The Moral Clarity Of The Ukraine War

Mar 12th, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

The dreadful war in Ukraine launched by the brutal and aggressive designs of the criminal Vladimir Putin has changed perceptions, assumptions and priorities.  As Aaron Rhodes, President to the Forum for Religious Freedom—Europe, has argued, “[This war] is a war of conquest by a statist regime against a society seeking democracy and peace.  Mr. Putin’s attack on Ukraine is emblematic of a world-wide conflict between democratic and hegemonic powers.  It thus offers an opportunity for moral clarity, which will be crucial in the years and decades ahead.”  It is indeed a chance to rediscover the principles of freedom and democracy, eroded by illiberal intellectual fads.  This brutal war requires a change in the thinking of the United States about its future, its relationship with NATO and its military and diplomatic strategies.

Two introductory comments:

  1. Vladimir Putin has made clear this his war is a war of escalation, for this is how he plans to turn his initial defeat into a “victory.”  He is moving to besiege the main cities of Ukraine using jet bombing raids, relentless artillery shelling combined with rocket and missile strikes to wantonly kill civilians.  By any definition this strategy is a war crime, for which he must be held accountable.  The strategies he used in Grozny, Chechnya and in Aleppo, Syria are now being used in Ukraine.  The world must stand up to him and be willing to blead his regime of its resources “that enable him to wage war and abuse his own people even if that imposes costs on Western economies.”  The world has not seen such brutality at the level of war crimes since World War II.  It must be dealt with.
  2. Tish Harrison Warren has correctly advocated that we pray the imprecatory psalms (e.g., Psalm 7:14-16) with Vladimir Putin in mind. “An imprecation is a curse.  The imprecatory psalms are those that call down destruction, calamity and God’s judgment on enemies . . . [They] express outrage about injustice unleashed on others, and they call on God to do something about it . . . We cannot simply hold hands, sing ‘Kumbaya,” and hope for the best. Our hearts call out for judgment against the wickedness that leaves fathers weeping alone over their silent sons.  We need words to express our indignation at this evil.”  For that reason my wife and I have begun praying the imprecatory psalms against Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s war also has significant implications for the United States.  I believe the US must adapt its military and diplomatic strategies appropriately.  Following the counsel of Eliot A. Cohen of The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, here are a few suggested priorities:

Eliot A. Cohen correctly observes that “Russia is in many ways a functioning fascist state, in the grip of a nationalist ideology and an all-powerful leader. For that reason, then, and barring a new Russian revolution, the Western objective must be to leave Russia profoundly weakened and militarily crippled, incapable of renewing such an onslaught, isolated and internally divided until the point that an aging autocrat falls from power. Targeting Putin alone is not enough . . . This assault [on Ukraine] was unprovoked, unlimited in its objectives, and unconstrained in its means. It is, therefore, an assault not only on that country but on all international norms of decent behavior.  A broader world order is at stake; so too is a narrower European order. Putin has made no secret of his bitter opposition to NATO and to the independence of former Soviet republics, and it should be expected that after reducing Ukraine, he would attempt something of a similar nature (if with less intensity) in the Baltic states. He has brought war in its starkest form back to a continent that has thrived largely in its absence for nearly three generations. And his war is a threat, too, to the integrity and self-confidence of the world’s liberal democracies, battered as they have been by internal disputes and backsliding abroad.”

Cohen is also right in advocating for an important pillar of Western [Civilization’s] strategy: “building an impregnable eastern glacis for NATO and, in particular, strengthening frontline allies and those leading the defense of the continent against Russia. Poland is the key state: Its determination to confront Russia is unlimited, its military is competent and accustomed to service alongside the United States, and its willingness to spend on its own defense is evident in its recent decision to increase defense spending to 3 percent of its GDP, rather than the NATO-mandated 2 percent, and to buy 250 American M1 tanks.  The American role here is partly to maintain a visible presence on the front lines. Now is the time to permanently station American armored forces in the Baltic states and Poland—a deterrent, but also part of the price Russia would pay for its aggression. An equally important task is to help quickly arm those countries seeking to defend themselves: Lend Lease 2.0, some have called it, referring to the program of American aid during the Second World War. That means once again turning the United States into an arsenal of democracy, advancing the smaller European states the funds they require to obtain the full panoply of military hardware needed to defend themselves against Russian aggression. Holding as it does large stocks of surplus military hardware, the United States can move to strengthen its European allies.”

The rearmament of Europe as a result of Putin’s aggression is an astonishing spectacle, beginning most notably with Germany’s declaration that it will spend the equivalent of two years’ defense budgets to refurbish the decayed forces of the Bundeswehr, once an army more formidable in Europe than that of the United States. Even under the agreements concluded upon German unification, Germany can field an army of more than 300,000, close to the size of the entire United States Army. “The United States alone can lead and shape this rearmament as other states finally meet their 2-percent-of-GDP targets, creating forces so powerful that even to an isolated and semi-delusional Russian leadership, an attack against the West would be folly. The U.S. will need to do so, urging Europeans to rebuild their heavy armored forces, construct hardened defenses (e.g., aircraft shelters), while expanding air and missile defense and acquiring long-range missiles to disable Russian air bases and staging areas in the event of war.”

Furthermore, Robert M. Gates argues persuasively that the US must develop an entirely reformulated defense strategy.  “A new American strategy must recognize that we face a global struggle of indeterminate duration against two great powers that share authoritarianism at home and hostility to the United States. They are challenging us not only militarily but also in their use of other instruments of power—development assistance, strategic communications,  covert and other influence operations, and advances in cyber- and other technologies . . . But, as we have seen in Ukraine, a reckless, risk-taking dictator in Russia (or elsewhere) can be every bit as much a challenge to our interests and our security. We need a new strategy to deal effectively with adversaries in both Asia and Europe—adversaries with global reach.  A new strategy addressing global challenges to America—and all democracies—in the 21st century requires significant changes to U.S. national security structures that are, for the most part, a legacy of the late 1940s. If we can avoid war with Russia and China, our rivalry with them will be waged using nonmilitary instruments of power—the same kind of instruments that played a significant role in winning the Cold War: diplomacy, development assistance, strategic communications, science and technology, ideology, nationalism, and more.”

  • “At the same time, Putin’s war has reminded us of the decisive importance of military power. We need a larger, more advanced military in every branch, taking full advantage of new technologies to fight in new ways. Air power will be critical in both Europe and Asia, yet the Air Force is reliant on aircraft that, on average, are a quarter-century old. A significantly bigger Navy is needed, especially in Asia, to protect lines of communication and freedom of navigation worldwide. The Army needs to be larger, in particular to allow us to increase our military presence in Europe, at least as long as Putin is in power.”
  • “If we are to have a bigger, more powerful and technologically advanced military to support a global strategy, there must be radical reform inside the Pentagon. The current ways of doing business there put us at risk. Old bureaucratic habits must give way to new approaches that force speed and agility in moving new technologies and acquisitions from decision to deployment. Overhead must be slashed, with the savings plowed into military capabilities.”
  • “Finally, the president—and members of both parties in Congress—need to work together to explain to the American people why the fate of other countries, including Ukraine, matters to the United States. Of course, deterring aggression and supporting freedom and democracy matter. But Americans need also to understand in practical terms how events abroad affect security here at home and their own pocketbooks. This role falls, principally, upon the president. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, ‘the greatest duty of a statesman is to educate.’”


Putin’s war and Xi’s aggressive ambitions have ended the post-Cold War era and upended the global order of the past 70 years. The U.S. government must respond by reforming and strengthening our national security institutions, developing a global strategy and helping our citizens understand why events abroad matter to us.

See Aaron Rhodes in the Wall Street Journal (4 March 2022); The Economist (5 March 2022), pp. 9-10; Tish Harrison Warren, (8 March 2022); Robert M. Gates, “We need a more realistic strategy for the post-Cold War erain the Washington Post (3 March 2022); Eliot A. Cohen, “The Strategy That Can Defeat Putin” in www.theatlantic.comm (7 March 2022).

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One Comment to “The Moral Clarity Of The Ukraine War”

  1. Peter Wiebe says:

    It’s not helpful that we have ignorant people in leadership like John Kerry proclaiming that climate change is a greater threat to the world than Russia’s war in Ukraine. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is also correct when he put some blame squarely on Biden because Biden was too full of himself bragging that Putin was afraid of him, but when Putin started to line up his tanks near Ukraine, Biden didn’t take it seriously. Even when Putin proceeded to invade Ukraine, Biden called this a minor incursion. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was totally correct when he put the blame on Biden, had Biden taken Putin’s aggression seriously and applied sanctions right off the bat, it would have been more effective than what’s happening now, closing the barn door after the horses escape. Biden is truly showing what a hapless leader he is, but mainstream media will protect his ineffectiveness at all costs. Also, not declaring the No-fly-zone President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is asking for shows continued weakness. Purchasing billions of barrels oil from Russia and from OPEX instead of using our own oil only helps Putin. But Biden’s corrupt leadership must be protected. Question is: Why?