QUITE why the presence of the nuclear dimension in the so-called non-nuclear conventional war in Ukraine is treated as a surprise is worthy of examination another time.

Six months in, absolutely no-one would deny that there is a tactical nuclear dimension to this war, though many military commentators are doing what they can to downplay it and in some cases dismiss it.

Given some comments by certain members of the military commentariat, I would go as far as to say same are even in denial about this dimension. For some in the military it is an uncomfortable inconvenience that they would rather not consider.

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It’s worth remembering that military institutions, like other institutions, are quite capable of adopting a denial mode about what is inconvenient. This denial can have grave consequences, as happened in the opening days of World War One.

That opening phase, called The Battle of the Frontiers, was dominated above all by one weapon – not the machine gun, but modern artillery, indeed precisely the type of guns and similar used for royal 21-gun salutes.

The impact of quick-firing modern artillery on the battlefields of France in August 1914 was decisive. It was a development that many military professionals in the years before World War One did not want to talk about and in some cases not even prepare for.

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The reality of modern artillery clashed with dominant late 19th-century cultures of glory, dash and quick decision that generals on all sides hankered after. So the groupthink over the denial of the impact of tactical nuclear weapons is not unique.

It was only gargantuan casualty figures of August 22, 1914 – the worst day for French losses in the whole of World War One – that forced the generals to rethink their doctrines. Bear in mind the war only started on July 28. Indeed a leading French military theorist who propagated this tendency of denial in the lecture halls of Saint-Cyr died because of it very early on in the war.

Today we have undeniable Ukrainian battlefield successes, though it should be stressed that these are underpinned in part by understated levels of preparation, training and support by Nato over the past eight years on the one hand and the delusional plans of President Putin (surely the son that Tsar Alexander III wanted but did not get) on the other.

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However, undeniable Ukrainian victory at the operational level is leading some over-excited politicians to start to talk of victory for Ukraine at the strategic level, the corollary of which it strategic defeat for the Russian Federation. That is to say, strategic defeat for a nuclear superpower with just fewer than 6,000 nuclear weapons, of which around 2,000 could be tasked for use on the so-called conventional battlefield.

Worse than the politicians, there are some who should know better who who think “decisive” victory for Ukraine is a serious prospect. The proponents of victory have still to unpack how a nuclear superpower swallows military humiliation right on its borders.

The failure to unpack what strategic defeat for Russia actually looks like by “our” military professionals and commentators suggest to me at least that the delusional torch of glory and victory has passed from Putin’s hands to “ours”.

Paul Rogers, emeritus professor of peace studies in the department of peace studies and international relations at Bradford University, northern England and an honorary fellow at the Joint Service Command and Staff College, might be unpacking some of these issues on Wednesday evening in Augustine United Church in Edinburgh.

Even more importantly, he will apparently start to examine routes to conflict resolution, no matter how messy and unfair they will most certainly be.

Bill Ramsay
Convener, SNP CND