Note: Thank you to Dr. Ryan Denison for writing today’s Daily Article. He is the Denison Forum senior editor for theology and has written more than four hundred articles for the Denison Forum.
News broke Thursday that Finland and Sweden are in the final stages of applying to join NATO. Of the two nations, Finland’s decision is far more likely to increase tensions with Russia going forward.
Last month, the Kremlin warned that should Finland and Sweden be allowed to join NATO, Russia would deploy nuclear and hypersonic missiles to the region. And while Russian officials have sent mixed messages on the legitimacy of that threat in the days since, Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, stated Thursday that “Finland’s entry into NATO will become a threat to Russia. The next expansion of NATO does not make our continent more stable and secure.” He went on to add that further steps would be taken shortly to decide “the necessary measures in order to balance the situation and ensure our security.”
NATO encroachment toward Russia has been one of Putin’s primary talking points since first invading Ukraine, and if Finland follows through on the decision—a formal announcement is expected Sunday—it would nearly triple the length of the border shared by Russia and NATO-aligned nations.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö was quick to caution that Russia had no one to blame for the shifting alliances but themselves: “Joining NATO would not be against anyone. You [Russia] caused this. Look in the mirror.”
And he’s right.
Finland’s capital, Helsinki, sits roughly 120 miles from the Russian border and its people are growing increasingly afraid. Support in Finland for the country joining NATO has risen by roughly 30 percent since Putin’s forces first invaded Ukraine. And should the nation choose to move forward, it would mark the first time that they have been part of a military alliance since WWII.
However, the decision to make that change now still puts both Finland and Sweden in a potentially precarious position.
Despite NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg’s assurance that both Finland and Sweden should expect to “be warmly welcomed into NATO” and the promise that “the accession process would be smooth and swift,” it is still expected to take up to a year before either country is officially part of the alliance. As such, individual NATO members—such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States—have recently made security pacts with both nations to guard against Russia attacking them before they can officially come under NATO protection.
At this point, regardless of whether either nation joins, a Russian attack against them would likely lead to war on a level that, to date, has largely been avoided.
Just because we haven’t formally declared war, however, does not mean that we aren’t already engaged in one.
What is a proxy war?
The conflict in Ukraine is, in many ways, simply a continuation of the proxy wars that have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people since the start of the Cold War.
Officially, the United States has not been at war with anyone since World War II. Those who fought and died in Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East, and across the globe in the decades since would certainly—and rightly—say that they have been to war. However, the Constitution states that only Congress has the power to declare war, and they have not done that since 1942.
Presidents have sent troops into battle, and Congress has funded countless conflicts around the world in the decades since, but America has not technically been at war. Instead, we have typically chosen to engage in proxy wars.
As Daniel Byman notes, “A proxy war occurs when a major power instigates or plays a major role in supporting and directing a party to a conflict but does only a small portion of the actual fighting itself.”
Common examples of what a proxy war can look like include the Soviet’s support of the Viet Cong in Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s as well as the US’s support of the mujahideen—a faction of whom later became the Taliban—in Afghanistan during the 1980s. They should also offer a sobering reminder of how even unofficial wars can have consequences that are hard to foresee.
That fact is something we need to remember as the US continues to pour billions of dollars and (perhaps just as importantly) a steady flow of intelligence into Ukraine.
After all, just because the US is not technically at war and has made clear that every piece of military equipment or information dispensed to Ukraine is intended solely for the country’s defense against Russia does not mean that Putin will see it the same way.
Historically, it has been rare for proxy wars to not escalate into something more, even if Congress does not officially declare otherwise.
How to pray for peace
That the US has been and continues to walk a very fine line in Ukraine does not mean that what the government is doing to support their defense is wrong. There are very good reasons to oppose Russia’s aggression and attempts to claim land over which they have no right.
That said, it would be naïve to assume that the conflict in Ukraine will stay in Ukraine. Maybe it will, but every choice our government makes should be weighed against the possibility that it will provoke something more.
I bring all of this up today as a reminder that the biblical command to “pray for all people,” and specifically “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” is just as relevant and important for us today as it was for the first generations of Christians (1 Timothy 2:1–2).
The stakes are high and show little sign of de-escalating anytime soon. We don’t have to agree with our politicians—or even like them—to pray that God will give them wisdom and guidance as they plot a course that will impact all of us.
So please, take some time right now to set aside some time and pray.
Start by asking God to show you how to pray for those in power. It could be that there are some things in your own heart that you have to work through before you get to the place of being able to pray for them in a way God can bless. If that’s the case, then set aside the time to do that.
From there, pray that God would surround those making decisions here and around the world—including Putin and those in Russia—with people who will be a prophetic voice of wisdom, speaking the Lord’s truth with conviction and power. And pray that God will soften their hearts to accept his wisdom when it’s presented.
And finally, pray that the Lord would help governments around the world work toward peace. God loves every person fighting and dying in Ukraine and around the world too much for our prayers to reflect otherwise.