Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that Moscow would step back from its last remaining major nuclear-arms-control treaty with the US. He also vowed to continue his military campaign in Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden responded: “Our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire. President Putin’s craven lust for land and power will fail.”
As the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine comes this Friday, many are asking if this is a new Cold War or even the beginning of World War III. After a year, what do we now know about the conflict? What can we predict for the future?
One of the most insightful responses to these questions I have found was written for Foreign Affairs by Sir Lawrence Freedman (DPhil, Oxford University), the Emeritus Professor of War Studies at Kings’ College London. Dr. Freedman notes that Russia and Ukraine have been pursuing two very different war strategies and shows how this fact explains much about the conflict.
In reading his article, I was struck by the degree to which it is also relevant to our cultural challenges in America and to the urgency and promise of spiritual awakening.
“Classic warfare” vs. “total warfare”
According to Dr. Freedman, Ukraine has employed the “classic warfare” approach, while Russia has adopted the “total warfare” strategy. In the former, “victory [is] decided by which army occupied the battlefield, the number of enemy soldiers killed or captured, and the amount of equipment destroyed.” In this approach, “battles determined the outcome of wars.”
The latter views the opposing nation as an appropriate battlefield, not just its army. The rationale for targeting population centers is that armies draw on civilian infrastructure to fight. In addition, munitions factories depend on a civilian workforce. Citizens suffering under incessant bombardment might be turned against the war to the point where they demand their nation’s capitulation. To many strategists, bombing cities is a far simpler route to victory than winning battles.
In the decades after the Cold War, Russia has continued to follow the “total warfare” strategy. For example, they deliberately attacked rebel hospitals in Syria and applied brute force to civilian areas and cities in the Chechen Wars.
Ukraine, by contrast, has understandably avoided civilian areas and infrastructure in the present conflict since the war has been waged on Ukrainian soil.
One might think that, given Russia’s enormous size and resource advantage (it is about twenty-eight times larger than Ukraine), its “total warfare” strategy would overwhelm Ukraine and force it to capitulate. However, the opposite has been the case. Once Ukraine survived Russia’s initial onslaught, Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian civilians have made Ukraine all the more determined to liberate its areas and cede none to Russia. The humanitarian consequences of Russia’s brutality have also strengthened Western support for Ukraine.
In addition, Russia’s total-war aims have reinforced Ukraine’s belief that there is no obvious “compromise peace” available. Nor have Russia’s total-war tactics impeded Ukraine’s military operations.
“A car is made to run on petrol”
As evangelical Christians view our secularized society, it seems that our cultural opponents are following a “total warfare” strategy. Every dimension of our lives is now dominated by relativistic ethics and postmodern subjectivism. Popular media constantly reinforces LGBTQ ideology and unbiblical morality. It is easy to feel like Ukraine standing up to Russia’s overwhelming size and force.
But the opposite is actually the case.
We have been discussing recently the outbreaks of revival on college campuses now reaching historic proportions. They are occurring among a population group for whom unbiblical morality is assumed to be especially popular and pervasive.
But we should not be surprised.
The psalmist spoke for us all when he testified, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). “Pants” translates a Hebrew word meaning to yearn passionately and deeply. The author added, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (v. 2). “Appear before God” translates the Hebrew which literally means “see the face of God.”
We were made by our Maker for a personal, intimate relationship with him. No amount of cultural secularizing can fill the God-shaped emptiness that resides in our souls.
In one of my favorite statements in Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis observed: “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there.”
“God’s sudden, calming presence”
You and I can capitulate to the culture’s “total warfare” aggression against our faith. Or, like the Ukrainians, we can double down on our resolve to stand fast with courage. For believers, this means that we live in the power of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), manifest the character of Christ (cf. Galatians 5:22–23), and trust that our King will win the victory for all of eternity (cf. Revelation 19:16).
In his inspirational book In the Eye of the Storm: Jesus Knows How You Feel, Max Lucado writes: “The supreme force in salvation is God’s grace. Not our works, nor our talents, not our feelings, nor our strength. Faith is not born at the negotiating table where we barter our gifts in exchange for God’s goodness. Faith is not an award given to the most learned. It’s not a prize given to the most disciplined.”
The fact is, “We are great sinners, and we need a great Savior. Salvation is God’s sudden, calming presence during the stormy seas of our lives. Death is disarmed, failures are forgiven, and life has real purpose. And God is not only within sight, he is within reach.”
Why do you need such grace today?