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May 14, 2014

A Nuclear 1914? Rising Stakes in Ukraine and America

Unrest continues to grow in Ukraine, particularly in light of Sunday’s vote by two eastern regions that overwhelmingly passed a referendum in favor of self-rule.

Government buildings continue to fall to Russian nationalists and clashes between separatists and Ukrainian military forces are increasingly violent. Russia held a May Day parade in Moscow for the first time since 1991 – the final year of the Soviet Union. Over 100,000 Russians used the occasion to gather in Red Square and applaud the annexation of Crimea, Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, and Vladimir Putin’s expansionist policies.

European powers and the United States have done little to curb this new Russian aggression. And while a number of public opinion polls suggest that Americans are fine with President Obama’s laissez-faire approach, the reality is we are shirking our foreign policy responsibilities.

In 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed the Budapest memorandum, which pledged the nations to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine." The treaty helped persuade Ukraine to relinquish its nuclear stockpile. At the time of the Soviet breakup, Ukraine had 1,800 nuclear weapons. In exchange for giving up their nukes, the U.S. pledged to secure Ukraine’s borders. In the years since, Ukraine has been a U.S. ally, even sending soldiers to fight under NATO command in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But now, the fact that Vladimir Putin has grabbed Crimea and is infiltrating eastern Ukraine begs two questions. First, do treaties signed and commitments made by the U.S. mean anything? Second, if they don’t, what does this mean for the rest of the world?

Several weeks ago, George Will pointed out "the really sinister effect of all this is to teach the world that nuclear weapons are a good thing to have." Will is correct. By abandoning our security arrangement with Ukraine, we are creating a huge incentive for countries around the world to create and maintain their own stockpiles of nuclear weapons, thus increasing the number of nuclear decision-makers, and the probability of nuclear conflict somewhere.

One hundred years ago, no one thought war was imminent. But, as Newt Gingrich writes at, World War I was prompted by actions in Eastern Europe and "it came as an enormous shock, in retrospect almost like the Titanic hitting an iceberg. In the end, it shattered Europe, cost tens of millions of lives, bankrupted countries and changed forever those who survived the horrors.”

One hundred years later, an aggressive Russia possesses thousands of nuclear weapons and is motivated by a renewed imperialism that threatens peace in Eastern Europe.

So why is Russia acting with such overt aggression? Under President Obama, we have been in retreat from the world. His policies have included a quick withdrawal from Iraq and an unwise draw-down of forces in Afghanistan. He is shrinking our Navy – we currently have fewer than 100 ships deployed. He is shrinking our Army to its smallest size since before World War II. Obama has allowed foes to cross red lines in Syria and kill our U.S. Ambassador to Libya – both with no apparent consequences And, in addition to reneging on our security agreement with Ukraine, he has reneged on our agreement to deploy defensive missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Americans have a decision to make. If we choose to continue down Obama’s path of weakness and retreat, we must accept an increasingly dangerous and unstable world. Just look at the varied and growing dangers in Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, the Baltic States, and the South China Sea, to name just a few. But, this is not the world of 1914. It is the world of 2014 and the nuclear bizarre is just beginning for many smaller, increasingly insecure nations, from Saudi Arabia to The Philippines. And don’t forget the growing Islamic terror organizations that are just dying to get their hands on some nukes. In Obama’s world, any number of security lapses or miscalculations could lead to devastating nuclear conflicts – nuclear 1914.

Fortunately, there is a better choice. Americans can still decide to lead and live up to the responsibility of being the global super power. We can embrace our heritage and history as the country that saved the world from German expansionism in World War I, Nazism and the Imperial Japanese in World War II, and the Soviet Empire during the Cold War. We can be the steady, powerful, good actor that makes smaller allies feel secure and keeps potential enemies in check.

This choice requires short term pain for long term gain. If we want to have a strong military, we can’t continue to let spending mushroom with tens of millions of working-age Americans living lives of dependence on welfare, Obamacare, disability and a myriad of other taxpayer funded programs. We must stand up to our growing entitlement culture. For America to be strong and the world to be safe, the vast, vast majority of individual Americans must choose to work hard and not be dependent.

If the U.S. does not provide positive global leadership, then history teaches us that no other country will. And, if no nation leads, then the world really could sink into a new dark age.

We can stop it. The choice is ours.

Glen Meakem is the Founder & CEO of and was previously Founder & CEO of FreeMarkets – which he took public on the NASDAQ exchange. A former Army Reserve Officer, he is a veteran of the First Gulf War, and a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Business School. Meakem speaks out on economic and security issues through his syndicated radio program, “Glen Meakem on the Weekend." To learn more, visit

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