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Armed servicemen wait in Russian army vehicles outside a Ukranian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
For some reason, it has been making the rounds that the United States is obligated to use military force to protect Ukraine from Russian aggression. This is supposed to be according to what is called the Budapest Memorandum, which was signed by Russia, the United States, Great Britain, and Ukraine, when Ukraine signed on to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and agreed to give up the nuclear weapons it inherited upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. But what does the Budapest Memorandum really obligate the United States to do, and is the United States living up to those obligations? Let's go to the source (pdf):
1. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.
The United States continues to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.
2. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
Please read below the fold for more analysis on the Budapest Memorandum.

The United States continues to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and has not used weapons against Ukraine.

3. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind.
The United States continues to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty.
4. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, as a non-nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used.
Ukraine has not been the victim of the use of nuclear weapons, so this does not apply. Nevertheless, the United States and Great Britain are going above and beyond by seeking immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, anyway.
5. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm, in the case of Ukraine, their commitment not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, except in the case of an attack on themselves, their territories or dependent territories, their armed forces, or their allies, by such a State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.
The United States has not used nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, period.
6. Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America will consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.
A situation has arisen which raises a question concerning these commitments, and in compliance with the Budapest Memorandum, the United States has been consulting with the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In other words, even if the Budapest Memorandum were a legal treaty (which it is not), in the face of Russia's invasion of the Crimea, the United States is obligated to do nothing beyond consulting with Russia and Great Britain. There is not even a wisp of a hint of a trace of a suggestion that the United States is obligated to use its military to defend Ukraine. So, to be very specifically precise, in response to Russia's invasion of the Crimea, the Obama administration has options, not legal obligations.

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