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Analysis: What we talk about when we talk about nukes

Abone Ol 

My title is somewhat pilferage from Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.” The title of this 1981 short story had been subject to analyses as much as its text because it tells it all: We never talk the love per se, we always think about something else.

According to linguists, we talk with words, but we think in concepts. Carl Jung, a disciple of Sigmund Freud, who left his boss and founded analytical psychology, used to say that we never talk about the weather but about ourselves. “Oh, what wonderful weather,” we might declare if we feel good about ourselves or something dear to us. Sunny and bright weather might remind us that “It is usually a bit unpredictable at this time of year” when we do not feel good at all about the world.

Back to the nuclear weapons that people recently started to talk about openly. People do talk about atomic bombs all the time but rarely do scholars and members of semi-official councils join in the verbal escalation of the issue. The “scholars and officials” who are joining the discussion on the issue are from the Russian side; on the U.S. side, we have so far only Michael Rubin, who is neither a scholar nor a government official, but recently suggested that the U.S. should be transferring F-16 aircraft to the Kyiv government to be used to drop B-61 freefall nuclear bombs on Russia.

Nobody would have even noticed that Rubin was calling for a nuclear war on Russia had professor Sergey Karaganov, honorary chair of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and academic supervisor at the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow, not deemed his article worthy of a response. Rubin suggested that besides Abrams and Leopard tanks, Ukrainian forces should be provided F-16 aircraft and their pilots should be trained to fly them and use them in the bombardment.

The original idea belongs to David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies who commanded the Combined Air Operations Center during the occupation of Afghanistan. Retired Lt. Gen. Deptula suggested that the U.S. should provide Ukraine with airpower and train Ukrainian pilots to be adapted to F-15s and F-16s. Deptula, who had 35 years of experience in the Air Force, had not mentioned how those planes should be used against Russia. But Rubin, who has no experience in the armed forces other than teaching senior U.S. Army, Marine and Navy officers “prior to their deployment in the occupied Iraq and Afghanistan,” upped the ante suggesting that Ukrainians would need aircraft to counter the Russian offensive that, Rubin argues, would continue “as Russian factories restock their arsenals or artillery, bombs, and drones.”

Biden might take his time in providing the aircraft, but the Ukrainian pilots should be ready to fly them whenever they are deployed. F-15 and F-16 had not been named by Deptula and Rubin with a purpose: these aircraft are still in abundance in the hands of the U.S. Air Force and they are the “types of Western weapons systems, the political decision to provide Ukraine the fourth-generation fighter jets will be made sooner or later.”

Especially, the F-16 Block 40/42 aircraft can be adapted to use B61 freefall nuclear bombs. Rubin writes that the earlier the U.S. starts training Ukrainian pilots, the sooner they will be ready to efficiently use the jets.

Karaganov argued that by using its nuclear weapons, Russia could save humanity from a global catastrophe. Mentioning no American experts’ suggestions of providing U.S. aircraft to Ukraine and their use of it in bombardments on Russian soil, Karaganov’s defense of the limited nuclear war, against some U.S. allies, Poland for example, created critical and less critical reactions. Given his status as a former presidential adviser to both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, and his position as head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, many media outlets published contrary views authored by prominent scholars.

Ilya Fabrichnikov, a member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and a communications advisor, in an article on the Russia Today website, disagreed with the call for Russia to use its nuclear weapons against the West, and called Karaganov’s suggestion that a preemptive strike would save humanity from a global catastrophe “taking NATO’s bait.”

Fabrichnikov said Rubin’s suggestion that the transfer of some U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to Ukraine and F-126 aircraft to drop nuclear bombs on Russia or Karaganov’s belief that Russia’s demonstration of its readiness to launch a preemptive nuclear strike is not the issue here. Yes, we seem to be talking about nukes, but we essentially are talking about psychology!

If you follow the Western media, you must have noticed that European and American commentators are increasingly alluding to the immediacy of Russians using tactical defensive nuclear weapons “on the territory of one of the Western European countries, who are sponsors of the Kyiv leadership. If such an escalation does not force European leaders to come to their senses, then it would be necessary to strike at a group of countries.”

Haven’t we seen this movie before? I think it was right before Feb. 24, 2022, the Western media bombarded the entire world with reports about the immediacy of the Russian invasion and occupation of parts of Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war. Putin and the team also saw these reports and – unlike us, the mortal people of the universe – they thought it was the cover for the Western invasion and occupation of Ukraine. Why would they do that? To continue onto Russia, of course!

At that time, you and I could not tell who was right, and who was not; but with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight today, we know that neither Western Europe nor the United States was prepared to move onto Russia through Ukraine. But Russian President Vladimir Putin and the mighty Russian intelligence network should know. At least they should have known better!

Yes, something happened when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government turned into “nationalists” and ate their words spoken at the Minsk Conference signing a 12-point cease-fire protocol in 2014, and again at the Istanbul talks in March 2022.

We now know Zelenskyy never planned to honor the Minsk agreement and probably never intended to complete the Istanbul talks, either. But Russia should have known in 2014 and in 2022.

Russia or at least Karaganov, who is also the former presidential adviser to both Boris Yeltsin and Putin, should know that neither Poland nor any other European country is about to do something against Russia that requires a preemptive, defensive nuclear strike.

I have no access to the intelligence files of Poland or any other European country, but I know what we talk about when we talk about nukes. As Carver does in the short story “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love,” we should be looking at nukes through two very different lenses: bombs and crisis management. As there is no notion of fairy tale love, there is no such thing as a preemptive tactical nuclear strike: There is human love and full-fledged nuclear war.

To see the resemblance between the two, you need to read Carver’s story and your history. Carver‘s story is short but the world history is long.

Abone Ol 

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