Bishop of Southwark calls on Government to invest in peacekeeping and post-conflict role of armed forces

On Wednesday 17th June 2015 the House of Lords debated a motion in the name of Lord Sterling of Plaistow “to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they consider that the current defence budget is sufficient to enable the Armed Forces to meet the needs of the United Kingdom’s long-term foreign policy.” The Bishop of Southwark, Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, spoke in the debate, highlighting the need to resource conflict resolution and post-conflict stabilisation in Syria and other parts of the region.

Bp Southwark May 2015The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I too welcome this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, for securing it. With the strategic defence and security review we have an opportunity for a wider debate on the politics of defence that might help to reshape our understanding of the purpose and task of our Armed Forces. The fundamentals that have underpinned UK foreign policy and defence spending in the past will need to be adapted to the changed circumstances we face, especially in the Middle East and our European neighbourhood.

Responding to this agenda will need a greater commitment to resource and to UN peacekeeping missions. That means looking again at the skills and equipment that are needed to help create the space for conflict resolution and post-conflict stabilisation. In this, we must invest as much in our ability to understand the religious dimensions to the conflicts we face as in providing our troops with the necessary means to mediate between the warring sides. The work of the UN with local partners in this area is vital but could be much improved.

Syria is a case in point. Is there a sense of how we enable Syrian opposition groups to build a coherent political process that will ensure future stability and avoid any further descent into extremism? Will Her Majesty’s Government be willing to contribute to any peacekeeping mission to uphold any future settlement and seek to be an active player in post-conflict stabilisation and reconciliation? I most sincerely hope that strategic thought is being given to supporting fragile and vulnerable minority communities, should there be further destabilisation in Syria, and that lessons have been learnt from the lamentable outcomes in Iraq, for which we bear proportionate responsibility. The vulnerability of the people of Syria is well known, and the same is true of Libya. It is but one reason why people are risking their lives in the waters of the Mediterranean.

The commitment to stabilising local powers throughout the Middle East and recognition of the long-term nature of that work must continue to form an essential part of our overarching foreign policy objectives. Our excellent and gallant Armed Forces, which we look to in this important and dangerous work, deserve our support in ensuring that they are properly resourced and equipped to meet these ever-evolving challenges.


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