Archbishop of Canterbury leads debate on reconciliation in British foreign, defence and international development policy

On 14th December 2018 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd Justin Welby, led a debate in the House of Lords on the Motion: “that this House takes note of the role of reconciliation in British foreign, defence and international development policy”.  The Archbishop’s opening and closing speeches in the debate are below. The Bishop of Coventry also spoke in the debate and his speech can be seen here.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the usual channels for permitting this debate; to the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, for responding on behalf of the Opposition; to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice; and to the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for their time and contributions today. My noble kinsman Lord Williams of Elvel said when I came into the House some years ago, “The wonderful thing about the House of Lords is that whatever you say, there will be a world expert listening to you”. Looking down the list of those who will contribute today, I am conscious of the expertise in the House, including a Nobel laureate, and I am greatly looking forward to hearing from noble Lords whose combined expertise and experience is sure to provide us with much to reflect on.

This has been a week of deep division, and reconciliation will be something that, although applied to foreign policy in this debate, must become central to our future in this country as well. Earlier this year at a dinner with Foreign Office officials, I was told that a management consultant had told them that what was needed in foreign policy were “more variable crunchy buckets”. Neither I nor they have any idea what this means, but I hope that this debate might be the Archbishop’s Christmas variable crunchy bucket offering.

At the very heart of the doctrines of the Christian faith and Christian practice should be, and is, the doctrine of the reconciliation of humanity to God through Jesus Christ. As a result, the Church has historically, at its best, been involved in reconciliation, and that has been the most significant part of my own experience of ministry. We live with the expectation and hope of life transformed. We live in a world where hospitality to the stranger, peace without violence and even hope of life everlasting are promised within the terms of our faith and of other great world faiths. We also live in a very human world, a world that is often messy and never perfect, yet I hold firm to the belief that we can create a society where mutual flourishing is possible, disagreeing well—a key phrase that I will come back to—is central, and respect for difference is paramount. We can anticipate a world where, as Psalm 85 tells us, mercy and faithfulness will meet, and righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

I realise that these deeply Christian and indeed Jewish foundations might be alien to some—indeed, they might even turn some off altogether—but the concepts are central to reconciliation. Words such as “forgiveness”, “peace” and “grace” feature not only in the Christian faith but in other world faiths and in many of the philosophies around humanism, and their application can benefit all alike. It is worth noting too when I speak from a faith position in a debate on foreign policy, defence and development that 85% of the world’s population subscribe to some faith, and that figure is rising, not falling. Whether or not we believe in or subscribe to a particular faith, it is nevertheless something that sets the world-view for the overwhelming majority of our fellow human beings.

Peace does not mean the absence of conflict, nor simply putting a sticking plaster on wounds after conflict. Peace and reconciliation is the ability to deal with conflict by non-violent means. Reconciliation is the strategic end state of sustainable peace using every tool available to us to create a framework that can transform violent conflict into non-violent disagreement. Tactically, it incorporates mediation, arbitration and even the use of armed force in a quasi-policing capacity through the UN and similar agencies. Reconciliation is needed before, during and after conflict. Pre-emptive reconciliation is essential. I think it was Bill Shankly who said, “I teach my lads to get their retaliation in first”—I catch a nod or two. We need to get our reconciliation in first.

Reconciliation happens from the top of society down, from the bottom of society up and from the middle of society out. It must include women, youth and minorities. If any group is left out, peace is not sustainable. In our democratic tradition, going back to the 17th century, we can say that general elections are essentially reconciled civil war. The work we do in this Chamber, in this Parliament, is an example of successful reconciliation in process. Every day in this Parliament, we disagree, often forcefully and passionately, but almost invariably non-violently. A world at peace, furthermore, is in Britain’s interest. It enables trade, it facilitates development, it reduces migration, trafficking and refugee numbers, it inspires innovation and permits human flourishing.

Moreover, peace and reconciliation are always local. I have spoken of the strategic and tactical aspects, but there is also the operational aspect: the pre-emptive work of averting conflict which, incidentally, is itself a massive economy over the deployment of troops, or the post-conflict reconciliation to avoid repeated cycles of violence, which are typical of so many areas of conflict. Every conflict is distinct, so reconciliation must be locally led by local reconcilers, served from outside, not ruled from outside. Every conflict is different, as I know from my own experience.

How, then, do we replicate the examples of successful reconciliation in this country, across Europe and elsewhere, and what lessons can we learn from situations of failure when it comes to British foreign policy? Above all, I argue that we need a holistic approach. The Government’s conflict, stability and security fund and the Stabilisation Unit are steps in the right direction, but what is needed is a joined-up approach to reconciliation straddling humanitarian, economic, social, ethnic, cultural, political, spiritual and religious factors, in which different departments of government work together under the umbrella of a joint reconciliation unit. More than that, because all reconciliation is local and because it requires such a wide range of partners and expertise, government cannot and should not try to do it all. Thus, a joint reconciliation unit must work hand in glove with NGOs, civil society and faith-based organisations, including Churches, outside government, neither ignoring them nor co-opting them.

As your Lordships would expect, I think faith-based organisations are especially important. The case I know best is the Anglican Communion in its 165 countries with its 85 million people. I think I have said this here before, but it is worth remembering that the average Anglican is a woman in her 30s in sub-Saharan Africa on less than $4 a day. Faith-based organisations are there before, during and after conflict.

Before holding this role, I visited a colleague, now a bishop, in eastern DRC during a period of heavy fighting, when, like the boy who,

“stood on the burning deck.

Whence all but he had fled”,

most NGOs had gone, but this clergyman stayed on. I was working with him and learning from him as he went out to bring refugees through the battle lines to safety—before, during and after conflict.

Whitehall discussions lead me to believe that a joint reconciliation unit involving public and private groups and faith-based organisations in partnership is indeed possible. By supporting this Motion, noble Lords will also support this approach. I shall be very interested to hear what discussions the noble Earl has had in his department on the subject.

Earlier this year, noble Lords discussed the National Security Capability Review, in which the development of a joint approach to security, the fusion doctrine, was announced. This approach acknowledged the importance of economics, security and influence in our policy, but it does not say anything about religion in a religious world.

In St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we read that we are many parts, but we form one body:

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’”.

Partnership must bring in all those who are capable of making a difference.

I offer just one of many examples which I could pick up in which faith leaders in their communities are contributing to the process of reconciliation in the midst of violent conflict. In May this year, the Anglican Archbishop in South Sudan—happily called Archbishop Justin; it helps me remember his name—facilitated dialogue between leaders of government and opposition groups at international peace talks that were said to make more progress in two days than international efforts over the previous four years. The Archbishop facilitated the leaders, many of whom had not sat at the same table since the start of the conflict, to go further than expressing their opinions and party positions to the deep, heartfelt pain and injustice they had experienced during an ongoing conflict that had sent 2 million people into exile and more than 100,000 to their deaths.

The South Sudanese have an expression for such conversation: they call it “vomiting truth”, and its palpable effect was noted by all sides. I know this area a very little, having visited several times in the past four years, including to a town taken and retaken, with more than 3,000 bodies unburied when we went there, and consecrated a mass grave with the bodies of the local clergy and their families at my feet. There is a lot of truth to vomit. Yet the courageous Archbishop has since addressed thousands of South Sudanese citizens, the president and the leader of the opposition at a celebration to mark the signing of a new peace agreement. He not only prayed for the leaders but called on them to make good on their promises and turn peace on paper into peace in practice.

Of course, the work the Archbishop is doing cannot be done without Governments coming in and supporting, without the willingness of the population—bottom-up, middle out, top-down, outsiders—serving and helping, but that combination is capable of turning an area of war into an area that begins the long, painful, stony path of reconciliation.

To follow up this kind of momentary burst of hope, which can so easily slip back into conflict, needs a joint approach of the sort I am seeking to propose. We know that there is still a long way to go. That Archbishop Justin is not alone in the contributions he is making towards peace in South Sudan. Faith leaders across all denominations are playing a role in the journey. The work of reconciliation is not only elite diplomacy. Faith leaders work across the country, with their unique networks of thousands of grass-roots communities, to mediate between different tribes and stand against the factors that fuel the conflict, from corruption to gender-based violence. Youth and women’s groups, including the Mothers’ Union—the oldest and largest women’s group in the world—reach across urban and rural areas, into refugee and IDP camps, to support trauma healing.

Of networks close to the United Kingdom, the reconciliation work of the Commonwealth deserves to be more widely known and understood. The very existence of so diverse a family of nations co-operating in a spirit of good will speaks eloquently of the reality of reconciliation. Pathways towards self-determination and independence were often painful. Yet the Commonwealth story shows relations of trust swiftly being established on the new basis of equal partnership. Determination to build on good that is shared opens the way to overcome the bitterness or divisions of history.

What are known as the ‘good offices’ of successive Commonwealth secretaries- general are a shining star in the Commonwealth constellation. This patient and delicate work of defusing crises and upholding the values of the Commonwealth charter—particularly as they relate to democracy, the rule of law and human rights—has been carried forward in ways which encourage continuing dialogue and engagement. That it is unpublicised, and therefore unsung, makes it more rather than less valuable. Above all, the Commonwealth approach of consensus means that its actions are grounded in a long tradition of uniting around agreement that all can own rather than of there being winners or losers. That is a vital component in lasting reconciliation. I know that many Members of this House have contributed to Commonwealth work on reconciliation, including the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, from whom the House will hear in a minute. He was a member of the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding. He also contributed to the Commonwealth Roundtable on Reconciliation held here in London in 2013.

The cost of war and conflict is all-encompassing. Those affected by violence pay for it in ways that linger for generations. We pay for violence with our prosperity, with our humanity and with our lives. There is an unimaginable toll for those who suffer in conflict. There is also a toll on those who inflict suffering. Constant strife leads to global poverty, oppression and displacement. Our policy must have a strategy of reconciliation that aligns with our values as a nation to alleviate that burden, and we must be bold—although not brash—in deploying it.

The process of reconciliation is long—generations long, as we know from Northern Ireland, and as noble Lords may imagine from the story I told of South Sudan. It will require a quality of leadership at all levels, which this country is uniquely placed to offer, given our history and ties to nations around the world, not least through the Commonwealth and the Anglican Communion. President John F Kennedy reminded us that history shows that we need a peace where the weak are empowered and the strong are just. Reconciliation is not only about being the best that we are, but giving the space, platform and opportunity for others to be the best that they are.

The factors that motivate violence are always immensely complex, and our solutions must reflect that. That is why reconciliation, with its arsenal of tools, is so effective. It is a unique approach to each situation. It does not simplify, generalise or, indeed, idealise. Rather it empowers a community to find ways of living harmoniously, offering tools for disagreeing well—for peaceful disagreement. The formation of a joint reconciliation unit would be fundamental in making reconciliation an integral part of our international policy. It would save money, time and, ultimately, lives.

The Book of Genesis takes us on a journey from violence to reconciliation through the stories of brothers. These are great iconic stories, from the fratricide of Cain and Abel to Joseph and his brothers, on the back of whose reconciliation the 12 tribes become no less than the nation of Israel. We must adopt foreign, defence and international development policies that enable societies to reconcile and flourish together to bring about the prosperous, diverse and joyful world that is within our grasp.

I am sure that many noble Lords here can sympathise, particularly at the moment, with Marcus Aurelius, who said:

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly”.

Indeed, people can be much worse than that. Our societies are not perfect; we ourselves are not perfect. But, as he goes on to say, we can strive to recognise, even when dealing with our enemies,

“that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own … We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower”.

The international aid organisation Christian Aid has for its Christmas appeal this year the slogan, ‘Be a peacemaker’. It is the job of each and every one of us, wherever we are, from the local to the international, to be a peacemaker in our communities. This is the time of gift giving. Let us resolve to begin the process of offering the gift of peace, however that may look, this Christmas. I hope noble Lords will support Christian Aid in this campaign.

I also desire to see reconciliation and healing take root in our hearts, and manifest in our actions, so that our policies at home and abroad are motivated by faith and hope rather than fear. Let our foreign, defence and international development policy reflect our commitment to understanding our enemies, recognising their pain and resolving our differences in a manner that acknowledges and embraces their humanity and diversity. We need to find the balance of mercy and justice, forgiveness and reparation, of the kingdom of heaven and of our world today as we move on from divided pasts into shared futures.

I look forward to what I am sure will be a fascinating and hopeful debate, and I hope that noble Lords may join me, one way or another, when I pray:

“Give peace in our time, O Lord”.


Closing speech:

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, we began just over four and a half hours ago with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry reading from the Psalms:

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills”.

I suggest we have reached the point where people are lifting their eyes to the clock. The best speech I can make is probably therefore a short one. I hope noble Lords will excuse me for not going in detail through all that has been said; otherwise, we will never get home.

I agree very strongly with the comments about the depth, profundity and thoughtfulness of this extraordinary debate. I have been noting feverishly for my own benefit, as well as to be able to think about what people have said; I will certainly be reading Hansard. It has been a wise and magisterial debate, and I am profoundly grateful to all those who have contributed.

At the risk of wildly oversimplifying, for which I apologise, it seems that three categories of things have come forward very powerfully. One is values. The very fact of values and their essential nature were raised a number of times. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, talk about inclusivity, justice and reparation in that memorable speech. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, discussed magnanimity. The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, raised the courage of painstaking patience and was echoed very powerfully by the Minister.

I particularly want to pick up the issue of realism from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. He asked whether there are limits to who we can reconcile with. In all my experience of this—going back 16 years, since I first went to work at Coventry Cathedral—the limits of what one can do has been one of the most difficult subjects to deal with. To put it bluntly: to what extent do you deal with really bad people? When challenged on this on the BBC, my former colleague, a very distinguished clergyman, Canon Andrew White, said, “Of course I deal with bad people; they’re the ones causing the trouble”. But that is not an unqualified way forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Jay, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry—with whom, of course, I invariably entirely agree—raised morality. The phrase that stuck with me from the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, was “costly forgiveness”. We should not underestimate the pain and difficulty of forgiveness. I could make another dozen comments, particularly on the importance of the absence of impunity, but I will move on.

So the first category that has come out of this debate very strongly is values and the way we need to synthesise and hold to values, which are the only things that give real authority to our interventions. As was said very clearly, they must be values we live here as well as abroad.

Secondly, there is the whole question of supporting institutions of government, raised very powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, raised culture in a very powerful speech that made me think afresh in a number of ways. She was the first to mention the British Council, which was picked up by numerous people. I think of the extraordinary work and enormous courage of the British Council. They are often the last people out. I remember many years ago watching the play “Things Fall Apart” in Kano. I was sitting in an open-air theatre, and there was a riot going on just over the wall of the British Council. The rocks and bottles, shouts and tear gas occasionally came over the wall, but the British Council kept going. They are the most extraordinary and remarkable people and they do wonderful work.

I was struck by the importance that the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, attached to the armed forces. I think I would have had some hesitations about what seemed to me a too linear and siloed approach in her speech, but her point about the importance of the armed forces is one we really need to bear in mind, and I appreciated that very much indeed.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and other noble Lords mentioned, the Secretary-General of the UN has had a renewal of UN peacemaking. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned that I had the privilege of briefing the Security Council on reconciliation in September, and he was exactly right to suggest I had a mixed response—although nobody actually walked out, so that is an improvement on some of my sermons.

We have not really mentioned the last set of institutions, but they have been brought to mind by talk of justice and the absence of impunity: that is, the strengthening of the international legal system, in particular the ICC and the use of post-conflict court processes in culturally sensitive ways.

Then there is context. It will take us a long time to forget the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Trimble. We heard from him, as we did from the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, the unpacking of what it is like in this United Kingdom to be in a context of severe, generational civil conflict. We heard of friends and colleagues being assassinated, and of seeing those who carried out the assassination on the streets as part of a peace settlement and the difficulties that that involves—talk about costly forgiveness.

As I said, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, talked about cultural identity and heritage, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned colonial history. The word “history” was used a number of times, and telling the right history is one of the most difficult things to do. He is exactly right: in almost every country in the Commonwealth that criminalises same-sex relationships, that law is a hangover from the colonial period. We need to bear history and truth-telling in mind when we look at conflict.

I was particularly struck by the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and by his knowledge of Haiti. That was the most extraordinary example of how things can go terribly wrong without an understanding of the context and by its manipulation. In my experience, and that of many people here, another place that would apply to is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The manipulation of that country by foreign powers and commercial interests is, beyond all description, deeply evil.

I want to end on a positive tone. I will take into my own thinking about reconciliation something that came out of the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. He spoke of reconciliation being a catalytic process that can lead to something new that people have not seen as a possibility. It is not the restoration of the status quo ante bellum; it is the possibility of a new way of going forward. In other words, it is the creation of hope in societies in conflict where, as we know, the most common feature is despair.

It is in that context that I particularly welcome what the Minister said in his powerful summing-up speech. I welcome strongly the need for further study of a joint reconciliation unit, and for the Church to commit to any involvement it can give through its resources around the communion in all our countries to support that. We also have to accept the need for good design, and that the adoption of one form of strategy does not exclude the adoption of others—it is not an either/or.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken so powerfully. I will certainly read Hansard. It has been a remarkable debate.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 2.44 pm.