Should we really arm the Syr­ian rebels?

The Church of England - - ANGLICAN LIFE - By Jeremy Moodey

When I joined the For­eign Of­fice as a cal­low trainee diplo­mat al­most 30 years ago, Bri­tain still clung proudly to the no­tion that it was a global su­per­power with real diplo­matic in­flu­ence. For there was at the heart of Bri­tish for­eign pol­icy a post-colo­nial con­ceit. We really be­lieved that a na­tion that had built the largest em­pire the world had ever known, cov­er­ing a quar­ter of the globe’s land mass, had a unique right to punch above its weight on the in­ter­na­tional stage. Back in the early 1980s, be­fore our for­eign pol­icy be­came en­fee­bled by Euro­pean bu­reau­cracy, we Bri­tish diplo­mats were the true masters of the uni­verse. In fact the hubris stayed with me into the 1990s, when I be­came one of the new masters, an in­vest­ment banker.

But how did this grandeur fit with our mo­ral stance as a na­tion? Af­ter Labour’s elec­tion vic­tory in 1997 Robin Cook be­came For­eign Sec­re­tary and be­gan talk­ing about the need for an “eth­i­cal” for­eign pol­icy. You could al­most hear the FCO man­darins snig­ger­ing into their gin and ton­ics at their elite wa­ter­ing-hole of choice, the Trav­ellers’ Club on Pall Mall. They would have found com­fort in the Henry Kissinger quote: “A coun­try that de­mands mo­ral per­fec­tion in its for­eign pol­icy will achieve nei­ther per­fec­tion nor se­cu­rity”. Robin Cook was gone within a few years, and since then Bri­tain seems to have devel­oped a unique knack of end­ing up on the wrong – and of­ten the un­eth­i­cal – side of the diplo­matic de­bate.

The Bri­tish his­to­rian Mark Cur­tis charted this mo­ral de­cline in his 2003 book “Web of De­ceit: Bri­tain’s Real Role in the World”. He noted that since 1945 Bri­tain has in many respects be­come a rogue state, pro­mot­ing im­moral poli­cies in Kenya, Malaya, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq and In­done­sia, while sup­port­ing re­pres­sive states such as Is­rael, Rus­sia, Turkey and the Gulf states. Bri­tain was even com­plicit with France in the Rwan­dan geno­cide of 1994 by fail­ing to act to stop the blood­shed when it had the power to do so.

So there can be lit­tle sur­prise that even to­day Bri­tain con­tin­ues to get the wrong end of the eth­i­cal for­eign pol­icy stick, es­pe­cially when it comes to the Mid­dle East. It has been ever thus, even go­ing back to the 1917 Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion, which had the temer­ity to give the Jewish peo­ple a “na­tional home” in Pales­tine, which ac­tu­ally be­longed to some­body else. Last Novem­ber, when a ma­jor­ity of EU mem­ber states were recog­nis­ing the Pales­tinian bid for non-mem­ber observer sta­tus at the UN, Bri­tain spine­lessly de­cided to ab­stain, while lec­tur­ing the Pales­tini­ans on how they should en­deav­our to end the 45-year Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion of their land. Bri­tain’s largest arms cus­tomer, Saudi Arabia, is con­demned by or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and Hu­man Rights Watch for its ap­palling hu­man rights record.

And now we learn that For­eign Sec­re­tary Wil­liam Hague is press­ing his Euro­pean part­ners to re­lax the EU em­bargo on pro­vid­ing arms to the Syr­ian rebels. As if a civil war which has al­ready yielded over 70,000 deaths, one mil­lion refugees and 3.6 mil­lion in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons (IDPs), as well as (to use the words of one devel­op­ment agency) a “col­lapse in child­hood” for two mil­lion Syr­ian chil­dren, really needed yet more weapons be­ing passed around. But just think of the jobs back here in the UK if the ma­chine guns and rocket-pro­pelled grenades are Bri­tish!

Of course it is not a war against the As­sad regime that is be­ing fought here, but a proxy war by the West and its re­gional al­lies against the in­flu­ence of Pres­i­dent As­sad’s back­ers, Rus­sia and Iran. Bri­tain is still fight­ing the bat­tles of the 19th cen­tury, when it strug­gled with Rus­sia for mas­tery in Cen­tral Asia in the so-called ‘Great Game’.

Hague’s front man in the cam­paign to arm the rebels is former For­eign Sec­re­tary Sir Mal­colm Rifkind. Speak­ing on BBC Ra­dio 4 last month he ar­gued that there was a hu­man­i­tar­ian im­per­a­tive to arm the rebels, to “tip the bal­ance” in their fight against As­sad. He seemed obliv­i­ous to the fact that any escalation in arms sup­plies to the rebels would lead to in­creased Rus­sian, Ira­nian and Hezbol­lah sup­port for the Syr­ian government, lead­ing to even more blood­shed. There is now a se­ri­ous risk that As­sad’s ar­se­nal of chem­i­cal weapons will be used against the rebels. It is really quite sim­ple: you can­not end the vi­o­lence in Syria by es­ca­lat­ing the vi­o­lence.

If we can­not rely on the Bri­tish government to find its mo­ral com­pass, how should we Chris­tians re­spond to the ter­ri­ble events un­fold­ing in Syria? Well there are no easy an­swers. But we were called by Je­sus him­self to be peace­mak­ers, which is not the same as paci­fists (the Greek word used in Matthew 5:9 im­plies ac­tive peace-mak­ing, of the am­bas­sado­rial kind). We are en­joined (He­brews 12:14) to “make ev­ery ef­fort to live in peace with ev­ery­one”, which again hardly im­plies in­ac­tiv­ity on the part of the peace­maker. And of course, em­pow­ered by the Holy Spirit and fol­low­ing the supreme ex­am­ple of Je­sus, we are to seek peace even against all the odds (Philip­pi­ans 4:13).

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has shame­fully failed the Syr­ian peo­ple with its tooth­less di­plo­macy, and now it wants to com­pound that fail­ure by sup­ply­ing yet more in­stru­ments of death. As Chris­tians we must urge our government to work for peace, not yet more blood­shed. Jeremy Moodey is a former FCO diplo­mat (1983-93) and

is now Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of Em­brace the Mid­dle East, the in­ter­de­nom­i­na­tional devel­op­ment char­ity that tack­les poverty and in­jus­tice in the lands of the Bi­ble. Em­brace has given £250,000 in hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­port to lo­cal Chris­tian agen­cies work­ing with Syr­ian refugees and IDPs, and has just

launched its Syria ap­peal at www.em­braceme.org/syria2013.

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