Monday, April 18, 2022
It's Monday, April 18, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Cruise Missiles Sink a Cruiser: Major Shift in History of Naval Warfare as Russian Warship Moskva Sunk by Ukraine’s Use of Neptune Missiles
Sometimes in the history of the world, big changes come unannounced, but that doesn't mean they're unrecognized. A very interesting development has taken place just in the course of the last several days, and I can assure you, it has the attention of navy leaders all over the world.
The big event that has everyone's attention was the sinking last Thursday of the Moskva. That's not just any vessel. That guided-missile cruiser was the flagship and the pride of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, and it was sunk. Immediately after it was sunk, it was attacked. It began to burn and then it sank as it was being towed.
The Russian government came out and said directly that the ship had not been hit by Ukrainian forces, that some kind of fire had started on board. It had spread. That led to the destruction of much of the ship, eventually to its sinking.
But from the very beginning, the assumption was there had to be some way the Ukrainians were behind this. One particular weapon came to the imagination almost immediately, and that is the cruise missile, specifically, when it comes to Ukraine, cruise missiles known as Neptune missiles.
One of the ironies here is that those missiles were originally developed in the old Soviet Union, which is to say they basically have Russian roots. But, nonetheless, it was confirmed by United States and other international naval authorities on Friday that two of those cruise missiles had hit the ship. They resulted in the sinking of the ship eventually. And that just might represent a major turn in naval history all over the globe.
There are so many lessons to be learned here, one of them is the fact that if indeed your ship is struck by cruise missiles, somebody's going to know it. You may deny that the missiles had ever existed, but there is adequate tracking information in a global digital world, that eventually somebody is going to have some images, if not video, of those cruise missiles and their trajectory and the explosion they will cause on the ship.
The Moskva, not just any ship, it really is, or was, the pride of the Black Sea Fleet of Russia. And Russia, after all, had been so intent on maintaining control of the Black Sea and, furthermore, of access to the Black Sea, that in 2014, Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula that was Ukrainian territory and seized it in order to consolidate influence and land access there at the Black Sea.
But now Ukraine, after having been invaded by Russia, has shot back two basically Russian cruise missiles and has sent to the bottom of the Black Sea the pride of Russia's navy in the Black Sea Fleet.
Now you look at that and you say, "Well, it's just one ship," but, you know, there have been moments in naval history when the loss of one ship, or say maybe two ships, has really changed the entire landscape, so to speak, of naval warfare. The loss of a ship the scale of the Moskva has not been experienced in modern warfare for about 40 years.
For anything like it, you would have to go back 40 years to Britain's war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Back there in 1982, Argentina's military government had tried to seize this British territory off of the Argentinian coast, to try to do so by stealth and by force, but Britain fought back. Under the leadership of prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, the Falkland War became a defining moment historically and politically for Britain. Britain made very clear it was not going to yield to that kind of violent invasion and it was going to speak up for its own national sovereignty.
One of the ways it spoke was with the British Navy. If you go back a matter of centuries, Britain's power has been primarily a naval power. That makes sense. It's an island nation. It was the British Navy that basically extended the British empire, British control, British defenses, and it was the United States that learned lessons, by observing Britain, that a major power had to have a major navy.
That's a lesson that apparently in more recent years been learned by China, with China's Communist Party and its government putting in a vast investment in expanding China's naval forces, not just defensively but trying to achieve something of an offensive force.
But as you look at the naval age, the big issue there has been fleets, yes. Flotillas, yes. Groups and gatherings of ships, yes. But, in particular, specific ships that took on an outsized military and historical preeminence.
Over the course of the last several decades, much of United States military strategy when it comes to the navy has been built around massive naval groups, and at the center of those groups are the very fearsome American aircraft carriers. Those aircraft carriers basically are portable airports on the great seas of the world. Wherever the United States and its navy is represented by a carrier group, there is massive American projection of force.
But what took place just in recent days in the Black Sea is a reminder that ships are not only massive investments of power, massive representations of modern warfare, they are also, after all, they are vessels floating on the sea that are extremely vulnerable.
I mentioned the Falklands War back in 1982. Let's just talk about a three-day period. On May the 2nd of 1982, the British forces sank the flagship of the Argentinian Navy. It was an aging vessel known as the General Belgrano. It was aging, but it was big. And it was eventually sunk by torpedoes that had attacked it coming from a British naval submarine. That makes sense.
But what shocked just about everyone was not the sinking on May the 2nd, 1982 of the Admiral Belgrano. It was the sinking just two days later of a British guided-missile destroyer known as the HMS Sheffield. Because it was not sunk by torpedoes, it was sunk by missile warfare, in this case an Exocet missile that was fired by the Argentinian forces against that British destroyer, and the British destroyer ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic with massive losses.
It is unlikely that the sinking of the Moskva took place without the loss of human lives. But at this point, the Russians are still in official denial and they are very tight-lipped about talking about any loss of life.
But the loss of life back on May the 4th of 1982 was indeed massive, so was the loss of life on May the 2nd. The exchange between Argentina and Britain did not involve other nations directly, including the United States, but the United States Navy changed at least a portion of its naval war doctrine because of what had been observed there over that three-day period in the South Atlantic.
The same thing is likely to be taking place right now. Naval authorities all over the world are going to be looking at the sinking of the Moskva and recognizing there may have just occurred a major change in naval warfare. You could have these two cruise missiles that could slam into that flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet and eventually incapacitate the vessel. Of course, shortly thereafter, the ship would actually sink.
What does that mean about massive naval presence? What does that mean about the American Navy? Well, here's something else that's also very interesting. The Moskva had advanced technological and missile defenses that should have prevented this from taking place. This has shaken at least in part the confidence of naval authorities all over the world who are recognizing that those defenses just may not in the end defend. That's a huge story. That's a big historical hinge in history that may be swinging right now.
But there's something else that's represented in the sinking of the Moskva, and that is not something that can be measured either in statistics or in, for that matter, naval war doctrine. It has to do with a loss of prestige, because massive navies with massive ships such as the Moskva ... And, again, the word flagship points to the kind of pride, not only strategy but pride, that is invested in these vessels. It turns out that they may be far more vulnerable than people understand.
This is very important for the United States, because the United States Navy is the frontline defense in so many ways when you look at the surface of the Earth. Just consider, first of all, how much of the surface of the Earth is covered by water. Then consider the massive American influence, prestige, and might that is represented by the incredible forces of the United States Navy and, of course, especially those aircraft carriers and the carrier groups of which they are the heart.
All of this is interesting just as a major development in world history. Sometimes you look back and say, okay, that was bigger even than we knew at the time. The Falklands War will go down in history as a very small war, but the naval developments in that war had a very lasting impact.
Again, just consider the fact that the sinking of the Moskva has a historical parallel only if you go back as far as the Falklands War in 1982. There have been lots of military conflicts since then, but nothing in a naval scale anything like what is taking place right now between Russia and Ukraine, and all the navies of the world are watching very closely.
But it's really interesting to see that this is a matter of military strategy. No doubt we're going to be hearing a lot about that, and perhaps the most important strategic changes are changes we will not actually hear about. But from a Christian worldview perspective, this reminds us that not only is warfare always filled with issues of moral importance, unavoidably, so is technology. You add together technology and warfare and big things happen with geopolitical consequences, but also with moral consequences.
Just as you think about the development of ages, the bronze age, the iron age, then you look at the modern age, you look at the horse age, you look at the tank age, you just go down the nuclear age, not to mention the great age of modern navies, you look at that and you recognize minor differences can make a massive change.
Furthermore, even as many of those changes are resisted. Just think about the transition from the age of sail to the age of steam. There were many people who said it will never work. But of course now the age of steam is very far in our rear-view mirror.
But there's another issue of human nature here and of human strategy that we need to note, and that is that if you believe that this is your strongest military asset, somebody somewhere in the world is going to be hard at work trying to figure out how to neutralize that asset, or even to turn that asset into a liability, and even as you have this massive vessel that was so much a matter of pride, but also it was a lead vessel in beginning the attack on Ukraine just weeks ago in the first place.
It was seen as a sign of Russia's aggression and its strength. And yet Ukrainians figured out a way to neutralize that strength, and in a big, indeed, and explosive way.
‘Bitskrieg’: New Rules of War in a Technological Age
But while we're thinking about this, I want to turn to a recent book written by a professor of warfare. That professor's name is John Arquilla. He recently retired. He's Distinguished Professor of Defense Analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School. He's also the author of a recent book entitled Bitskrieg: The New Challenge of Cyberwarfare.
Thomas Friedman at The New York Times has given the professor and his book attention, so have many others, and what you have here is someone who is an expert on the intersection of modern digital technologies, cyberwarfare, cyber information, and the actual course of war.
What he points out is that what we are seeing right now in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, what has turned out to be the biggest war of recent decades, what you have here is actually the unfolding of several principles that just about every army everywhere in the world better take note of.
In his new book Bitskrieg—you'll notice that's a play on the German warfare term blitzkrieg that became so consequential in the Second World War. In his new book Bitskrieg, he points to three new rules of war. The first one, he says, is that many and small beats large and heavy. As you're looking at the military engagement right now between Russia and Ukraine, Ukraine's small and light is beating Russia's big and heavy.
It turns out that's something that was predictable in the change of modern warfare. The Ukrainians are outnumbered by the Russians, no doubt. They're outgunned just as you look at the number and scale of armaments. But the fact is they are few and they are mobile and they are making a difference. Indeed, the Russian defeat at Kyiv will turn out to be one of the most embarrassing moments in Russian history, in any recent century.
Arquilla's second principle is that finding beats flanking. Flanking is a big military maneuver of modern warfare, of armies in particular. But in this case, he fast-forwards through past centuries in order to say, right now, finding is the most important thing, because given modern technologies, missile warfare, modern rockets, and the big game-changer when it comes to Russia's war on Ukraine, drones, it turns out that if drones can find you ... Well, here's some bad news ... they can probably kill you.
As Professor Arquilla points out, Russian military doctrine is not particularly subtle. A sign of the lack of subtlety is the fact that you had all these long lines. We're talking about massive lines of tanks and trucks and troops on highways coming into cities such as Kyiv, and those drones could find them.
Not only that, one of the stunning developments in this most recent war is the fact that Russia has lost several generals. How would that be possible? Generals are usually protected along with other high officers, because, after all, you don't train and you don't have that many generals to lose in an army. Why has Russia lost so many? No, it's because the Ukrainians, especially using cyberwarfare and also using drones, are able to predict where high military officers are and, well, you can connect the dots; the Ukrainians are.
According to media reports over the weekend, it is thought that Russia has lost yet another general in the war to this particular military principle: finding is more powerful than flanking.
The third change is that swarming beats surging. Surging has to do with massive armaments, massive armies, massive military units. But it turns out that swarming beats surging. Swarming again ... Well, it's an insect metaphor. You can look at this. It might not take as many insects to swarm as it does to surge, but according to Professor Arquilla, looking at the modern developments and military strategy, swarming actually can beat surging. He says that's the wave of the future.
Now what's interesting is that all three of those changes that Professor Arquilla wrote about some time ago, he taught about at the Naval Postgraduate School, they're actually now happening. This isn't just a matter of theory in a postgraduate program. This is a matter of modern, indeed, very current warfare. Once again, armies all over the world are going to have to take note of this.
A Return to the Cold War? Russia’s Attempt to Divide Has Only Worked to Unite the West
But next we need to note that military strategy is just a subset of a nation's strategy, of national strategy. Foreign policy is, at least in theory, a far more comprehensive and more powerful issue than military warfare in most times. Unless it is a time of war, you actually have other forms of national influence.
But it's clear that the United States and our allies are moving to a different strategic mode when it comes to imagining and engaging, considering Russia. The Washington Post reported on this, the reporters Karen DeYoung and Michael Birnbaum. As they reported in Sunday's edition of the paper, "Nearly two months into Vladimir Putin's brutal assault on Ukraine, the Biden administration and its European allies have begun planning for a far different world in which they no longer try to exist and cooperate with Russia, but actively seek to isolate and weaken it as a matter of long-term strategy."
So what they're saying here is that coexistence and cooperation are now not the long-term strategy not only of the United States when it comes to Russia, but also of our allies in Europe. You say, "Well, why the big change?" Well, it's not just Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It is Russia's invasion of other nations, Russia's seizure in 2016 of the Crimea. Of course, right now you just look down the history of Vladimir Putin's reign in Russia, and the autocrat has produced a sense of insecurity where he was trying to divide the west. Well, ironically enough, he has united the west.
Just consider the change since 2010. That's just barely 12 years ago. Back in 2010, NATO's strategic concept document called for what NATO leaders called a true strategic partnership with Russia. Now it's exactly the opposite. It is a move from coexistence and cooperationist goals to what can only now be described as containment.
Containment. We've heard that word before. That is exactly the word that described American foreign policy during the Cold War, when the opponent of the United States and our allies, the great threat was not Russia per se, but the USSR, the Soviet Union, with Russia, of course, at its heart.
What we see here is the realization made real in policy of the fact that a changed world means that there has to be a reassessment of reality, and that reality is that Russia has very aggressive and malignant plans when it comes to the use of its military and it is not an ally. The realization here is not that Russia's a bad ally, but that it has proved itself not to be an ally, but indeed an enemy. That's what has united so many nations in the west that actually were about to scuttle and scurry in many different directions until Russia's aggressiveness became so painfully, tragically clear in the invasion of Ukraine.
Modernity’s Denial of Evil Hits a Wall in Ukraine: It Turns Out that Evil is Real, After All
But this takes us to the final and most important issue of our consideration: the reality of evil. Daniel Henninger, writing for The Wall Street Journal, offers an article with a headline, "The Devil Resurfaces in Ukraine." In the postmodern world, even in the modern era, the effort has been to try to redefine evil. In the case of the modern age, one of the attempts has been to try to rationalize evil as if it's just an intellectual concept. It's something we can handle. It's something we can contain. But, of course, the biblical worldview tells us that evil is not something we can handle. It is not something we can contain.
In the modern age, there are many people who tried to say evil is outside of human beings when the biblical worldview says, no, evil actually starts in the evil inclinations of the human heart. That doesn't mean that human beings do everything evil that we might imagine or even accomplish. Let's thank God for that. That's God's restraining grace. But the reality is that the biblical worldview was never compatible with that modern worldview that says that evil is basically outside of us. No, it's inside of us.
Vladimir Putin is not operating here just as some kind of inanimate organism. He is an autocrat and he has a brain, and he has plotted this evil. That's simply undeniable.
Daniel Henninger, writing for The Wall Street Journal, says, hey, evil's back. It's back in the headlines. He goes on to say the devil has resurfaced in Ukraine. Now he means that metaphorically, of course, but there's a huge worldview story here, because the modern age gave way, at least in part, to, in the late modern age, something that was called, at least for a time, postmodernism, which denied any form of objective reality that is knowable, and specifically trying to act as if ideas such as evil are just social constructs.
There is no reality that is evil objectively understood, rather that's a socially constructed theory that, for human liberation, some argued, should be deconstructed. That's why one of the big intellectual movements of the last part of the 20th century was called deconstructionism.
Well, guess what? You are not going to deconstruct evil when you're looking evil in the face. You can't plausibly deny the objective reality of evil when you are seeing it displayed in a murderous attack of one nation upon another.
Henninger gets right to the point when he tells us, "Evil fell into disrepute years ago. Evil implied the possibility of a devil, and both came to be seen as impediments to some forms of private personal behavior. So we demoted evil and expanded the definitions of goodness. But banishing the devil," he writes, "came with a price, which is apparent as the world stares into the abyss of human ruin in Ukraine."
His next paragraph is this: "Vladimir Putin's scorched earth tactics resurrect the possibility in the world of an evil that is pure, compelling, and undeniable." Now this is just a good catalyst for Christian reflection upon the reality of evil. We just need to remind ourselves of a couple of very important biblical principles.
First of all, evil will not exist forever. Evil is real and, as we say, it's rooted, first of all, in the human heart. It is traceable directly to sin. We as Christians understand that there is no definition, there's no explanation of evil that can come close to reality without the doctrine of sin.
One of the most ancient of all heresies is to suggest that there are two forces in the world, the good force and the bad force, that sometimes, as in Zoroastrianism, or Manicheanism, takes the form of, say, a good god and a bad god locked in some kind of eternal cosmic conflict.
That is not the biblical worldview. Not at all. As a matter of fact, the Bible makes very clear that the time will come when evil is no more, when the devil himself is judged and comes under the wrath of God. But that same biblical worldview tells us that in this age, until Jesus comes, evil is very real, and the denial of evil is one of the most sophisticated strategies whereby evil makes its advance.
Looking to our own country, Henninger writes, "In our time, especially in the past 10 years or so in the United States, notions of what constitutes evil have been reinterpreted and distanced from individual responsibility." He says, "Evil has also become oddly euphemized," that is to say we don't call evil by its name.
Well, Henninger is absolutely right here. Many of us as Christians have been talking about this for a very, very long time. But he's undeniably right. It's very telling that this has appeared in a secular context in the editorial opinion review section of The Wall Street Journal.
So that means that at least many leaders in our country right now are beginning to say maybe we actually do have to take evil seriously. Maybe there is no other vocabulary that fits here. Maybe if, as Henninger says, you have Russian forces sending a missile that is sent into a populated area, and written on the missile were the words for the children, yes, that is something that can only be explained with the category of evil, period.
It tells us something that evil is back in the headlines. Of course, evil has never diminished in the world. This is what we understand to be one of the realities of the biblical worldview telling us that evil will be a challenge without. That means outside of us and, perhaps even more powerfully, within inside of us. We come to understand that the only rescue from evil is the lordship of Jesus Christ, the sovereign rule of Christ in this world.
Yes, the Christian gospel begins with the rule of Christ in our hearts, but it doesn't end just there. It ends with the sovereign rule of Christ in the entire cosmos.
If you need proof positive of the power of evil, just consider the cross on which the Lord Jesus Christ died. If you need proof positive of the victory of God over evil in Christ, just think of the empty tomb. That is to say just remember those words you sang and those words you heard in church just yesterday.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/AlbertMohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.