*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

War in stages

by
03 October 2014

THE decision to commit British air forces in the defence of the Iraqi government was taken soberly and carefully last week, by a Parliament in full possession of what facts can be gleaned from a chaotic and fast-changing situation. Several parliamentarians referred to just-war principles, without mentioning their Christian roots, and declared themselves satisfied. Lord Hannay, for example: "Having scrutinised these six conditions - just cause, last resort, legal basis, reasonable prospects, regional support, and proportionality - we believe that they have been met." This is an over-hasty judgement; none the less, the circumstances more resemble the first Gulf War, when speed was of the essence, than the second, when the urgency was manufactured. Enough is known about Islamic State to be sure that, for the present at least, negotiation is out of the question.

As a method of going to war, this step-by-step approach has much to commend it: Parliament has not handed a blank sheet of paper to the Prime Minister, to fill in as he wishes. It can adjust the degree of engagement to match the situation on the ground. Steps forward can be followed, in theory, by steps back. On the other hand, there is a danger that such control is illusory. Each step taken makes a further step easier to contemplate. It is illogical to employ air-strikes without the use of ground forces; it is illogical to confine your action to Iraq when Islamic State operates across the border in Syria. It is possible that the UK will find itself involved in a war of indeterminate length without ever really having agreed to it.

The UK's behaviour requires the utmost vigilance, therefore, not least because the situation in Iraq and Syria is hopelessly complex. As has been seen in Libya, action against an oppressor is pointless unless care is taken to ensure that what follows is not worse. On the other hand, as has been seen in Syria, staying one's hand against an oppressor can lead just as readily to untold misery and death. Difficult decisions have sometimes to be made quickly when not every fact is clear. With Baghdad under threat, hand-wringing about military action was a luxury that the Government could not afford.

A key element in the decision was the involvement of Arab states in the anti-IS coalition. Speaking in the Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned of the escalation of the conflict to include disaffected young Muslims elsewhere. Anything that stops the coalition being represented as a Western imperialist initiative is to be welcomed. He spoke of the need for a vision to counter the one promoted by Islamic extremists, and suggested something from the Judaeo-Christian tradition. But there is surely enough in Islam to counter the indiscriminate murder and rape committed by Islamic State militias. British Muslims have argued as much, and we are, thankfully, beginning to see the same message emerge from Islamic nations in the Middle East.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available

 

Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available

 

SAVE THE DATE

Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website

 

Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)