The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, April 6, 2023

It’s Thursday, April 6th, 2023.

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


Part I

Russia Pushes Finland into the Arms of NATO: How Putin is Reshaping of the Global Geo-Political Map

There’s plenty for us to talk about today, but in recent days we’ve had to look at some very heavy stories. Now, today we’re going to take up a few headline stories that are of lasting consequence but they also come with an enormously interesting historical background. There is a lot to consider in all of this just in worldview analysis, but the history itself is a fascinating tale and I hope that today will be really, really interesting as we take a break somewhat from some of the most pressing headlines and look at others that have that very deep history that compels us to take another look. My guess is that history will prove to have some twists and turns you did not expect, and yet they are behind what we see in the headlines every single day.

The big headline in the international context this week is that Finland is now officially a part of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. That’s huge news, and it’s huge news for several reasons. First of all, the question, why now? The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the main alliance of the Western democracies, a mutual defense and strategy organization was put together in the aftermath of World War II. It was put together in the face of what became known as the Cold War.

The great struggle between the Western democracies and the totalitarian governments mostly allied with the Soviet Union. And so we had an eastern bloc headed by the Soviet Union and we had a Western block as it was known, headed by the United States and this massive worldview and foreign policy and military divide between those two worlds, a contest of ideas, a clash of worldviews.

So why would Finland to be joining in the year 2023? Well, the short answer to that would be a name, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president basically scared Finland into joining NATO. Not only Finland, but its neighboring nation, Sweden, is also applying to join NATO. Interesting little footnote there, it is turkey, which is now a NATO partner that finally allowed Finland to join, but because of its own issues is not yet agreeing to Sweden joining. We have to hope that will be soon.

But as we look at this, we really are talking about a twist not only in the map, not only in the defense dimension. We’re looking at a major shift and something has to explain why Finland that was so resolutely committed to neutrality for so many decades has abandoned neutrality and instead unabashedly joined the west, and officially now a member of NATO.

By the way, the key issue here in terms of Finland’s membership in NATO is that as a NATO member, it is now part of a mutual defense pact. That’s what NATO is above all. It’s not mostly about defense strategy, it is mostly about the fact that every single national member of NATO is committed to come to the aid and military defense of every other national member of NATO. Now, that raises the stakes in the contest right now between Russia and the West because as we’re talking about Finland, we are talking about a 13 kilometer border with Russia itself, a border with mother Russia that amounts to something like 800 miles. So the NATO exposed border between NATO member nations and Russia has just doubled this week. That’s hardly insignificant.

Jens Stoltenberg, who is the Secretary General of NATO, said this, “We are removing the room for miscalculation in Moscow about NATO’s readiness to protect Finland, and that makes Finland safer and stronger and all of us safer.” The president of Finland, who attended the ceremony of course, which coincided with NATO’s 74th anniversary, described this headline is “a great day for Finland.”

But there really is a massive story here because as recently as the year 2016, a very clear majority of the Finns, that is of the citizens of Finland, did not want Finland to become aligned with either Russia or with the West, that is to say with NATO. But that changed. What drove the change? Well, it was Vladimir Putin’s Russian invasion of Ukraine, that changed everything. If Russia would violate international law and treaties with Ukraine in order to invade that nation with clear imperial ambitions, then the Finns have learned with an even longer history, and that is that if Vladimir Putin’s Russia will invade Ukraine, it would also invade Finland.

So even with all the bluster warning, both Sweden and Finland not to join NATO, join NATO is exactly what Finland has done, and Sweden is trying as fast as it can to do. Vladimir Putin himself, the dictator at the head of mother Russia, he’s scared Finland directly into the arms of NATO. Public opinion in Finland switched in a matter of weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

That is pretty much the headline news that people are talking about. It is a reshaping of the NATO map. It’s a reshaping of the entire global geopolitical map. And you are looking the fact that NATO’s officially defended border between the West and Russia just got doubled. It got doubled this week. It’s easy to understand why Finland changed on this position and why Finland sought to join NATO and as quickly as possible, but what exactly does NATO get out of this? A mutual defense pack has to be mutual for it to make any sense. It clearly is advantageous for Finland.

Why is it advantageous for the other NATO member states? The reason is this, Finland though a small nation there on the Baltic and on the border with Russia, Finland being vulnerable for so much of its national history, indeed I think it’s safe to say for all of its national history, Finland actually has one of the most professional, one of the most lethal and one of the most powerful militaries on earth, and that is the sole explanation for why Finland currently exists.

Part II

A Long Commitment Based in a Fascinating History: Finland’s Neutrality Comes to an End

But as I told you, we’re going to be diving deeper into history. I hope you find this interesting today because history is not only interesting, it also has a great deal to do with understanding the world as we know it today. These issues generally don’t go away, they just recur like a continuing series of questions, a continuing series of conflicts and pressures. If you are Finland, then you have both the blessings of and the curse of your geography. You have a beautiful nation, stunning in its natural resources, but you are located right up against two historically imperialistic countries, Sweden to the west and Russia to the east.

For much of Finland’s early national history, the greater threat appeared to be Sweden. As a matter of fact, at various times in Finland’s history, it has been a part of the Swedish Empire, sometimes under direct Swedish rule, sometimes through something of a status as a vassal state. Now, something that many Americans just don’t think about as you think about European history is that Sweden was once one of most powerful empires on earth. Sweden’s monarch was one of the leading monarchs in all of Europe. Sweden’s armies were greatly feared by virtually everyone near and afar. Sweden was an incredibly powerful nation.

You also need to understand there are a couple of things behind how nations become that powerful. First of all, geography always matters. If you have a country that is right at an intersection of empires, if you have a country that is rich in national resources, if you have a country that has safe, natural harbors, has transverse rivers, you’re looking at a nation that has incredible advantages from the get-go. You could put it in reverse. If your country has few or none of those things, then you’re actually in very big trouble.

Finland’s national history and its history as a people goes all the way back with language and history into what we would call ancient history. But I’m going to fast-forward. I mentioned the fact that the country is right there between Russia and Sweden, and both of those dominant countries have played a big part in its history. By the time you get to 1809, you had a Finnish War. And at that point, the kingdom of Sweden basically allowed Russia to take over sovereignty of Finland. Finland at that point became a vassal state, which is to say it’s considered a state, it has its flag, but it really does not have any national autonomy. It was absorbed within the Russian Empire. Now, it is at this point that the independence movement in Finland, the nationalist movement really began, and the Finns wanted their own country, not a vassal state to Sweden, not a vassal state to the Russian empire.

Finland’s great modern opportunity to establish itself as an independent nation came during the Bolshevik Revolution and tumultuous years of revolution in Russia because as Russia became preoccupied with itself and as the Bolsheviks consolidated their control, they had to let go an awful lot of territory at Russia’s periphery. And in the West, that meant that Finland had the opportunity to seize its independence, and it did so in 1917. So just remember, we’re in 2023. Finland as an independent nation is just over 100 years old, much younger as an independent nation than the United States of America.

Now, from the get go, the newly identified nation of Finland is an independent nation. It was a people group to be sure with its own language, but nonetheless, having been a vassal state of Sweden and then a vassal state of Russia given the Bolshevik Revolution, the Finns took their opportunity and established themselves as an independent nation, but they always had very awkward relationships to the East with the Soviet Union. And then we fast-forward from the Bolshevik Revolution to what became the Second World War.

Now, here’s where things get really complicated. In August of 1939 in a secret, very evil plot, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union established what was known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Those were the two foreign ministers of Nazi Germany, that would be Ribbentrop, and then of the Soviet Union, that would be Molotov. They basically carved up much of Europe into what was on as a Soviet sphere and a German sphere or a Nazi sphere. But even as Finland was put by that very evil plot within the Soviet sphere, the reality is that the Soviets wanted Finland not only as a part of the sphere, but as a part of the Soviet Union.

And so on the 30th of December 1939, just as World War II is getting underway, Russia, that is to say the Soviet Union invaded Finland. Now you’re talking about a massive nation, the Soviet Union and a very small nation, Finland. It wasn’t a fair fight, but guess what? The Finns won. They won by a combination of very, very clear strategy using tactics that included, for instance, the Finns being ready to fight on the snow, the Russians really weren’t. The Finns knew their land and their forests, the Soviets really didn’t. And the Finns were ready not only with a superior armament, but also the Finns were ready wearing white uniforms that made their soldiers blend entirely into the snow. It turned out to be absolutely humiliating and lethal for Russia.

At this point, the Soviets simply had to back out of Finland, and that’s the point at which Finland made another major mistake because with World War II very much underway with the Soviet Union over here, but then allied with the United States and with Europe against Nazi Germany, if the choice was between the allies that included the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Finland chose Nazi Germany. Now, it did so to a certain kind of remove, but it certainly signed pacts with Nazi Germany. It was considered a part of the sphere of influence of Nazi Germany. It never became officially one of the Axis nations, and that’s one of the reasons why the Western nations did not invade Finland nor seek to subdue it. But at the same time, it made a very bad bet and it made a very bad bet with very much at stake.

So at the end of World War II, the Finns thought they had learned an invaluable and inescapable lesson, and that is that the Finns must declare themselves to be neutral between the east and the west. They were basically allied with the east. And then with the west, they were allied with the Swedes. And then they were taken over in terms of Russian influence. And then of course they gave themselves, after beating back the Soviets, they gave themselves to the Nazi sphere of influence. Some of what the Finns learned was where their stood courageously. A part of what they learned is where their nation allied disastrously. So again, neutrality was the aim. And so for the better part of the last half century and more, Finland has been resolutely, constitutionally, politically and militarily neutral, except not actually. And that’s because in this world, it’s virtually impossible to be truly neutral.

And so as you look at Finland, you come to understand that it wanted good and peaceful relationships first with the Soviet Union and then with Russia, but at the same time it understood that its natural identity is with Europe and the west far war than it was or is with Russia or the Soviet Union. And so the Finns basically declared themselves absolutely committed to neutrality between the east and the west. That’s what makes the fact that Finland joined NATO this week so historically important.

This requires some explanation. I hope the history has helped to set up why this is such momentous news. The bottom line is that Vladimir Putin scared the Finns out of neutrality. And Vladimir Putin basically did it single-handedly. If you take Vladimir Putin out of the picture, if you take the invasion of the Crimean Peninsula and now of the motherland of Ukraine out of the picture, the Finns are almost assuredly still neutral. Or at least they say they’re neutral because they’re not declaring themselves to be opposed to Russia and they haven’t joined NATO, until this week, they did.

If you were to go back in European history and say, “What would it take for the Finns to say they want to join NATO?” Well, the answer back then would’ve been right, and the answer would’ve been this. The Finns will only join NATO if they do so out of absolute national necessity. And that’s where Finland is now. And that’s why NATO now has a border twice as long with Russia than it did just, say, one week ago. The world has changed. Now the globe has to change as well.

This certainly adds to NATO’s military exposure, but it also adds to NATO’s military strength. Finland has been cooperating with NATO on a somewhat background manner for a matter of years, and now we understand why. But the background has now become foreground. Finland is in NATO and Sweden is trying to get into NATO as fast as possible. And no one in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, no president of a Western nation was persuasive. It was Vladimir Putin who was persuasive, and he scared those nations right into NATO. It turns out that living right next door to the Russian bear is, well, let’s just put it this way, long term and unbearable problem.

Part III

President Biden Will Skip the Coronation of Britain’s King Charles III — And There Is a Long History Behind That Decision

Well, now we’re going to switch to another headline in recent news that points to a very long history of which most Americans are, I think, basically, well, let’s just put it this way, very unfamiliar, and thus things can appear quite differently than they will look once you put them into an historical context. And so today I’m going to do what I don’t often do, and that is defend a decision made by Joe Biden, the current president of the United States. What decision did he make that I thoroughly support even though I am an anglophile? That is to say I have great, great affection for Britain, for England, for the British history. The president of the United States has done the right thing by announcing he is not going to the coronation of Britain’s new king.

The coronation of King Charles III will come in London on May the 6th, and it is going to be an incredibly historic affair because there aren’t that many monarchs in Europe to be crowned in such a way these days. And when you’re looking at the British crown, you are looking at one of the most venerable and simultaneously the most famous and highly esteemed monarchy in the entire modern world.

And of course, much of its allure is that it itself, though existing into the modern age, has distinctively ancient and medieval roots. And we also have the shared heritage, as Winston Churchill said, “The heritage of the English speaking peoples.” But we’re looking at a decision made by the president of the United States that hasn’t gone over well in the United Kingdom, in Britain. The decision is that the president will not attend the coronation of King Charles III.

And there are people saying, “Well, look, King Charles is head of state, President Biden, the president of the United States is a head of state. The United States and Britain have what’s long been described as a special relationship, and that’s entirely positive. So isn’t it galling? Isn’t it insulting that the American president does not go to the coronation of the British King?”

Well, let me just put this in an historical context. We are a nation only because we fought a war against the British crown. And for most of American history, it would have been inconceivable that an American president would’ve attended the coronation of a British monarch. This is not a new decision. President Biden is basically making the decision every single American president would’ve had to make going all the way back to 1776. Cue the music Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Now, as I said, I am both a very proud and thankful American, and I’m an anglophile. I love Britain, I love English history. And frankly, if I were invited, I’d find a way to go. But the president of the United States can’t go. He shouldn’t go. No American president ever has. But it’s also important to say very few American presidents have ever been invited. So let’s talk about that for a moment. Let’s just remind ourselves that the Americans are vaulted against a distant ancestor in a direct line of King Charles III. This gets personal.

Now, there are a couple of other things to consider. Presidents of the United States, for much of American history, would not think of leaving the American borders. You had that happen basically with President Theodore Roosevelt, but that had to do with the Panama Canal so that was fairly close. As you’re talking about an American president, an incumbent going to Europe or to England for any amount of time, you have to go back to Woodrow Wilson in the aftermath of World War II. And we have to remember that was extremely controversial, and there were those who felt that the President of the United States should then have been impeached just for going to Europe, much less for staying there as long as Wilson did.

But let’s think about coronations before that. Let’s just go back to, say, 1838. Now, the United States is already a nation and has been for some time at that point, but 1838 marks the coronation of Queen Victoria. Who officially represented the United States? Here’s your answer. No one. Fast-forward to her son. By the way, that’s a long time later. You’re talking about 1902. In 1902, who attended on behalf of the United States government, the coronation of King Edward VII? The answer would be no one.

When King George V was coronated in the year 1911, the United States did send an observer, but he was not someone who held elective office. When his son, King George VI had his coronation in 1937, the victor and the United States of World War I, in terms of leading the Allied Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing headed the American delegation. You’ll notice he again was not someone who held political office. And that was 1937 with war looming in Europe, a war that would eventually bring the United States and England into an incredible allyship.

As had been the case of World War I, it became the case again in World War II, and that war was already dawning. Already the sides were shaping up, but the President of the United States did not attend to the coronation of King George VI nor of Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended to the throne in 1952 and whose coronation was in June of 1953.

President Dwight David Eisenhower sent a delegation in his place. And well, who since then? The answer would be no one. After the very long and illustrious reign of Queen Elizabeth II, king Charles III is now going to have his coronation on May the 6th. And the point I’m making is that the president of the United States, Joe Biden, is doing what presidents of the United States have done if given the opportunity for all of our nation’s history, and that is if invited, decline the invitation to attend the coronation of a British monarch. And you say, “Well, that seems a little bit rude.” But then again, let’s just say that there just might be a political case made against being the very first president of the United States to attend the coronation of a British monarch. That too might get personal.

By the way, the First Lady, Jill Biden, is going to be heading an American delegation, but many in England are absolutely aghast that the president is rudely not coming. But in so doing, he’s doing what any American president in all of American history either did do or would’ve done.

Part IV

The ‘Special Relationship’ That Now Unites the United States and Britain Took a Long Time to Develop: Does Anyone Remember War Plan Red?

But at this point, I just want to say that American and British history, the combined histories of our nations, as I say with great affection and with great personal interest, the People’s United and as Churchill said, also divided by a common language, a common culture, a common understanding of the rule of law, a common understanding of basic constitutionalism.

We share much more than what separates us. And I think Churchill’s right, we basically are seen together part of the English speaking world and united as, you might say, siblings in the English speaking peoples. There’s a long history. And in this sense, we put American history as an extension of British history. And that’s the way many British people and British historians see the situation as well.

So with just a few minutes remaining, what’s the other big twist in this story? Well, it is the fact that most Americans don’t know how recently the special relationship between the United States and Britain really developed. Because you might think, “Well, it was back there during Victoria in the 19th century.” Really not so. The United States and Britain sure had that combination of a common language, but they also had very divergent national interest. The United States was an anti-imperialist nation when it came to the observation of Britain and the very strong imperialistic rule that Britain was extending through what has been estimated to be 1/6 of the Earth’s surface.

Now remember, this nation was born in a military uprising that became a war against Britain, against the monarch, King George III. Remember that just a matter of about a generation later, the United States and Britain went back to war in the war of 1812. Just consider the fact that even as the border between the United States and Canada is often described as the longest non-militarized border anywhere on the surface of the earth, just remember that during the Civil War, and for that matter, even later, there were active war plans in the United States about invading Canada as a way of limiting the influence of the British empire. Furthermore, there were active war plans all the way up until the threshold of World War II, in which many American military strategists thought that the most likely eventual challenger to the United States that could come to blows and even to war was England.

And so during the period between, say, the late 1920s until the fairly late 1930s, one of the most important American war plans on file was what was known as War Plan Red. Red as in red coats, red as in Britain. It was more formally known as the Atlantic Strategic War Plan and it envisioned a situation in which the United States and Britain would go to war in the war that was eventually to shape up as World War II.

Now, that’s not something you hear much talked about when that special relationship is cited. But at the very same time, even as that war plan was put into place, and by the way, the British Navy also had war plans against the United States, the fact is that no one by that period really believed that Britain and the United States were to go to war when you saw exactly what was going on in the World War I alignment in which the United States and Britain were allies, the same thing would happen in World War II.

But those two world wars also with America and the United Kingdom being on the same side, cemented that relationship. By the end of World War II, there is no doubt that the United States and Britain would see each other as the most crucial allies to be found on the surface of planet Earth.

But there’s just a lot of twisted history here. A lot of very complex history. Canada, during much of America’s history, was much more identified with the direct rule to the British crown. It was not then a part of what was known as the Commonwealth. It was then basically just a part of the British Empire. And so you had a fast-growing, increasingly powerful, industrializing, muscle flexing United States with what was really declared to be British territory right across our northern border. By the way, Canada had war plans against the United States. The United States had war plans against Canada. All that looks a little antiquarian right now, but it’s just a reminder that history is a lot closer than you might think.

It’s one thing for a president of the United States to decline the honor of being invited to head a delegation to the coronation of a British monarch. It’s quite another thing for an historian to pull out War Plan Red and put that before the people and say, “Did you realize that we actually had plans in the event we went to war with one another instead of together going to war with Nazi Germany?”

Now, a part of what was going on there was the United States growing into itself as a modern nation and eventually the most powerful military nation on Earth. And that, of course, came at least in part of the expense of the Mother Nation Britain. And for many of those years, Britain had the most powerful Navy in the world and basically controlled the oceans. So there was a bit of conflict built in there. But what solved the conflict?

Well, you could say it was an exterior force. It was an enemy force. It was Imperial Germany, what became World War I, and then it was Nazi Germany and World War II, and then it was the Soviet Union and its allies during the Cold War, and that cemented the relationship, what Churchill again called that special relationship in such a way that it is now virtually unimaginable that there could be a major conflict between the United States and Britain. But let’s just remind ourselves that is how this nation’s story began.

We can be very thankful that War Plan Red never became an actual war. But history is always closer to us than some might think, and it’s always interesting, if not always determinative, to know what that history is. By the way, you would say there is no more peaceful relationship than between the United States and Canada. That’s basically true. But by some reports, even now, there is a lingering territorial dispute over one island, and on that island is a lighthouse, and Canada currently is manning that lighthouse. It could be automated with no personnel needed on the island whatsoever, but Canada keeps someone there because if the Canadian leaves, some American might show up and hoist the American flag.

So I conclude by going back to what I said, I’m affirming President Biden in this. President Biden, you’re doing absolutely the right thing and you’re honoring the president of every one of your predecessors in office by not going to the coronation of King Charles III.

But if you have a spare ticket, here’s just a little hint, I’ll go for you.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For informational Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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