The Briefing

Documentation and Additional Reading

Part

Wall Street Journal

How Putin Drove Finland Into NATO’s Arms

by Sune Engel Rasmussen

Part

New York Times

The Baby Formula Crisis

by David Leonhardt

Part

The Briefing

Monday, May 16, 2022

Tags: Audio

Transcript

Part

Aggression Breeds Fear of Greater Aggression: Russia’s War with Ukraine Pushes Finland and Sweden into the Arms of NATO

How do you explain Vladimir Putin's ambitions in the Russian invasion of Ukraine? To put the matter bluntly, it is not going according to plan. But what is, or what was, Vladimir Putin's plan? Well, what becomes very evident is that Vladimir Putin, who was a KGB agent at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union itself, believes that Russia has been, and is now being, robbed of its rightful place among the great nations of the earth. He looks back to golden moments in Russian history, at least according to the Russian memory, the Russian Empire, and yes, even the Soviet Union, at least in terms of its geopolitical significance, and what he sees as international respect. He believes Russia, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, is being increasingly encircled by hostile forces, and in particular by forces that are undermining claims to Russian greatness.

So just about everything Vladimir Putin has done since becoming Russia's president twice—and now basically president for life—everything Vladimir Putin has done is an effort to try to rebuild his vision of a greater Russia. The problem is that his vision of a greater Russia has to come at the expense of other nations. At the very top of that list is Ukraine and remember that the Crimean Peninsula had been part of Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union. It had been a part of Ukraine even as it was a part of the country known as the Soviet Union at the time. After the breakup of the Soviet Empire, Ukraine became an independent nation, as we have recalled on the briefing, the Rus people actually came from Ukraine, the Russian language, also Russian orthodoxy, it basically goes back to Kiev. But as you're looking at this you recognize that Russia simply claimed the Crimean Peninsula, and Russia thought it could claim Ukraine. Again, it's just not working out that way.

But even as you're looking at the situation right now, we need to understand that in a moral outlook, based upon a Christian worldview, you have not only actions, but you have reactions, and eventually one of the things we need to learn is that aggression tends to breed a fear of further aggression. And if you want a perfect example of that, just consider the fact that Finland is moving forward as quickly as it possibly can in seeking to join NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. That's the defensive alliance that was put together at the end of World War II by western powers, led by the United States, also by Britain and Germany, that would be West Germany at that time, and other major European democracies in an effort to try to counter the influence and the threat of the Soviet Union.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is one of the artifacts of what became the Cold War, the great struggle for worldwide dominance and influence between the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies. But even thinking about that, you need to recognize that what has happened right now is that Finland, who had claimed neutrality for decades, is now abandoning that neutrality as fast as it possibly can because what it has learned from Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine is that it could be next on the list.

The headline on the front page of the Wall Street Journal gets it exactly right, "Putin Drives Finland into NATO's Arms." Just to state the obvious, this is the opposite of what Vladimir Putin was trying to do. But it just goes to show that Russia has to learn this lesson over and over again, century by century, aggression breeds a fear of further aggression. Russia is often just not able to carry out its imperial ambitions, and that's certainly true right now when it comes to Vladimir Putin's Russia, and instead of scaring off the nations that are a part of what he calls Greater Russia around Russia, he is scaring them right into the arms of NATO.

Now there are some subsidiary questions here, including whether or not NATO really should want an 830 mile border directly with Russia, because that's what Finland has. But just think about this, you talk about unintended consequences, but perhaps predictable consequences, certainly when it comes to predicting consequences in moral terms, the total exposure right now of the Russian border to a common border with NATO would be actually more than doubled if Finland, just as one additional country, were to join as a member nation of NATO. Unintended consequences, instead of scaring those nations off from an Alliance with the United States and our allies, the Russian bear is basically chasing them as fast as they can run into the arms of NATO.

But Americans sometimes aren't too up on history, especially when it comes to this part of the world, but I think listeners to The Briefing will want to be reminded of a couple of very important points. Number one, Russia, that is the Soviet Union, had invaded Finland before. The year was 1939, and the Soviet Union wanted Finland's territory, it wanted to grab it, so it invaded Finland. Again, 1939, but guess what happened? The Finns fought back, and they fought back with incredible bravery, and also with incredible success.

Now there are a couple things to ponder here. First of all, how did the Finns fight back the Russians in 1939? Well, here's a clue, drawn just from recent headlines in terms of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Number one, the first thing that they did was that they knew their territory better than the Russians did. And furthermore, when you're thinking about Finland, you are thinking about frozen Tundra for at least a large part of the year for a large part of the territory, and the Finns, well they're used to it. Finnish boys would grow up hunting on that snow, in those woods. They would grow up, in terms of the self defense of their nation, doing maneuvers in the snow, in those forests, and in those woods. The Russians were in terra incognita, but the Finns were on their homeland.

And in 1939 the Finns did something brilliant, they had dressed their soldiers in white. They were known as the White Death to the Russians because the Finns dressed in white, blended in with the snow, they then blended in with the forest, and it turned out that the invaders went home with what is estimated to be five times the casualties that they inflicted on the Finns, and Finland remained an independent nation. The Soviet Union's invasion of Finland was a disaster for the Soviet Union, in the same way that it's likely to be, certainly over time, that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is going to turn out to be counterproductive. And at this point that would be true even if Russia claims some considerable territory in Ukraine, or from Ukraine, in terms of Russia's western territories, and that's because if Finland joins NATO, Russia now has a NATO border that's twice as long, actually more than twice as long, as when Russia first invaded Ukraine.

The Wall Street Journal, by the way, points out something else, and this is the second issue just in moral terms, people fight for their homeland as defenders more bravely than do invaders, and that's an important thing to recognize. There's a certain biblical principle here when you think about the association of a people and their home, and their family, and their patrimony, and their tradition, and their language, and their freedom, it turns out that people defend their own territory, their own homeland, with a ferocity that is greater than, and often a determination and a commitment that is greater than, even a better armed, far more powerful adversary, or invader, as is the case right now with Russia.

And furthermore, it turns out that in the context of war, or battle, you actually find out how good your forces are, you find out how good your weapons are, you find out about vulnerabilities you didn't know about and could not have predicted. One of the things all nations are looking at right now, in terms of Ukraine's press back against the Russian invasion, is the effect of drones, missiles, and rockets. It turns out they can go a long way in stopping what should be an overwhelming force coming in on the offense.

But even as we're thinking about this this raises another question, should NATO welcome Finland? And by the way, it's not just going to be Finland, it's also going to be Sweden. And in this case the answer almost as assuredly will be yes, but it's not going to come without consequences, and it's not a slam dunk case, because after all this means that all of NATO's members will be accepting the responsibility for an 830 mile border right on Russia.

Part

The Fog of the U.S. Proxy War with Russia: Understanding the Logic—And Risk—of Increased U.S. Aid to Ukraine

Now that is not what NATO wanted in the beginning, here's what's important to recognize, this was not the founding vision of NATO, but it's Russian aggression, for one thing, and certainly in recent years, that has led to the situation as we see it right now. But there's another point here we simply need to recognize, and I made reference to this in Friday's edition of The Briefing and said I would come back to it, and that is the fact that the United States is in effect fighting something like a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. But that's actually official American war doctrine, that is to say official strategy, and we should understand why it is so.

Over the course of the 20th century the United States came to the conclusion, as did other major democratic allies, that one of our chief ambitions should be to keep battle far away from the territory of the United States. So one of the things that Americans came to understand, and Pearl Harbor made that clear in 1941, is that if the United States is not involved on the borderlands, the frontier, in defense of others, eventually the war will make its way to the American homeland. But there's a risk in this, and it's a risk we need to understand, the more American military intelligence the current administration, the Biden Administration, shares with Ukraine, the more involved we are in the war. The more we give armaments to Ukraine, including advanced armaments like the Javelin missile system, the more we become directly involved.

Vladimir Putin is not a fool, that is abundantly clear, he is no fool, he understands exactly what the United States and other allies are doing. Now at this point I think it's very arguable that the United States and other allies have been doing the right thing, but we need to understand there are limits to this. A proxy war doesn't indefinitely stay a proxy war. There's no guarantee that it simply stays that way. Vladimir Putin has every reason right now, at least in terms of geopolitics, to try to make clear that there will be consequences, not only to Finland, say, for joining NATO, and Sweden as well, but also to the United States and other Western allies, if indeed this proxy war begins to make a real claim against Russia for the long term.

From a Christian worldview perspective, realpolitik, just an understanding of what's going on in the world right now, reminds us that there are often no easy answers when it comes to how to handle international aggression. There are often no easy answers when it comes to the theater of war. The Christian worldview gives us basic principles, but that doesn't necessarily tell us exactly what is wise, strategic, and for that matter, advantageous hour by hour or day by day. These are unfolding issues in a fallen world, in a sinful world, a lot of these issues are very difficult to figure out, and that's a part of the chaos of war, the fog of war, as it became known in the 20th century. It is a fog in terms of strategy, it's a fog sometimes in terms of politics, it's a fog sometimes in terms of morality. There are issues that are clear, sometimes there are issues that are not so clear.

Historic decisions are always better understood in retrospect than they are at the time, and in a fallen world, we're never sure exactly how things might turn out. But NATO was founded upon the moral assumption that unless aggression is checked, it will simply grow, it will increase, and furthermore that aggression will triumph over freedom unless freedom is willing to fight back with even greater force, and greater conviction.

Part

Gerontocracy—Lurking Behind the Baby Formula Crisis in the U.S.

But next let's shift to a very different story, and that has to do with a shortage of baby formula in the United States. And this has become a rather dramatic problem. All you have to do is walk into your local grocery store and you will see that the shelves are largely depleted, and that is an actual American crisis. We talk about supply chain problems, but in the case of baby formula it turns out it's a very complicated picture. A closer look at the reasons for the shortage have to do with the supply chain disruption, but also with the fact that federal authorities basically intimidated a company into shutting down a major manufacturing plant because of charges that at least two infants had become sick and died in ways that were related to the formula. It turns out right now there is no agreement as to whether there was any basis for this or not, but the fact is there was pressure upon this company to shut down that facility.

But it turns out this is a really complex issue. Again, just a testimony to life in a sinful world sometimes, it turns out that this is extremely complicated. There are state contracts when it comes to so much of the formula sales, and it turns out that there just might be a bit of cronyism involved in this, and it turns out that there aren't that many manufacturers, and it turns out that the food and drug administration, perhaps under some political pressure, has made it very difficult for there to be the importing of much baby formula, even from Europe, which in some cases has higher standards when it comes to safety, or more specific standards, than at least on some issues that would prevail in the United States. And so we're looking at all kinds of things here, economic protectionism, federal bureaucracy, probably some very bad decisions made along the line, perhaps a manufacturing problems, and what you might end up with here is a genuine crisis of very hungry American babies.

But in the big worldview picture, obviously this is a crisis for many babies, and it might turn out to be a bigger crisis for the United States writ large, but even as we're thinking about this, and in worldview terms, it's interesting to see that David Leonhardt of The New York Times has responded with an article trying to say that the crisis in baby formula, "Highlights four larger US economic problems." Now it's the last problem that ought to have our attention, just in terms of vast worldview significance, because it comes as a surprise, as it is acknowledged in this article.

He says the four larger US economic problems, number one, the everything shortage. That's the supply chain disruption. It's true right now that if you want to buy a new car you might have to wait months. If you want to buy new furniture, you might have to wait even longer months. If you want to buy any number of things, or have something built, or perhaps even get in line for some service, you might be waiting much longer than you would ever have expected. And supply chain disruptions, by the way, are not going to be over any time really soon. It turns out that many of these are going to have lasting effects, but let's face it, when it comes to the stakes that are involved in a shortage of baby formula, we're talking about something that literally hits right at home.

The second big issue here that Leonhardt describes is what he calls big business, and it turns out that this is a highly concentrated business, highly concentrated in basically three and only three manufacturers. When it comes to the fact that baby formula involves millions of babies, millions of American families, it almost certainly does not make sense for all that to be concentrated in only three companies. And those companies are very zealous in protecting their markets, which means they've been largely successful in keeping other companies out. That also has to do with the third big issue here, which is big bureaucracy. And this is not only the FDA—it's not only about quality control, it's not only about foreign policy when it comes to the United States government and protectionist programs, or those kinds of issues—it also has to do with the fact that when you have states that are contracting with particular companies, that three manufacturer number can actually get down to one.

But as important as those three issues are—and as debatable as any one of them might be—if you get a Republican and a Democrat you might have a real argument over any of those, but you do have the common admission that this is a problem and somebody really has to lean in and fix it. But it is the fourth contributing issue here that in worldview terms really ought to have our attention because I am shocked that The New York Times would acknowledge this issue as straightforwardly as it has.

It says that the fourth contributing factor here to this problem is the gerontocracy. That's what he says, the gerontocracy. What does he mean? "The US has long put a higher priority on taking care of the elderly than on taking care of young families. Americans," he says, "over 65 receive universal health insurance," that's Medicare, "and most receive a regular government check," social security, "many children, by contrast, live in poverty. Relative to other affluent countries the US spends a notably small share of its budget on children."

Well, all that is, in the political calculus of The New York Times, an argument for bigger government, actually, which could contribute to the very problem it identified as factor number three. But my point is not to suggest any particular policy here, it's that there really is an issue. You see this in some communities where you have the aging of the population, and I don't just mean those identified as a gerontocracy, I mean you have an increased number of Americans who aren't married, of Americans who are married and don't have children, and of households that have no children in them whatsoever, and that means there's a shift of political momentum away from children and families and towards someone else. Very different interests. And now it turns out that even The New York Times recognizes that just might be a problem.

The Christian worldview reminds us that again, the very first chapter of scripture gives us the first command given to human beings, which is be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. And furthermore, even if you do not know the scriptures you know that your society, your civilization, your culture, will not survive unless there is a steady stream of children. Now you look at this and you recognize we're living in a time right now that seems to be in open defiance of that obvious truth. The fertility rate, the birth rate, both of them falling significantly in western countries, and we're talking about a birth rate that is now below the replacement level in the United States, except for what is contributed by immigration. The fact is that there is not an adequate priority put upon having children, raising children, honoring families, where the parents are raising children, or for that matter, defining the family, all of this is basically being swept away by a tide of redefinition of adulthood, redefinition of the good life, and all the rest, and that is at the expense of babies.

And it's more than that you recognize, when you have a falling birth rate like that it directly undercuts the ability of human beings to fulfill the very purpose for which we were created and the first command that was given to us by the creator. So just keep that in mind as you're thinking about the shortage of baby formula, the first issue should be making certain that babies have what they need, period. That American families have what they need, period. That should be the first concern, and it had better be the first concern of our government at every level right now. This is not an abstract problem. But the second issue is we better understand how we got here and what it does say about our society. This is not just about baby formula, but it is in large part about babies. It is about children and the priority, or lack of priority, put upon the coming generation. Or we must hope and pray the coming generation, if indeed our society is to be healthy in the future. Or for that matter, to put it bluntly, even to have a future.

Part

$125B in Four Years: How Legal Sports Betting Has Turned Many States into Functional Casinos

But finally I want to take us to Atlantic City, New Jersey. I don't actually want us to go there, I want us to think about Atlantic City and Las Vegas, but also the spread of gambling all over the United States, and in particular legal sports betting. Here's the big deal, how long has legal sports betting been legal in the United States? Only about four years. In the past four years what have Americans spent on legal sports betting? Well get this, $125 billion. That's $125 billion in four years.

Now to put that number into context an article by Wayne Perry of the Associated Press helps us. We come to find out that four years into America's experiment with legalized sports betting, $125 billion is, "A bit more than the amount that was spent on pet food supplies and veterinary care in the entire country last year, more than the net income for America's farmers last year."

In other words, just to be clear, Americans have now spent more on legal sports betting in the United States in the past four years, then all American farmers together made as income or revenue last year. We're talking about something that reveals a great deal about the moral shape of the United States, and also about how our government often just tries to prey on its own people, because that's what legalized gambling does. The state takes its take, so to speak. By the way, this article makes clear that the states are trying to enrich themselves off of legalized sports betting so much that in one state the state is taking 51% of the take. Now we need to recognize that at that point the states actually become something like one giant casino, and that means the state has an economic rationale, an economic motivation, to lead its own citizens into risky gambling. And, frankly, all of it's risky. All of it is morally suspect, and in most cases just abundantly clearly morally wrong, with pernicious consequences at every level of society.

The biblical worldview honors thrift, it honors investment, it honors labor, it honors a laborer being worthy of his wages, it does not honor risk taking where there is no value, and that's exactly a game of chance, and, it's often claimed, a game of skill when it comes to picking out winners and losers and sporting events. But the bottom line is it is putting one's money at risk, not in order to earn it, but in order somehow to gain it. And of course there have to be more losers than winners or the entire system falls apart.

But just remember the old adage, whether it's Las Vegas or Atlantic City or Monaco, or your local state government, the house always wins. If the house doesn't always win in the long term the house goes out of business, and trust me, none of the casinos, none of the gambling interests, and none of the state governments trying to profit from legalized gambling, intend to go out of business. We're told the sports betting right now has brought in something like $1.3 billion in state and local taxes, but that's just the tip of the iceberg about what the state and other levels of government intend to receive. It's New York State, by the way, that taxes mobile sports betting revenue at 51%, now get the next statement, "A rate that operators say is not sustainable in the long run." Look for a political battle over that one.

One of the most morally troubling issues found in this article is where one company's president, the company is called DraftKings, he said that the current level of ads, by the way, if you're watching a sporting event you're bombarded these days with ads for sports betting, trying to lure more and more customers into sports betting, luring more and more customers into this trap, into this losing strategy, into this game of chance, into this risk taking. But the president of this company, DraftKings, according to this story, and the Associated Press said that the ad content, "Is necessary for the onboarding of customers." Now just use that language, think about it for a moment, the onboarding of customers. Yeah, that's what it's all about, onboarding customers. They're not about to come out and say they're trying to entice Americans to basically throw their money away, instead they say they're trying to just make it easy if necessary to onboard customers. And if you take that at face value, you're just onboarding nonsense.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter or going to twitter.com/AlbertMohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to SBTS.edu. For information on Boyce College just go BoyceCollege.com. I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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