1. How did the international community at the time view states which fail to adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?
  2. Should the international community intervene if the three states choose to keep their nuclear arsenals?
  3. What potential consequences, positive or negative, could arise from these particular three states having nuclear capabilities?
  4. How should diplomatic relations be formed if the states choose to keep nuclear weapons?
  5. How should they be formed if they give them up?
  6. Should Security Guarantees be offered to these three states? If so, what kind and why?
Works Cited and Additional Resources

Adamovich, Anthony, et al. “Belarus - History.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 July 2023, www.britannica.com/place/Belarus/History .

Allison, Graham. “What Happened to the Soviet Superpower’s Nuclear Arsenal? Clues for the Nuclear Security Summit.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Mar. 2012, www.belfercenter.org/publication/what-happened-soviet-superpowers-nuclear-arsenal-clues-nuclear-security-summit .

Hajda, Lubomyr A., et al. “Ukraine - Independent Ukraine.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 30 July 2023, www.britannica.com/place/Ukraine/Independent-Ukraine . Accessed 30 July 2023.

Hambly, Gavin R.G., et al. “Kazakhstan - Independent Kazakhstan.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 July 2023, www.britannica.com/place/Kazakhstan/Independent-Kazakhstan . Accessed 30 July 2023.

History.com Editors. “Chernobyl.” History, A&E Television Networks, 24 Apr. 2019, www.history.com/topics/1980s/chernobyl . Accessed 30 July 2023.

Kassenova, Togzhan. Atomic Steppe : How Kazakhstan Gave up the Bomb. Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 2022.

“Kazakhs Stop Nuclear Testing (Nevada-Semipalatinsk Antinuclear Campaign), 1989-1991 | Global Nonviolent Action Database.” Nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu, nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/kazakhs-stop-nuclear-testing-nevada-semipalatinsk-antinuclear-campaign-1989-1991 .

Nuclear Threat Initiative. “Nuclear Disarmament Belarus Fact Sheet.” Nuclear Threat Initiative, 23 Jan. 2023, www.nti.org/analysis/articles/belarus-nuclear-disarmament/ . Accessed 26 July 2023.

Putz, Catherin. “How Did Kazakhstan Give up the Bomb?” Thediplomat.com, 23 Feb. 2022, thediplomat.com/2022/02/how-did-kazakhstan-give-up-the-bomb/#:~:text=Following%20the%20dissolution%20of%20the%20Soviet%20Union%20in . Accessed 30 July 2023.

Riabchuk, Mykola. “Ukraine’s Nuclear Nostalgia.” World Policy Journal, vol. 26, no. 4, 2009, pp. 95–105, www.jstor.org/stable/40468742 . Accessed 30 July 2023.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Commonwealth of Independent States | Facts, Members, & History.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 7 July 2023, www.britannica.com/topic/Commonwealth-of-Independent-States . Accessed 30 July 2023.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Alexander Lukashenko | Facts, Biography, & Presidency of Belarus.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 July 2023, www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-Lukashenko . Accessed 30 July 2023.