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Archbishop’s House of Lords soft power debate – closing remarks

Friday 5th December 2014

The Archbishop of Canterbury's closing remarks in the House of Lords debate which he led today on the role of soft power and non-military options in preventing conflict.

I’m extremely grateful for those who have contributed some extraordinary and very powerful lessons and understanding. I’m not going to try and reply to everyone because we’ve been going now for five hours and twenty minutes, and need to come to a halt.

But I want to sum up four or five points that seem to be central from what’s come out. And underlying them is the point that the Noble Lord the Minister made that the underlying question is who are we and what do we think we are for in the world.

That seems to be the common theme that’s been running through, and the need for that question to be answered clearly, from this debate it does seem also to be answered clearly, at least in this House, my Lords, that 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, we need strategy and as many Noble Lords said, including the Noble and Gallant Lords, Lord Craig of Radley and 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 we can build peace by carrying, from time to time, a big stick – to use the phrase that was quoted.

The second point that was made very powerfully was the need for soft power to be people and relationship-centred. I was particularly grateful to the Noble Lord, Lord Wei, for his eloquent and statement of that – and his picking up very imaginatively the way in which early Christianity spread, and – through the example of Jesus of love and sacrifice – overthrew the most powerful military power of its time. (Albeit it took three hundred years…)

But if I may pick up the point of the Noble Lord the Minister… the people-centredness, the relationship-centredness of soft power is immensely important. And out of that sense that soft power – all execution of power in the present day – has to be centred around relationships came the expressions of caution about the use of power from the Noble Lord, Lord Parekh, among others. It is people that change conflicts for good or ill, and therefore it is engagement with people that enables us to have an impact on conflict prevention, on conflict mitigation, and on reconciliation.

But I think in many ways what ran most clearly through the contributions was that of smart power – the phrase used by the Noble Lord, Lord Alton. Lord Alderdice referred to this as well, linking soft and hard power with his immense experience of Northern Ireland and the huge contribution he has made there.  

Communication comes up in so many ways. Good communication in many forms includes, as Baroness Williams spoke of, the influence of the British Council, of the BBC, and the implicit communication that comes through our visa policy, which the Noble Lord the Minister has addressed.

It would be interesting to know at some point if 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 contribution of the Roman Catholic Church was mentioned. Almost invariably around the world where the churches are engaged in conflict management or conflict prevention, it is with the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics together… and it’s one of the great privileges we have.  

The question of human rights was raised eloquently and that makes the point that where you have instability through the oppression of human rights, you will find the need for the exercise eventually of hard power. Therefore our campaigns on human rights – and you can think of the numerous campaigns of recent years, particularly by the government, most admirably around modern slavery at the moment, which the Right Revd Prelate, the Bishop of Derby, spoke to and has been leading on for the church – has been a major contribution. Over 30 million slaves globally: the rectification of that unspeakable abuse of human rights is something on which this country is taking a lead.

And out of that, and Noble Baroness, Baroness Berridge and others spoke to this, is the need for soft power to be inclusive. Sport was mentioned, how could I have missed that after four years in Liverpool… sport is the thing that you find almost everywhere. We used it when I was a Canon at Coventry [Cathedral]. We had a football competition in central Nigeria between Muslim and Christian youth, which ended peacefully – I won’t say who won.

The Noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, spoke also about human rights and its absence increasing instability.

That brings me finally in smart power to the question of the ‘matrix approach’ which the Noble Lord, Lord Boateng, put so eloquently and so powerfully, the mixture of soft and hard power – of health, of NGOs, of sport, the need for cross-departmental action.

That has improved, my Lords, over the last few years. Those of us involved in the field have seen that happening. But if I may say so to the Noble Lord the Minister, there’s quite a long way to go, and there needs to be a lot more work on that.

It’s not only that there are resources for hard power and soft power, but how they are spent. The Noble Lord, Lord Boateng, spoke on this 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 actually end their presence in an area where they have lived for two thousand years.

I was particularly struck by the eloquence of the Noble Baroness, Baroness Kinnock in talk essentially around the next point which is that of mutuality. She mentioned the European Union, the Commonwealth, and the Right Revd Prelate, the Bishop of Derby, spoke of the messy and complex nature of the exercise of soft power. Bringing that in requires international cooperation and it’s never going to be tidy and simple.

And that brings me to the final point. There seemed to be a theme running through the debate of the importance of flexibility. We look at Libya, and 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’s financed by other people, but that’s where they get the guns.

The Building Stability Overseas Strategy, the Conflict Security Fund when it comes in next April – all these 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 can’t prevent it because we don’t 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’re seeing in the South Sudan, in the enormous pain and struggle there, there is always something that can be done.

My Lords this has been an incredibly educational debate. I apologise to those who I have not been able to mention, and I beg to move.



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