Archbishop of Canterbury leads House of Lords debate on conflict prevention

“I hope that in this debate we will see how the different strands of soft and hard power can be better combined, and there can be a clearer sense of the narrative which sustains this wonderful country which has in the past given so much to the world when at its best, and has the potential to give even more if the advantages of our history, the skills of our institutions and the courage of our people are combined with a clear aim in view.”

Archbishop of CanterburyOn 5th December 2014, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, led a debate in the House of Lords to take note of the role of soft power and non-military responses to conflict prevention. In his opening speech, he reflected on the UK’s role in the wider world and the soft power assets it has at its disposal – the diplomatic services, the BBC, the British Council, the Commonwealth, overseas development assistance and the Church, particularly through relationships with the Anglican Communion. He spoke of the need to better understand ourselves, so as to be more effective in projecting the values and influence of the UK overseas. He also noted that the next Strategic Defence and Security Review needed to reflect the central relationship between soft and hard power, and called for more joined-up working across Government to ensure this was the case. Following his opening speech, twenty-six other members of the House contributed to the debate, including the Bishop of Derby, whose remarks can be read here. The Archbishop closed with his reflections on the topics discussed in the course of the debate.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity to introduce this debate on a subject of great importance to the role of the United Kingdom in a world increasingly characterised by conflicting values which end in violence. I am particularly grateful for the interest shown by so many here today and to those noble Lords who have put their names down to speak. I look forward very much to hearing them. It is perhaps appropriate to remember that it is a year to the day since the death of Nelson Mandela. There you have an illustration of soft power executed through virtue—something to which I would not lay claim—which demonstrates the potential impact of great figures in changing history.

There have been two particularly significant aspects to my preparation for today. The first has been to read the report of the Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence for Session 2013-14 entitled, Persuasion and Power in the Modern World, published at the end of March 2014. The second has been the experience since April 2013 of travelling, with my wife, to all 37 other provinces of the Anglican communion. One of the most difficult and dangerous visits was finished last week, when I was in Edinburgh. That will get me into trouble.

The Select Committee report was the result of significant evidence-taking and much reflection by a remarkably experienced and expert number of your Lordships’ House. Particular tribute should be paid to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who chaired the committee. I was especially struck by three aspects. First, the report makes it clear that there is no avoiding the need for the exercise of soft power, and in fact the exercise of hard power, from sanctions to the use of violence, is effective only as an addition to the impact of soft power. It is soft power in its many ramifications that makes it possible for this country to exert a benevolent and beneficial influence in the world around. I saw an example of that two or three weeks ago when, at the degree awards ceremony at Coventry University—one of the best of our modern universities—60% of the students were from overseas. They are a powerful source of earnings and will return home with a brilliant education and an exceptional experience of the UK. In most cases, they will be our friends for life.

Secondly, the report points especially to the rapid increase in complexity and what it calls hypersensitivity in the modern world. There has been an introduction of information technology, with more than 5 billion mobile telephones around the world. We have the growth of access to the world wide web, which means that you can sit in Kaduna and look at what is happening in London and you can look at the shops in New York. You have access to cultural influences of the most extraordinary kind. The possibilities of that both for Governments and for non-state actors are ever more powerful with the advent of the sophistication of modern computers.

Thirdly, the report highlighted that power is in three levels, three-dimensional chess it is called: at the top, force; in the middle, economic actors; at the third level, civil society with NGOs, principally of course—I will return to this, as noble Lords might expect—churches, the world’s greatest and most beneficial multinationals. I might declare an interest there.

Since the report was published, there has been added to the mix the recognition of international and often religion-linked terrorism and the growth of ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and numerous others. There is a continuity between the Select Committee report and the needs of a world in which international terror and localised conflict seem ever more dangerous. The clear conclusion of the past few months of reflection on the advent of ISIS and of our renewed involvement in the use of armed force in Iraq has been that this is principally an ideological and even theological struggle that cannot be won by violence. It has to be won by the development of a fresh narrative which provides a peaceful, humane, viable, motivating and effective alternative to the terrible visions of ISIS and Boko Haram, to violence in India, Myanmar and many other areas of the world. Such a narrative will only be developed with soft power in collaboration with allies and partners around the world. It is the only way of avoiding the alternative: a long descent into the dark and fear filled ways of anarchic, networked conflicts—perhaps never critical but always a frightening and deeply draining demand.

The key institutions that are capable of exerting soft power for the common good of the countries with which we have contact, rather than merely to our own advantage, will be those that represent most adequately this generous hospitality that so characterises this country. In 1867, in an inscription on the door of the 16th century, temporary but still existing, Huguenot chapel in Canterbury Cathedral—it is still used every Sunday by the French Reformed Church—the author Samuel Smiles spoke of the history of the hospitality of church and nation to those in need. His words bear quoting. He said that,

“still that eloquent memorial of the religious history of the middle ages survives, bearing testimony alike to the rancour of the persecutions abroad … 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”.

In our 21st century, such a sentiment must still apply. It is who we are.

Apart from the church, those generous and hospitable institutions are listed in the Select Committee report. They include the BBC, the Commonwealth, DfID, the brilliant and often profoundly courageous diplomats of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the armed services, the monarchy, the universities and so on. The common characteristic is clear British identity without being wrapped in the flag, a powerful ethos of service and a self-criticality. They are the institutions of the top level of power and of the bottom of the three-dimensional chessboard.

In the middle level, the economic, there is remarkable and frequently neglected potential of benefit both to us and to those with whom we deal. In the 37 Anglican communion provinces, we found that in those hit by war or suffering from fear or economic underdevelopment there is almost invariably a great desire for British presence in trade and investment as well as presence and engagement in other ways. We are much trusted, as the Select Committee report also shows, but little present and we seem in many places to have lost our nerve commercially and in engagement. Others come in with more self-interest and less ethics, and we seem far away, at a time when it is in our interest, in terms of manufacturing and employment, and in the interest of those overseas, to have ethical, committed and long-term economic partners. Especially for the grossly under-supported SME sector in this country, one that I grew to know well in Durham and in Liverpool, it comes down to simple measures recommended in the report such as one-stop shops for exports, good advice on agents and reliable export finance. Many others provide this; we seem to find it difficult. All this lies within the grip of Government, and has done so these past 20 years or more.

The institutions at all three levels that live out the narrative we need demonstrate how it is possible to operate internationally in a way that increases understanding, and hence reduces the likelihood of armed conflict, while maintaining a generosity of spirit that enables those with whom we co-operate to maintain their autonomy, their independence and their self-respect. We can do all that to mutual advantage. This benefit is especially evident at present through the commitment of the medical teams fighting Ebola, who come with support from DfID and have set an example of courage and sacrifice that is drawing attention across the whole of west Africa. We cannot be anything but overwhelmed by what they are doing.

Following the election next year, it seems likely that there will be a strategic defence and security review that should consider both soft and hard power—not merely hard power. I suggest that this is the moment for an exceptionally serious commitment to this review, not merely to use it as an adjunct as that of 2010 was, and that the seriousness should be especially in the interface between soft power and hard power. The review should set out clearly the ways in which foreign policy will support and develop the generous hospitality of soft power, in particular, first, to provide the convincing narrative of which I have spoken as an alternative to the malevolent and evil claims of violent religion, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere around the world, and, secondly, as a means of conflict mitigation and prevention. The new narrative must operate at all three levels of power. It requires the next strategic defence and security review to involve a national debate that draws in all three levels and enables us, as a country, to find afresh the vision of who we are. It 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.

An example of the nature of a good inclusive review brings in the questions of visas, the role of universities, the future of the BBC World Service and so forth. Visas were highlighted in the Select Committee report. I mention them simply because everywhere we go the first thing anyone says to me is “visas” and how difficult that system is. It was highlighted in the report that the apparently random and invariably extremely expensive way in which those coming here apply and are refused or accepted is deeply damaging to the exercise of soft power. You have only to look at the number of students coming from India, which has fallen precipitously. It appears that this policy is unconnected to our wider interests and, in my experience of more than 35 years of visiting Africa especially, has been so for much of that period.

At the third level there is, crucially, the use of intervention through reconciliation and mediation work, something that I have worked on for more than 10 years, including in its economic and investment aspects, as well as the use of stronger levels of force, at the early stages of development of conflict. It is both economically more effective than hard power by several orders of magnitude and, in humanitarian terms, transformative. This reality is acknowledged in the Government’s 2010 Building Stability Overseas strategy. Yet the application of this strategy in terms of developing the tools for intervention through reconciliation and mediation is still absent.

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.

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 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. Coventry University is working with the Church of England on the faith-based conflict prevention scoping project, reflecting 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. Standing by a mass grave that I had just consecrated for the bodies of clergy and lay leaders of Bor Cathedral last January, and then hearing the Archbishop of Sudan, whose home town it was, call for reconciliation, and knowing that he is working with us on that now, was one of the most powerful moments of my life.

I might, if your Lordships will permit another slight dig, comment that the Anglican communion, as far as my research and reading found, was unmentioned in the otherwise excellent Select Committee report. I could not find “bishop”, “archbishop”, “church”, or indeed “Church of England”. As we are in 165 or more countries, far more than the Commonwealth, that seems, if I may put it at its most polite, a little surprising. The Anglican communion 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.

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. In the other place today they are debating a Bill to enshrine in law the 0.7% of GDP target for overseas aid. This Government have, with strong cross-party support, superbly reached and maintained that target. It is not only right; it is also extremely cost-effective, in the best sense, for deploying our values and showing our generosity. DfID, incidentally, is one of the world’s best agencies in the field.

To conclude, I hope that in this debate we will see how the different strands of soft and hard power can be better combined, and there can be a clearer sense of the narrative which sustains this wonderful country which has in the past given so much to the world when at its best, and has the potential to give even more if the advantages of our history, the skills of our institutions and the courage of our people are combined with a clear aim in view.


The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (Closing Speech): My Lords, when I first came into the House, I was warned that, whatever you said, there was bound to be a world expert sitting within a few feet of you. Sitting through the 27 or so contributions to the debate has felt rather like handing in your homework at school and finding all your teachers simultaneously examining you. I am extremely grateful to those who have contributed some extraordinary and very powerful lessons and understanding. If noble Lords will excuse me, I am not going to try to reply to everyone because we have been going now for five hours and 20 minutes, and need to come to a halt. However, I want to sum up with four or five points that seem to be central from what has come out.

Underlying them is the question that the Minister raised—who are we and what do we think we are for in the world? That seems to be the common theme running through the debate. Given the need for those questions to be answered clearly from this debate, it has been answered clearly, at least in this House, that we think we should still be playing an active part in the debate. There was no contribution that one might call isolationist. If that is the case, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said eloquently, we need a strategy and, as many noble Lords said—including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead—we need resources to cover the whole spectrum from hard power through to soft power. That is so that not only can we resource soft power but build peace by carrying, from time to time, a “big stick”, to use the phrase that was quoted.

The second point that was powerfully made was the need for soft power to be people-centred and relationship-centred. I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wei, for his eloquent statement of that, and his imaginative picking up of the way in which early Christianity spread and, through the example of Jesus, of the power of love and sacrifice over the most powerful military power of its time—albeit it took 300 years. I pick up the point made by the Minister, who obviously thinks in centuries when he refers me back to the 17th century and to the actions of the Church of England towards the nonconformists at that point—for which I can only apologise. I seem to do this a lot. I might mention, in looking for an apology from the other side, that in the 19th century the Liberals got at the Church of England good and proper. The people-centredness and relationship-centredness of soft power is immensely important. Out of that, and the sense that soft power and all execution of power in the present day have to be centred around people and relationships, came expressions of caution about the use of power from the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and others. It is people who change conflicts for good or ill, and it is therefore engagement with people that enables us to have an impact on conflict prevention, conflict mitigation, and reconciliation.

However, in many ways, the theme that ran most clearly through the contributions was “smart power”—the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, referred to this also, linking soft and hard power with his immense experience of Northern Ireland and the huge contribution he made there. Communication comes up in so many ways. Good communication in many forms includes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, the influence of the British Council and the BBC, and the implicit communication that comes through our visa policy, which the Minister has addressed. It would be interesting to know at some point whether the Government will consider the recommendation of the Select Committee report that students should not be counted in the issuance of visas in the same way as just another bunch of applications.

The broad application of smart power brings in such a wide range of actors—universities, trades, religion. I was glad that the global contribution of the Roman Catholic Church was mentioned. Where churches are engaged in conflict management or conflict prevention around the world, it is almost invariably with the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics together. It is one of the great privileges we have.

The question of human rights was raised eloquently. The point was made that, where there is instability through the oppression of human rights, you will eventually find the need for the exercise of hard power. Therefore, our campaigns on human rights—we can think of numerous campaigns in recent years, particularly by the Government, most admirably around modern slavery at the moment, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby referred to and has been leading on for the church—have been a major contribution. There are more than 30 million slaves globally. The rectification of that unspeakable abuse of human rights is something on which this country is taking a lead.

Out of that is the need for soft power to be inclusive, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and others. Sport was mentioned. How could I have missed that after four years in Liverpool? When I arrived the first question I was asked was whether I was a red or a blue. I commented that, after eight years of conflict management, I was not going to answer that question. Sport can be found almost everywhere. We used it when I was a canon at Coventry. We had a football competition in central Nigeria between Muslim and Christian youth, which ended peacefully. I will not say who won.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, also spoke about human rights and about how its absence increases instability. Finally on smart power, is the matrix approach, which the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, put so eloquently and powerfully: the mixture of soft and hard power, of health, of NGOs, of sport, and of the need for cross-departmental action, which has improved over the past few years. Those of us involved in the field have seen that happen. If I may say so to the Minister, there is quite a long way to go. There needs to be a lot more work on that. It is not only that there are resources for hard power and for soft power but how they are spent. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, spoke on that at some length. The quasi-policing by hard power may create space for the exercise of soft power 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 2,000 years.

I was particularly struck by the eloquence of the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, who essentially spoke about mutuality. She mentioned the European Union and the Commonwealth. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby spoke of the messy and complex nature of the exercise of soft power. Bringing that in requires international co-operation. It is never going to be tidy and simple. That brings me to the final point.

There seemed to be a theme running through the debate of the importance of flexibility. Regarding Libya, the point was made very powerfully that we went in there for humanitarian reasons and have ended up creating the best arms supplier for west Africa. Boko Haram is largely equipped from Libya. It is financed by other people but that is where it gets the guns. The Building Stability Overseas strategy and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, when it comes in next April, need to have a quickness of response and an ability to be immensely flexible in dealing with the unpredictability of conflict. That, again, is a crucial underlying theme. We often cannot prevent it because we do not see it coming. It springs out of the blue suddenly, and it would be foolish if we were to pretend otherwise. Not everything can be done but, as we are seeing in the enormous pain and struggle in South Sudan, there is always something that can be done.

This has been an incredibly educational debate. I apologise to those whom I have not been able to mention.

Motion agreed.


%d bloggers like this: