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Could a Translation Snafu Spawn a Fourth World War? by Translation Company Japan

Huh, what happened to World War III? 

Translation Company Japan, Tokyo: Mistranslation

Well, that’s still on the table. 

According to a provocative new theory, geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger proposes that the superpowers of the late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean (Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, Cypriots, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Assyrians and Babylonians) went into terminal decline caused by an international -it would be too much of an embellishment to use “global”- conflagration dubbed:

Word War Zero

You can read more about it here - Geoarchaeologist Proposes There Was a “World War Zero” 

So, the next global conflict will still be World War III. And, that is where the Budapest Memorandum comes into the article. Essentially, Ukraine agreed to relinquish control of the nuclear arsenal -the world's third-largest nuclear weapons stockpile- inherited with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in exchange for “security assurances.” 

The devil be in the details!

Here’s a couple of excerpts from an excellent article published by the Daily Beast that distills this mistranslation 

The Russian and Ukrainian negotiators only provided the word “garantii” or “harantii” as a way to describe “guarantees” or “assurances,” but there was no explicit way to specify in Russian and Ukrainian which word the United States meant in the deal, according to Rose Gottemoeller, the former Deputy Secretary General of NATO and former U.S. under secretary of state for arms control and international security.

Translation Company Japan: Translation Blooper
Translation of “guarantees” in Russian


“‘Garantii’ in Russian and Ukrainian is kind of the only word they had—they didn't have a word for ‘assurances,’” Gottemoeller, who served on the White House National Security Council as Director for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Affairs at the time, told The Daily Beast. “The lawyers were there, the linguists were there, and we all agreed as we were preparing to sign this document that they were equal in meaning in three languages. So the English says ‘security assurances,’ and the Russian and Ukrainian versions say ‘garantii.’ They say ‘security guarantees.’”

Translation Company Tokyo: Translation Blooper
Translation of “assurances” in Russian – it’s the same!

In a nutshell: 

The Ukrainians thought they were getting guarantees, while the United States was only offering assurances.

In hindsight, without the legally binding assurances of a “security guarantee” it is very doubtful that Ukraine would have relinquished its inherited nuclear stockpile. At the risk of stating the obvious, this begs the question: 

Who would risk invading a nuclear armed sovereign state?

And the implications of this mistranslation?

World War III is definitely on the table now. The Russian Federation Armed Forces are getting trashed on the battlefields of Ukraine: each defeat produces rabid nuclear sabre-rattling, claims of collusion by the “collective West” and a lowering of the bar for deployment of (tactical) nuclear weapons (i.e., an attack on annexed territories would trigger Russia’s nuclear doctrine). Perhaps even more frightening, though, is the tangible action being taken by the United States, such as:

Is the world stumbling into a fourth world war? This one may yet be the mother of all Most Tragic Translations

(Without lending to fearmongering, it would be worth noting that the lead up to the official start of WWII, marked by Hitler’s invasion of Poland, happened over a number of years beginning with the violation of the Treaty of Versailles [see Data Set 1 (Timeline)] and the annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, events which display alarming parallels to current events...)

There is another implication, however, that should not be overlooked:

For countries with nuclear weapons programs -i.e., Iran and North Korea- the Ukrainian experience only re-enforces the message of Iraq, Libya and Syria. That is, nothing good comes from giving up or losing your nuclear weapons programs …definitely not conducive to a nuclear free world.

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About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, the owner of Tokyo based Translation Company Japan Visit SAECULII for the latest professional articles and news on Japanese Translation Services

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