Bishop of Coventry: Britain has moral responsibility for long-term reconstruction, if involved in conflict

On 23rd November 2017 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Soley, “That this House takes note of the case for maintaining United Kingdom defence forces at a sufficient level to contribute to global peace, stability and security.” The Bishop of Coventry, Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I join others in commending the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for securing this debate and for framing it in this way. He made it clear that UK defence forces exist not only for the protection and promotion of immediate British interests but to contribute to global peace, stability and security. The scale of that task has obvious implications for the size of the defence budget and its distribution.

Unlike other noble Lords taking part in this debate, I am no expert at all in defence policy but I would like to make a case for continuing expert defence engagement in post-conflict situations, carefully co-ordinated with political processes and humanitarian assistance, to assist the war-damaged country to rebuild itself on every level. Indeed, I contend that British involvement in conflict brings with it a moral responsibility to remain engaged in the long-term reconstruction of the cities, societies and institutions which have been deconstructed—perhaps almost destroyed—in warfare. I also contend that this sort of activity is necessary for the prevention of future conflict and therefore that it pertains directly to our national security strategy, and so needs proper funding.

In 1945, the Allied control commission stationed Gwillym Williams in Kiel as the British branch officer for building. When the mayor of Kiel discovered that Williams came from Coventry, he was deeply moved: “This man had immediately done everything in his power to help a town which had shared the fate of his native city”, he wrote in a Kiel newspaper. The mayor called on his city to reach out to Coventry so that, in his words, “the names of our ravished cities can become ​the symbol of our spiritual and moral reawakening”. The Lord Mayor of Coventry reciprocated by visiting in 1947, and I joined the current mayor this year to celebrate 70 years of that relationship.

That is a story from a particular time and place, but perhaps it illustrates that commitment to the post-conflict reconstruction of buildings, institutions and security is a strategy for peace because it restores stability and reduces the risk of violence reoccurring. Post-Daesh Mosul is very different from post-war Kiel, but the critical issue there and in other liberated Iraqi cities is similarly: how can the cycle of violence that is a mark of modern Iraqi history be broken? To use an image of Jesus, if I may: how, having expelled one demon, can every effort be made to prevent seven returning?

Most of what I have said will be familiar to Her Majesty’s Government in principle. The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which includes involvement, albeit limited, from the MoD, is the sort of integrated, cross-departmental approach to post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation which I have advocated. Does the Minister consider that the MoD’s contribution to that fund reflects the strategic value of post-conflict reconstruction as a means of conflict prevention and achieving long-term British defence objectives? To put it in the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Soley: is our investment in a combination of defence, diplomacy, and development assistance credible?


Lord Judd (Lab)…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry said something tremendously important: of course, we must talk about post-conflict situations but we must also talk about conflict resolution, pre-emptive diplomacy and all the things that are necessary to deal with situations before they get out of control and become disastrous. It is a complex task and I wish all those involved well.

Earl Howe (Minister): I will write to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry about the MoD’s contribution to post-war aftercare, but the key point of that post-war aftercare is overseas aid. Again, I can comment on that topic in a letter, as I will on the CSSF, a topic touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.


%d bloggers like this: