Like other former Soviet states, Belarus inherited a cache of nuclear weapons when it formally declared independence in 1991. Although not nearly as large a weapons holder as neighboring Ukraine and not the site of Soviet nuclear development like Kazakhstan, Belarus, by its own admission, came into existence with 81 mobile nuclear missiles, three Intercontinental Ballistic Missile bases and a supply of smaller, tactical nuclear weapons.
In 1992, Belarus joined the other possessors of former Soviet weapons in signing the Lisbon Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under this deal, Belarus agreed to return all nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for economic and energy assistance from both Russia and the United States. Belarus further agreed to enter into the NPT as a non-nuclear state as soon as possible.
By 1996, only 18 warheads remained in Belarus when political concerns about the expansion of NATO threatened to derail the de-nuclearization of the former Soviet state.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who had argued earlier that removal of the nuclear weapons may not be necessary since he wanted to merge his state with the Russian Federation, threatened twice to end the transfer of the final weapons unless the pro-Western alliance promised not to base weapons in newly admitted Poland.
"The withdrawal of the missiles from Belarus must be tied in with a requirement that similar weapons should not be located near Belarus' borders," Lukashenko said on Nov. 13, 1996, according to the Associated Press.
But he received NATO assurances that no short-range nuclear missiles would be placed in Poland or near Belarus and the final nuclear warhead left the former Soviet state less than two weeks later.
Although Western officials briefly worried a treaty between Russia and Belarus may have lead to the redeployment of weapons in the Belarussian state, as of 2004 no weapons have been returned, according to Western intelligence estimates and the International Atomic Energy Agency.