Reconciliation in British Foreign, Defence and International Development Policy

This Briefing has been prepared in advance of the debate due to take place in the House of Lords on the motion moved by the Archbishop of Canterbury that “this House takes note of the role of reconciliation in British foreign, defence and international development policy”. It provides definitions of reconciliation, and introduces the linked concepts of ‘soft power’, ‘fragile states’ and ‘post-conflict interventions’. It then summarises UK Government policy and delivery bodies, before discussing the additional roles which might be played in reconciliations by faith-based organisations and women. The Briefing then turns to look at a theoretical framework for reconciliations. Finally, it summarises eight conflicts where reconciliation and/or fragile state interventions have played a part, with varying levels of perceived success.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has made reconciliation one of his personal priorities, saying that it is the “greatest need in the world today”. However, definitions of the term vary: a narrow version might be the restoration of order after a conflict, while a wider definition might include a process requiring truth, mercy, justice and peace. Reconciliation can take place either before a conflict or during and after. Commentators have also put forward the concepts of “soft power” and “fragile state interventions” as means of advancing reconciliations.

In UK policy delivery, the three departments most actively involved are the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development (DFID). However, the Government also has two cross-departmental bodies (the conflict, stability and security fund and the stabilisation unit) which coordinate reconciliation, mediation, and disaster response. Underlying these, two policy documents set out how interventions might work in practice. The national security strategy included a commitment to spend at least 50 percent of DFID’s budget in “fragile states and regions”, while the building stability framework set out how DFID should re-orientate its activities to put peace building and stability at their core.

Faith-based organisations are among the other bodies which can be involved in mediation and reconciliation, sometimes working together across faiths. It has also been suggested that the involvement of women makes reconciliations more likely and more sustainable. Other commentators have advanced theoretical frameworks for reconciliation: one includes appropriate leadership, institutions and timing, alongside suitable external support and mediation.

The briefing concludes with summaries of eight countries illustrating a variety of results for reconciliation in practice. These range from apparent successes (eg South Africa and Indonesia) to those described by external observers as failures (Sudan and Yemen), and with examples of more nuanced outcomes (Sierra Leone and Rwanda). There are also two examples where faith-based organisations are said to have a role to play (South Sudan and Nigeria).