The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

It’s Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Major Realignment on the World Stage: Vladimir Putin’s Developing Friendship with Xi Jinping

As you look at the relations between nations, we need to understand that there’s always a basic battle for some kind of alignment and some kind of supremacy. This is just as old as at least the modern age, but of course there are much older patterns in history here.

The difference is that now, we have pretty much a good picture of the globe and we are now looking at the 20th century reality. After all, that’s the century of two world wars in which the alignment of nations all over the world, everywhere in the world ultimately matters.

Realignments then should have our attention. When you’re looking at a major realignment of the global situation, you’re looking at a reset, so to speak, not only as you’re thinking about the present, but as it points to the future. That’s why the big action we need to watch this week is between the leaders of Russia and the leaders of China meeting in Moscow, because the one thing that they actually have in common is not just something of a border. The one thing more importantly they have in common is a basic opposition to the United States and the West.

An increasingly solidified opposition, an increasingly isolated opposition when it comes to Russia, and an increasingly needy opposition when it comes to Russia’s current need for China. But China also needs Russia, and therein is a fascinating tale.

The two nations do share a great deal, but they also differ to a great degree. As you’re looking at Russia, you are looking at a country that, for the better part of the last several centuries, has been trying to figure out, does it primarily belong in its own imperial sphere or does it actually belong to something like Europe or even at the collapse of the Soviet Union, does it belong in some degree in alignment with the West? Well, that idea didn’t last very long, and instead, Russia under Vladimir Putin has basically reverted to its customary autocracy.

As you look at the 19th century, you look at the Romanov dynasty, you look at the rise of the Soviet Union in the 20th century. The one thing that all of those centuries and decades add up together is Russian autocracy. And now that Russian autocracy is named Vladimir Putin.

Now, as you’re looking at Russia, again, lots of trade, much of Russia actually in the crossroads between Europe and Asia as that nation straddles two different continents. But as you talk about China, very different, entirely Asiatic and furthermore, China, through many of the centuries we would talk about in the Russian engagement with the West, the Chinese were engaged with basically no one.

China saw itself for centuries as a civilization, as a kingdom set off from the rest of the world, apart from the rest of the world but of course, that didn’t last. And as you look at the 19th and 20th centuries, China is drawn into the world picture and actually, of course, it had a great deal to do with the development of history in the 20th century. And of course, you’re looking at the fact that the previous ages of Chinese history gave way to the modern age of China under the domination of the Communist Party, such that by the end of the 1940s, you are looking at a new alignment.

And that new alignment in the world had something to do with the giving way of the 19th century world, into the world that was remade after the war to end all wars, which was supposedly World War I. And then the fact that the world was remade again at the end of the Second World War, and then the world was basically aligned in the great competition between the superpowers of the USSR and the United States of America, increasingly defined also by their allies. When it came to the Soviet Union, its allies were primarily those united in what was known as the Warsaw Pact.

When it came to the West, you had the allies united in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. And then you had this idea at the end of the 20th century that many believed that, that old superpower rivalry was gone. The Soviet Union had fallen. All these alignments could now be rearranged in a world of globalization driven by commerce and a common culture.

But the fact is, even though there is a lot of consumerism at the global scale and a lot of even culture at the global scale, globalization didn’t deliver on its promises and the world didn’t turn out to be one giant global reality. If anything, we’re now looking at a fundamental realignment, and that’s where Christians need to pay attention, because this meeting between the Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Russian President Vladimir Putin, is not just optics. This is really big.

And what we need to consider is that there is one common concern on the mind of Vladimir Putin and the Chinese President Xi Jinping. That one common concern is that both of them are increasingly opposed to the United States of America and to America’s allies in the West. Once again, we’re looking at that great ideological cleavage.

In the middle of the 20th century, the great ideological challenge was of course, Nazism in Germany. For the rest of the 20th century, the great rivalry was between freedom and liberty in the West and communist domination increasingly in the East. And those two directional, of course just had to do with generalizations about Western civilization and then putting Russia largely in the East.

But regardless of East and West, the point is that the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. presented two starkly different worldviews and just about everyone in the United States was pretty much aware of that distinction, that indeed rivalry between worldviews. But then we were told that we had entered this new age of global peace and global cooperation with the fall of the Soviet Union, and frankly, it did look that way to many people at the time.

But of course, we now know that what we are witnessing is a realignment. And once again, you are looking at forces that are aligning themselves on the one side with Russia and increasingly China and the two of those nations together, and then the United States and our Western allies, and by the way, they’re not all just in what you might describe as the West, certainly not just in North America and Western Europe. They would include New Zealand and Australia, among some other nations and other parts of the world. The point is, it is becoming increasingly difficult for nations to be non-aligned.

In the Cold War, you had the Soviet sphere and the American or the Western sphere, and then there were those nations that declared themselves non-aligned. Well, increasingly, even though there are nations that will declare that one way or the other, they will show themselves more allied with one of these polarities or the other.

How will they do that? Well, they will do that by foreign relations. They will also do that by commerce. And that is of particular importance given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the current Ukrainian war, because one of the main responses of the United States, Europe and the West has been to shut down as much commerce in order to avoid giving Russia money in order to advance its war.

And so you’re looking at a lot of nations around the world deciding, “Okay, now we got to make a choice just like was true back in the 20th century. We have to choose between Germany and England. We have to choose between the USSR and the United States of America.” Now you have to choose between China and Russia increasingly, provisionally together versus the United States and Europe. Guess what? History’s not over.

Something else we need to watch is the ceremonials in Moscow because frankly, it’s very hard to take. I think most Americans looking at this would go, “How do these guys think they’re going to be believable with this kind of exchange?” They talked about their deep friendship. They smiled a great deal. They talked about what close buddies they are. And indeed they’ve developed something of a friendship of sorts, if it is even a friendship of convenience, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have met personally something like 40 times.

Now, again, they do share a lot of issues. Frankly, they share their own rivalry, and it’s not an equal pairing. China is far superior to Russia in terms of its power on the world stage and the strength of its economy, and frankly, the possibility of its future.

Russia is convenient to China for two main reasons. Number one, Russia is an exporter of fossil fuels that Russia needs, and Russia is a neighbor that China needs to be at least friendly, but the other thing that China needs from Russia is further leverage against the United States of America.

Part II

The Limitations of International Criminal Court: Why Vladimir Putin Will Not Be Dealt Justice for His War Crimes by the ICC

But from a Christian worldview perspective, there is another headline news item that has to do with Vladimir Putin and Russia that also deserves and demand some of our attention. Over the course of the last several days, the International Criminal Court has handed down an indictment and a warrant for the arrest of Russia’s president, as he is accused and indicted of war crimes.

That’s no small matter. We are talking about the International Criminal Court. We are talking about crimes as significant as war crimes, and specifically the allegations against the Russian president are that he has directed a policy not only of invading Ukraine, but specifically of abducting children, babies, children and teenagers from Ukraine, and basically forcing them to become Russian citizens, forcing adoptions by Russian parents. And that is an atrocity, and there is abundant evidence that it is happening, and it is also very interesting that Russia is basically not even denying it.

Now, as you look at this, let’s ask a couple of questions. In the long moral history of Christian reasoning, where does this kind of action fall? Well, it does fall in the category of criminal. You are talking about a state policy of abducting children and teenagers, even babies, and forcing them to become Russian rather than Ukrainian.

Now, why would that be so? What’s going on here? Well, very similar things haunt the 20th century, and in particular the abduction of babies, children, and teenagers by the Nazi regime. Now, why would this be done? Well, for a couple of reasons. Number one, every greedy regime wants to grow in its population, and the fastest way to do that is not just to have children, but to take them. And there’s a very long sorted, dark history in the human story of this kind of abduction taking place.

And as you’re looking at this, you also recognize that Russia is trying to make the claim that the territory they are now claiming as their own, which is populated, they say by Russians, it becomes more plausible if you can make the people there starting with the children there, Russians, even against their will.

So the International Criminal Court handed down an arrest warrant for the Russian president. That sounds like a very big deal, is it? Well, let’s think about it for a moment. First of all, let’s consider the words, International Criminal Court. Now, this is one of the big dreams of the late 19th and in particular of the 20th century. The idea that there could be criminal prosecution at an international level and that some kind of international legal order could be in place.

Now, why did the 20th century seem to demonstrate such a need? Well, it was because of all the criminal, horrifyingly criminal misbehavior of nations and political leaders during the 20th century. But even as you’re looking at the fact that at the end of World War II, the United States and our allies successfully, and I do use that word, successfully carried out the criminal prosecutions for war criminals from the Nazi regime and also from Imperial Japan.

The fact is that there has been no great consistency even through the 20th century of who gets arrested for crimes, who gets prosecuted, what kind of lawful authority is claimed for that trial process and for any sentence that might be carried out. At the end of the Second World War, the allies put together the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, and there was very basic public support for this effort. There seemed to be an absolute cry for justice, and of course, Christians understand that it’s because human beings are made of the image of God.

God is just and a hunger for justice is put within us simply by being made in God’s image. There was a deep hunger for justice. There have been millions upon millions of persons sacrificed, some of them murdered directly by the action of Nazi Germany. But of course, as you’re looking at this, you recognize that the big questions came down to, what lawful authority can conduct this trial? What lawful sentences can be carried out? What kind of legal process would be required and what kind of consistency can be claimed?

Well, by the time the international war tribunals had come to a conclusion under American leadership in both Europe and in Japan, the fact is that some of those questions have been answered, but the other ones have never been answered.

Many would actually look at the Nuremberg Trials as a great achievement in the 20th century, but that raises the question, where were the trials of the Soviet leaders that had carried out similar kinds of atrocities? There was the accusation, and history has to acknowledge this accusation that what took place in those war crimes trials was what is often called victors’ justice. The victors won the war, and thus they had the power to enforce their will by means of these criminal prosecutions.

Now, there is very little sympathy for any of the Nazis that becomes very clear. But when it comes to others, there’s a huge question, where is the consistency? Where is the authority? And here’s where I think Christians also understand that the principle of subsidiarity both encourages us at the one hand to understand that the greatest health is in the most basic unit of society and warns us on the other hand, that anything that begins with the word international, is likely to be weak and dubious from the very get-go.

There are airports in the United States that claim to be an international airport because they like to prestige, but frankly, that’s because they have an occasional flight to Canada, but it’s also true that trying to add the word international, to say two other words, criminal court doesn’t necessarily mean that it is so.

Okay, so the International Criminal Court has handed down this arrest warrant for the Russian President Vladimir Putin. What does that mean concretely? Well, he can’t be tried in absentia. The rules of the International Criminal Court preclude that. And to be honest, it’s just extremely unlikely that Russia’s president’s ever going to show up in the dock in terms of any legal action by the International Criminal Court.

So does it mean anything? Well, it does mean something. It means that the 123 signatory nations to the International Criminal Court and to the treaty that established it, they are likely at least to threaten an arrest of Vladimir Putin if he were to visit. Now, 123 nations is a fairly large portion of the globe, and if nothing else, it means that Vladimir Putin is not likely to be a tourist in any of those nations anytime soon.

So as you’re thinking about this, you may be thinking, “Well, Vladimir Putin, better be careful about visiting those say 120 plus nations.” But here’s something else you need to consider. Russia is not a signatory to the treaty that created or the international agreement that created the International Criminal Court. Russia is not a signatory to that agreement. Unless you say, “Well, that’s Russia being Russia.” But guess what? The United States of America is also not a signatory to that agreement. So you ask the question, “Well, why would that be so?” Well, it is so for several reasons.

Number one, when it comes to this kind of international organization, the United States has a very long history of being for it until it is against it. And when it’s against it, it comes down to the fact that the national interest of the United States precludes it coming under the sovereignty or under the authority of any international body. You say, “Well, what about the United Nations?” Well, the United Nations actually proves the point.

The United Nations was created such that there is a security council made up of a limited number of nations, and the big victor nations after World War II, started out as those that had a permanent seat on the Security Council and some of those nations, and that includes the United States have a veto power at the Security Council of the United Nations, which means the United Nations is an organization. It is located in New York City.

The United States is a member nation of the United Nations, but the United States as well as some other historic nations, including Britain and France and Russia can basically say, “No.” And veto anything. So it’s the United Nations that isn’t actually all that united.

The other thing you have to keep in mind is that nations of a certain size and stature and national interest, they’re going to give lip service to something international, but they’re not going to threaten their own national sovereignty. And you say, “Well, that’s true of Vladimir Putin.” Well, that’s true, but it’s also true of Joe Biden.

Now, as I said, there’s a long history to this, so let’s just consider that in the early 20th century, there were calls for an international union of nations. Different words were given, different titles were proposed, but there was a great deal of interest. And at least in the early 20th century, some of the major supporters were big names in American politics, including at least at that time, the former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.

This was a part of the progressivist impulse in American history that said, that what we are witnessing is moral improvement. That was one of the great illusions of the 19th century, in which you have civilization that is now increasing all across the globe, and there’s going to be an international age of peace and prosperity if only we can create the right international organizations.

But of course, even Theodore Roosevelt, Teddy, as he was known, and of course his motto was, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Teddy Roosevelt, in the end was opposed to the League of Nations as it was proposed at the end of World War I.

Woodrow Wilson, who had started out pretty much against those kind of international organizations as president of the United States, and as a rather globalist minded president of the nation that at the end of World War I, came out by any means, the strongest nation on earth. Woodrow Wilson wanted American influence in what would become a United Nations, or what was then called the League of Nations, but he couldn’t even get that proposal through the United States Senate by means of a treaty. And that’s because there’s a deep impulse in the United States to say, “We want to work in cooperation with other nations, but we are not surrendering our sovereignty.”

At the end of World War II, there actually was the creation of United Nations that the United States joined, and the big question was, of course, where will it be headquartered? There were proposals like Zurich and Geneva, historic European capitals, but the United States was already so powerful. It said, “If there’s going to be a United Nations, it’s going to be located in the United States.” The United Nations actually chose a prime site on a spit of land overlooking San Francisco, but the then President of the United States, Harry Truman said, “If there’s going to be something like the United Nations, it’s going to be closer, so I and my administration can take a good look at it.” And thus, it was moved to a spot that was known as Turtle Bay, which is now, of course a part of New York City.

So we have to come back to the headlines and remind ourself that the International Criminal Court is a thing, and it has a very important history laden with all kinds of worldview implications. But Russia is not a signatory to the agreement, nor is the United States of America. And the U.S., by the way, is hesitant not only in theory, but in practice because there could be an alignment of nations that would try to bring some kind of criminal charge against a president of the United States. And regardless of partisan politics in the United States, neither party is going to allow the United States to be put in that position.

Part III

Russia’s Diabolical Spoils of War, Children: Only the Vilest of Regimes Would Openly Abduct Children and Put Them Up for Adoption As Its Own

There are so many issues I want to discuss today on The Briefing that we’ll have to wait for another day. I felt that these issues were just of great weight and importance for Christians to think about in ways that many in the world simply aren’t even talking about them. But I want to end on what is the most morally significant issue we have discussed today, and that is the stealing of children. And I just want to point out that this is now incredibly well documented.

A newspaper with the weight of The New York Times recently ran a headline, “Using Adoptions, Russia Turns Ukrainian Children Into Spoils of War.” This article, by the way, appeared just before the end of last year. Listen to this, “Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February,” That would be of 2022, “Russian authorities have announced with patriotic fanfare, the transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia to be adopted and become citizens. On state-run television, officials offer teddy bears to new arrivals who are portrayed as abandoned children being rescued from war.”

The paper goes on, “In fact, this mass transfer of children is a potential war crime regardless of whether they were orphans. And while many of the children did come from orphanages in group homes, the authorities also took children whose relatives or guardians want them back.” And the newspaper backs this up with rather extensive reporting.

Some of the most interesting and moving comments in the story came from children and teenagers. One 16-year-old boy named Ivan Matkovsky said that he had ended up in a hospital after, “fleeing” a government boarding school in Mariupol and being rerouted at a Russian checkpoint, “Among the other children in the hospital, Ivan said, was an eight-year-old boy named Nazar who had hidden with his mother in a Mariupol theater that was pummeled by airstrikes in one of the wars defining atrocities. He survived but the eight-year-old boy never found his mother.”

In the areas invaded and occupied by Russia, children just disappeared, as did teenagers. Ivan, the 16-year-old boy, had been taken from a boarding school against his will. He, of course, was concerned about this eight-year-old boy that he met, but has now lost all contact with. Ivan, the 16-year-old was able to get a hold of the school’s headmaster back in Ukraine, and the return of that boy was arranged.

The paper says this, “While Ivan was waiting for the headmaster to pick him up, he said, the other children were put on a bus for Russia. They protested.” The boy said, “No one listened to them. They had no choice.” It tells you something about the horror of war in general and the horror of this war specifically, that children are spoils of war and you have a regime that evidently knows no moral limits, that is now openly abducting children and claiming them as new citizens of Russia.

The Russians claim that some of these children will have much better lives in Russia and that they actually belong to Mother Russia in the first place. But the abduction of children and the forced adoption of children and renaming them as citizens of your own country is a horrifying crime that should tear at the very hearts of Christians.

All this to say that the Christian worldview reminds us of the consequences of sin in the world and of the priceless value of family in this world, and the great gift of an intact civilization and even an intact country and an intact neighborhood in this world. But the goods of this world have enemies, and some of those enemies are now showing themselves for who they are.

And sometimes today, those forces in the world, well, they begin to meet together and shake hands and talk about what close friends they are, and just remember that behind all those smiles are bared teeth.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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