The Archbishop of Canterbury told peers that military intervention in Syria would herald an ‘open season on the Christian communities’ there.
Archbishop Justin Welby was taking part in a debate in the House of Lords on military action in Syria following last week’s use of chemical weapons there.
A similar debate was taking place in the House of Commons after Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament to debate the issue. However, the vote was lost in the Commons, inflicting a heavy defeat for Mr Cameron and ruling the UK out of taking part in any Syrian strike.
Archbishop Welby told peers that he had ‘some experience in the region, partly from this role that I have and from recent visits and contact with many faith leaders of all three Abrahamic faiths, and through 10 years of, from time to time, working on reconciliation projects.’
He stressed the importance of exhausting all the diplomatic channels before turning to the military option.
“The reality is that, until we are sure that all those intermediate steps have been pursued, just war theory says that the step of opening fire is one that must only be taken when there is no possible alternative whatever under any circumstances.”
He confirmed his opinion that the consequences are ‘totally out of our hands once it has started’.
He added: “I talked to a very senior Christian leader in the region yesterday and he said that intervention from abroad will declare open season on the Christian communities. They have already been devastated. There were 2 million Christians in Iraq 12 years ago; there are fewer than 500,000 today. These are churches that do not just go back to St Paul but, in the case of Damascus and Antioch, predate him. They will surely suffer terribly, as they already are, if action goes ahead. That consequence has to be weighed against the consequences of inaction.
“In civil wars, those who are internal to the civil conflict fight for their lives, necessarily. Those who are external have a responsibility, if they get involved at all, to fight for the outcome. That outcome must be one that improves the chances of long-term peace and reconciliation.
“If we take action that diminishes the chance for peace and reconciliation, when inevitably a political solution has to be found, whether it is near-term or in the long-term future, then we will have contributed to more killing, and this war will be deeply unjust.
“In consequence, I feel that any intervention must be effective in terms of preventing any further use of chemical weapons. I have not yet heard that that has been adequately demonstrated as likely. It must effectively deal with those who are promoting the use of chemical weapons. It must also have a third aim, which is somewhere in the strategy: there must be more chance of a Syria and of a Middle East in which there are not millions of refugees and these haunting pictures are not the stuff of our evening viewing.”