A friend of mine has just arrived in Afghanistan for the third time, he’s there to fly helicopters in the RAF. On Sunday I met a lady who has worked for NATO in Afghanistan and there was me wondering what possible connection there could be between my life in the estates of north Shrewsbury and the big issues of war and peace. This is an issue, perhaps not as big as five years ago when anger about Iraq was still strong, but our military is still engaged in Afghanistan and our role as a military and nuclear power is still an issue. So how can a Christian think through the issues of Afghanistan and defence?
Lets start with nuclear weapons, my own personal opinion is that they can’t be morally justified under any circumstances, they’re indiscriminate and their use on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a crime. I would prefer to live in a country that neither had them (USA, China, UK, France, Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea) nor coveted them (Iran and who knows who else). I’ve no idea who we think we’re deterring with them, who we want to destroy with them. They’ve not stopped wars taking place in the last 60 years nor made the world a safer place but instead a more dangerous one. As a Christian I cannot see how we can be anything other than against them and for a nuclear disarmed world. More power to President Obama on this issue.
Although I would have to say I have pacifist leanings, I can see reasons why nations have military forces and the good they can achieve or be used as an instrument to stop evil (WWII is the classic example but the Balkan conflict and Kosovo would be other more recent examples). Of course the opposite is also true – the military are not always used as an instrument of justice but of power and power is not always used for righteous ends. Wars have been waged for wealth, for territory, for prestige, or from fear. I’m wary of the almost unquestioning support of Christians for the armed forces in the US, because it seems blind to the injustices that have been committed by the US, as well as the good. As Christians we must be alert to the issues and unafraid to challenge misuse of military power.
This certainly wasn’t true in the last century but I don’t think anyone in our country fears invasion (maybe not even in the Falklands?), in that sense we have no enemy poised to invade. Terrorism isn’t fought with a tank. So our armed forces are used mostly on foreign lands (Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan) and then internally (disasters or strikes in the fire services) or in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions.
The question that has never really been resolved is under what circumstances should our armed forces be used? If we want to remove tyrannical dictators (like Saddam Hussein) why did we never threaten the dictators of Cuba, Zimbabwe, North Korea and dozens of other countries? For what causes are we prepared for our soldiers to die?
I think Afghanistan was a reasonable mission – the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were (I think) legitimate enemies but as with Iraq, very little thought and preparation or strategy for nation building in an essentially failed state as been put in place. We’re quick to war and slow to think about peace.
So I think governments can wield the sword in pursuit of justice but rarely do or at least not consistently. The questions to ask are what are the principles for military engagement, what is the point of the nuclear deterrent and what is the global role of the UK in creating a more just world?