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U.N. Chief Warns Ukraine Incursion May Undercut Nonproliferation Regime

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon chats with U.S. President Obama after a group photo at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on Tuesday in The Hague, Netherlands. The U.N. head warned that the nuclear nonproliferation regime could be undermined by recent events in Ukraine. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon chats with U.S. President Obama after a group photo at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on Tuesday in The Hague, Netherlands. The U.N. head warned that the nuclear nonproliferation regime could be undermined by recent events in Ukraine. (Robin van Lonkhuijsen/Getty Images)

The head of the United Nations on Monday warned that efforts to stem the spread of nuclear arms are likely to be hampered by recent events in Ukraine.

In 1994, Kiev agreed to repatriate a large arsenal of Soviet nuclear weapons back to Russia in exchange for promises from London, Washington and Moscow -- outlined in the Budapest Memorandum -- that they would respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. Leaders in Kiev and the West say Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula earlier this month violates that pledge.

Speaking in The Hague, Netherlands, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told leaders from 53 countries participating in the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit that "the credibility of the assurances given to Ukraine in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 has been seriously undermined by recent events."

"The implications are profound, both for regional security and the integrity of the nuclear nonproliferation regime," the U.N. leader said.

Ban did not single out any one side for blame in the unfolding events in Ukraine, but said "security assurances provided to non-nuclear weapon states by nuclear-weapon states" must be followed.

North Korea already has pointed specifically to the experiences of Iraq under Saddam Hussein -- as well as Libya under Muammar Qadhafi -- as justification for its own ongoing nuclear-weapons development. Years after the two dictators gave up their respective weapons of mass destruction programs under international pressure, they were attacked by U.S.-led forces and saw their regimes toppled. The unfolding crisis in Ukraine could further deepen the Kim Jong Un regime's belief that it needs a nuclear deterrent to protect itself from a feared invasion by the United States and South Korea.

Ban urged signatories of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to use the 2015 treaty review conference to take up the issue of providing "unequivocal and legally binding" promises to nations without atomic arsenals that they would not be attacked by nuclear weapon possessor countries.

"Together, we must ensure that nuclear weapons are seen by states as a liability, not an asset," the former South Korean foreign minister said.

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