This week the editors discuss nuclear threats from Russia, the war in Ukraine, the just war tradition, and Mark David Hall’s article about trying to measure Christian nationalism.

Rough Transcript

Mark Tooley: Hello, this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy with another episode of Marksism with fellow Mark’s and fellow editors, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. We’ll be discussing, of course, Ukraine, and specifically, the nuclear weapons aspect of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and proposals bandied about by some, not by us, for potential no-fly zones which would entail direct U.S. conflict with Russian forces. We’ll also take a look at a piece on Christian nationalism and David French, somewhat provocatively. But first: Ukraine, nuclear weapons, and no-fly zones. We’ve posted an article by our regular contributor and just war scholar, Daryl Charles, quoting extensively from Christian just war ethicist Paul Ramsey about the importance of force in world affairs and the importance of America’s nuclear deterrent and wielding its threats competently and judiciously, so some important points: Daryl Charles’ article does not advocate a direct U.S. intervention into Ukraine-Russia conflict. Other friends have hinted at it, or even advocated for it, at least online and on social media. I believe the Mark’s are unified in opposing any such direct U.S. intervention in Ukraine, even though there is a humanitarian appeal to it, but the consequences would be unpredictable and certainly, almost certainly, an expansion of the war that could potentially be cataclysmic. But first, let’s go to our own in-house just war scholar, Marc LiVecche. Marc, your response to Daryl Charles on the topic of nuclear weapons as they relate to this conflict, and why you’re opposed to direct US intervention in this war, Marc LiVecche?

Marc LiVecche: Alright, just for clarification, will this go back to the no-fly zone, or is that included in this question?

Mark Tooley: Everything you want to address is included in this question.

Marc LiVecche: I just don’t want to take any of the gunfire away from the next round of questions. Okay, Daryl’s article, insightful as always. I think he goes through some sort of Christian realism 101: he talks about the S.E. of politics, and Paul Ramsey’s view which the use of power, he doesn’t shy away from it, you know he makes a case for projection. Through there, he goes into a conversation about Paul Ramsey’s deterrence and the question of deterrence, particularly nuclear deterrence and Ukraine, is an important one. You know, the heart of deterrence, the heart of using nuclear weapons as deterrence is to protect the nation’s vital interests. And when we take that concept and we wrap it around to Ukraine, then we’re confronted with the sort of big ugly realities of Ukraine, where Putin seems legitimately to consider Ukraine a kind of vital interest for his project, whether his project is the recreation or reunification of holy mother, Russia or simply, slightly less transcendentally, the recreation of at least an aspect of the great Soviet Empire. Ukraine appears to be a kind of vital interest for Putin, and when he begins to rattle his nuclear saber over that issue, it takes it to a different dimension.  And it reveals the frustrating but genuine truth that for the United States, Ukraine is important, but it is not vital. So, then when it comes to escalation, Putin has a lot of leverage on his side. And the question of whether or not we’re going to escalate to the point of using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, we don’t have any reliability there, and I think Putin knows it’s not a vital interest. And I think he knows that when it comes to gambling on these sorts of things, we’re not going to be willing to throw those kinds of dice over this kind of issue. Okay, that said, backtrack a little bit. Nevertheless, power projection and deterrence still play a role here, and so Biden recently canceled a planned test of American nuclear weapons that seems to be a ridiculous mistake.

Mark Tooley: Now, why do you say that? Wasn’t that just being cautious and prudent?

Marc LiVecche: I think no. I think it’s a blink. I think it’s a planned test – we test our weapons, we demonstrate that, you know, there is still at some level – and then we still have to admit these things, and you know, probably like bring up the question of the escalation level at some point. At some point, one could project that America might begin to have to assess what Putin does – whether or not we would resort first to military force, and after that, at some point, can this escalate to a point where nuclear weapons become actually a viable option? Now, it would only happen if a number of other things on Putin’s part occurs: if he attacks a NATO ally, if he invades a NATO ally, on and on and on, right? But, that escalation at some point for us may include nuclear weapons.  It doesn’t seem prudent to signal to the degree that we seem to be that “oh, this is never going to be an option here.” The test is just a test. You know, the other thing I would say about this to soften it a bit is that, I think, right now, most people are thinking that a nuclear exchange is going to mean bombs dropping on Los Angeles and London and New York and Washington, D.C., and all of that. It doesn’t necessarily have to meet. You know, we have low-yield, theater-specific tactical nuclear weapons. Those might be the kinds of things that Putin also has that he may use. If he uses a tactical nuclear weapon within Ukraine or on a NATO ally, the exchange that results or could result might simply be a tactical exchange. No, that’s a horrific thing, a tactical exchange is likely to lead or possibly lead to a strategic exchange, but it doesn’t have to. And it doesn’t seem prudent to signal upfront that none of those things are going to happen, and I know simply canceling tests doesn’t signal “oh, these things will never happen.” But it seems to me, it’s the wrong message, especially for a guy like Putin, who I don’t think is looking for the reassurance that we’re not going to escalate. I think, to him, these things are blackmail. “Don’t dare escalate because I’ve got some things I want to get done, and if you mess with my plans, I’m going to get you.” And I think by ratcheting back on basic things like tests, we signal to him that your threat is working. I don’t think de-escalation is fine, I think it’s an empowerment, it enables him to feel like what he’s doing is going to be given some permission. So that’s that.

Mark Tooley: Let me ask this, that those who would like to have a no-fly zone, the projection of U.S. power into the Ukraine on behalf of the Ukrainian people, some would say, “well, if it only weren’t for nuclear weapons, certainly we could do so.” But I would say no, we would still oppose that avoidable escalation and that you do not escalate small wars into larger wars between superpowers if it’s at all avoidable, unless there is some vital national interest at stake. Don’t you agree?

Marc LiVecche: That’s a great way of framing the question, and it puts me in a pickle, because I’m not entirely sure I do agree. Because what I would say is something like this. And I’ll defend this to a point, but this is a projection, this might be the Sicilian blood in my rational hat. But I would say something like this: when I look at what’s happening, because of what appears to be, and again, you know, I would want access to better information that I’m getting on Twitter in order to be able to make a sound judgment on things. But, you know, there’s videos of the Russian army targeting civilian blocks. The type of civilian-focused warfare that Putin appears completely willing to engage I think does warrant a response, and I might begin my response by saying something like this. The no-fly zone, if that were helpful, like if that would truly sort of even the odds and give Ukraine a fighting chance, protect civilians, protect civilian infrastructure, and all the rest, then I might say something like we ought to do that, using the “ought,” saying it would be morally appropriate to impose a no-fly zone, and this would be for both Ukraine and Russia. Because they have nuclear weapons, I would say, even though we ought to employ a no-fly zone, we mustn’t do it, because that might actually mean that the heavens fall. If they don’t have nuclear weapons, I might say, “yep, impose that no-fly zone, because of the kind of war that he’s fighting.” Now, one caveat would be if that takes our eyes off China, then we don’t impose the no-fly zone, we have NATO impose it, and we stay focused on China and the other mitigating factors, but I would be much more open to a no-fly zone if Putin did not have nuclear weapons. I would be very open to being talked down from that, but that wouldn’t be my starting position. I think the nukes make a huge difference, plus the presence of China makes a huge difference. Those are the two mitigating factors for me.

Mark Tooley: I see your point, but I would still say that a wise superpower operates through proxies whenever possible and avoids a direct confrontation with another superpower that could lead to a wider conflagration.

Marc LiVecche: Sure.

Mark Tooley: But let’s take a break from Ukraine for a moment and, Mark Melton, tell us about this piece by Mark David Hall, our contributor out at Seattle Pacific who provocatively wrote a defense of David French to Christian Commentator, a frequent critic himself of Christian nationalism and often the target of Christian conservatives, for his ongoing critiques of what he believes is wrong with much of evangelicalism today. And yet, Mark David Hall defends David French as not a Christian nationalist, because there are many, many critics of “Christian nationalism” who think that any kind of advocacy for Christian conversation in the public square, any ardent defense of domestic religious freedom, any harkening back to the spiritual roots of American democracy, equates to Christian nationalism. David French was previously employed by Alliance Defending Freedom, which defends persons’ religious freedom. When threatened here in the U.S., typically those persons are Christians. ADF is labeled by some critics as Christian nationalist. So, Mark Melton, what is your analysis of David French as not a Christian nationalist?

Mark Melton: I’ll have to speak to this as someone who hasn’t read David French’s article that he was responding to, or the books, but to summarize what Mark David Hall was talking about is that his overall argument is that Christian nationalism is a thing, but it’s not as big as what some people are describing and that, apparently, and I think it was in the book by Perry and Whitehead, where they give a survey of like, if you say “yes” and “no” to these things, then you are a Christian nationalist, or you’re an ambassador, or like they have different levels. And he was saying, you know, if David French was to answer these questions, they would say that he is an ambassador for Christian nationalism. And Mark David Hall’s whole point on this is that that’s a ridiculous statement, you know, French is not this, but their surveys imply he would be. And so, he says, the entire survey should probably be thrown out because it’s not applicable, and it seems to me, you know kind of reading this, that the survey almost implies if you don’t accept the French laicite vision of secularism, then you are Christian nationalist versus, you know, believing that people can express their religion in the public square. And having lived in France, you know, it’s interesting. There’s a legal laicite where you’re not allowed to do things, like I wasn’t allowed to wear a cross when I taught. But if you were outside you could legally do it in places, but it was kind of socially frowned upon. And so, I would say, there seems to be a big difference between wanting that laicite that if you’re against that laicite today in America, then that doesn’t make you a Christian nationalism and it makes you, honestly, probably more mainline what most Americans are as far as a willingness to have some faith in the public square. So, that’s kind of a short gist of what that article is about.

Mark Tooley: Well, Marc LiVecche, are you a Christian nationalist?

Marc LiVecche: According to my old friend, Sam Perry, I’m a diehard, red-blooded Christian nationalist, through and through. I haven’t read the book, I don’t know what the other three questions are, I think there are like six questions, right?

Mark Melton: I think there’s like twenty-four. There’s a lot, I think he highlighted like three or four questions in the article?

Marc LiVecche: There’s a whole bunch. Okay, so I don’t know the rest of the questions. But of those three questions that he asks, I would answer that they’re just ridiculous questions. No offense, Sam, we’ll get a beer sometime in the pub and talk about it, but the questions as they stand, one of the questions was something to the effect of “should the United States allow prayer in school?” Well, is it in the gym, is it after hours, does the teacher force it, right? So, you can only answer that question with “I don’t know”. But if you’re forced to answer that, then, sure! But I have in my head that it’s not going to be forced, it’s you know, there would be other options, so it seems like a ridiculous survey. I would answer in a way that I’m sure I would be a Christian nationalist. And I’m going to do a Joe Biden here: my wife and I support ADF. Right so like, yeah, we’re Christian nationalists. I didn’t know that, so I’m grateful to Sam for telling me that. No, I mean the strength of the article is it just proves what, I think, is unfortunately the weakness of Sam and Whitehead, I don’t know Whitehead, of Sam’s position. They cook it so that everybody conservative, it seems, is a Christian nationalist, and then they define Christian nationalist in such a way that, like, nobody I know would actually even admit to being one or countenance being one because it includes necessarily nativism and patriarchalism and white supremacy, among another ridiculous things. So, there it is.

Mark Tooley: Most bizarre, they demonize Christian nationalism, and yet the way they broadly define it, about 80% of America is Christian nationalist, including white mainline liberal Protestants, who have American flags in their sanctuary. So, it’s an absurd contradiction.

Marc LiVecche: We should invite Sam Perry to do a response if he was misrepresented from his book. So, Sam, in your court.

Mark Tooley: Perhaps next week, he can join an episode of Marksism.

Marc LiVecche: Mark, Mark, Marc, and Sam.

Mark Tooley: Until that time, fellow Mark’s, thank you for this latest episode. See you next week! Bye-bye!