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UK >

Welby calls for national debate on Britain's overseas vision

by Gavin Drake

Posted: 08 Dec 2014 @ 12:09

DEMOTIX

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Everyday scene: a Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to launch stones towards the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Friday. IDF soldiers fired tear gas and bullets at the protesters

Credit: DEMOTIX

Everyday scene: a Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to launch stones towards the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Friday. IDF soldiers fired tear gas and bullets at the protesters

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has called for a national debate to "find afresh the vision of who we are", as part of the Strategic Defence Review which is expected after next year's General Election.

In a debate in the House of Lords last Friday, Archbishop Welby said that the review "cannot be simply an Armed Forces versus the Treasury rumble in the jungle of Whitehall, out of which emerges something unconnected to the vision of our role in the world".

He said that the review should consider how Britain can use its many areas of influence, including the BBC, the Commonwealth, the Department for International Development (DFID), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the armed services, the monarchy, the universities, and the Churches - for "conflict mitigation".

"A clear policy for conflict mitigation is called for in any strategic defence and security review, and it will require investment. But when one considers the Institute for Economics and Peace's research figure of violence containment costing up to $9.4 trillion a year, the contrast is a stark one.

"Conflict prevention seems quite a good investment. . . Soft power is far cheaper to exercise than hard power. One day of deploying a battalion will cost more than years of conflict-prevention work by NGOs."

He praised the GDP target of 0.7 per cent for overseas aid, saying that it was "not only right; it is also extremely cost-effective, in the best sense, for deploying our values and showing our generosity".

The Archbishop had called the debate to argue for the benefits of "soft power" over "hard power". He said that Britain had, over the years, used its soft power well, and that this had made it "possible for this country to exert a benevolent and beneficial influence in the world around".

The Anglican Communion, he argued, was a form of soft power that the Government and politicians ignored. While praising a March 2014 report by the Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK's Influence, Persuasion and Power in the Modern World, he criticised the authors for failing to mention the Church once.

The Church, he said, exercised soft power as a form of "generous hospitality" rather than doing things "merely to our own advantage".

He cited the "temporary but still existing" chapel in Canterbury Cathedral that was made available to the French Reformed Church after the exile of the Huguenots from France in the 16th century. Quoting an inscription placed on the chapel's door in 1867, he said that the chapel was testimony to "the large and liberal spirit of the English Church, and the glorious asylum which England has, in all times, given to foreigners flying for refuge against oppression and tyranny".

The Anglican Communion is "in 165 or more countries - far more than the Commonwealth", Archbishop Welby said. It "enables better communication of information than anything that can be arranged through Government agencies; but it does it with an end of blessing rather than advantage."

He said that the "exceptional skills and courage of the Diplomatic Service, which we have seen in our travels around the world, and the credibility of the BBC and the British Council, the Commonwealth, and the extraordinary collaborative, autonomous but interdependent networks of the Anglican Communion, provide unrivalled networks for conflict mitigation. Other countries look at them with envy, and are unable to emulate them."

He told peers that Coventry University and the C of E were working on a "faith-based conflict-prevention scoping project" to reflect "the reality that the Church - the Anglican Communion globally - is consistently at the forefront of conflict prevention; above all, currently in the Great Lakes of Africa, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic."

The Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, told peers about a gathering the previous week in Rome that involved the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope, and the leaders of Orthodox Christians, Jews, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, to talk about tackling modern slavery.

"In one sense, represented in making that statement against slavery were people whose values, visions, and hopes connected with 90 per cent of the world's population. That is an amazing possibility for what we are talking about: soft power, gathered to challenge the evils of slavery."

Lord Boateng said that a "debt of gratitude" was owed to the work of the Anglican Communion and the ecumenical movement "for the outstanding work they are doing on conflict resolution in southern Sudan, as we speak, and in Nigeria".

He continued: "The reality is that the term 'soft power' does not do justice to the cause that it represents. The values that underpin the communication and promotion of that vision - conflict resolution, peace, justice, and reconciliation, which form the basis of sustainable development - are not, in fact, soft options.

"They are anything but that. They are tough, and require tough thinking [and] they require courage on the part of the participants."

"Soft power is not a soft option, and deploying it is arduous, painstaking, and sometimes heavy with risk," Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead said. "To be effective, it must have the qualities of sincerity, patience, and, importantly, mutuality."

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Government's spokesman for the FCO in the Lords, said that the Government "strongly" supports Archbishop Welby's "underlying premise that soft power and non-military actions have a critical role in preventing conflicts, and in building stronger societies, state structures, and economic development."

He said that the deployment of smart power "must be the cornerstone of our approach. . . This year, sadly, we have seen an unpleasant increase in the number and intensity of high-profile armed conflicts around the world; some new, as in Ukraine; some revived and continuing, as in Libya; and some with a new and dangerous slant, as with the rise of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq; while prospects for lasting peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict appear dimmer now than at the start of the year.

"The UK has been at the forefront of efforts to resolve these and other conflicts by peaceful means. Such is the complexity of modern conflicts . . . that we and like-minded members of the international community need to use the full range of tools available to us to try to restrict, contain, and end these conflicts."

Responding to the five-and-a-half-hour debate, Archbishop Welby said that he was not against the use of hard power.

"The quasi-policing by hard power may create space for the exercise of soft power," he said, "and to avoid draining areas of their historic populations - the great danger to Christians in the Middle East at the moment.

"Simply giving them asylum may end their presence in an area where they have lived for 2000 years."

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