Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 7:25 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Bishop 7:25, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I add my gratitude and appreciation to the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Ahmad, not just for what they do but for the way in which they do it.

I want to focus on how we continue to apply moral principles surrounding war in this ever-changing landscape. These are dangerous and uncertain times, as we have heard countless times this afternoon, for which we must prepare—and good preparation is itself deterrence. I add my name to the appeal made by the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, that we see a significant increase in defence funding.

There is now a risk that the changing nature of war and warfare is shifting our understanding of when military force should be resorted to and the restraints that should check its use. The concerns that lie behind just warfare still apply. What is proportionate response and engagement, and how do we protect non-combatants? What is pre-emptive and what is preventive action, and how will military engagement contribute to a just and lasting peace? Old-style wars, at least in theory, as von Clausewitz expounded, were contests of wills. He defined war as an

“an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will”.

But today, and for many decades now, the potential exists that our opponent could be destroyed and us, too.

We have seen contemporary conflicts that involve networks of states and non-state actors, where most violence is directed against civilians as a way of controlling territory rather than against enemy forces. Forced migration is often an unintended consequence. Such wars are decentralised and have low levels of participation, intending to disassemble the state or involve the fragmentation of federations. In their place, they create new, unstable, inward-looking sub-state entities. In these situations, state services such as health, education and the rule of law are degraded, with finance coming less from taxation and more from war-related and criminal activities. Such wars often produce transnational extremist, political or religious ideologies. Of course, all this is exacerbated by the impact of climate change. The failure to plan a just post-war situation can prolong the war and can lead to internal chaos after the war, the failing of the state or the seeds of a new war.

We are also fighting wars differently, with highly advanced weaponry and the increasing use of AI. The speed of development in military applications of AI inevitably raises concerns. We should not forget the huge potential of AI systems in defensive contexts, but the wider ethical problem is that, when we delegate decision-making to machines, they will act according to the moral assumptions with which they have been fed. Those who develop AI applications for use in military offensives, as opposed to defence, need to do so with such moral understanding that they do not inadvertently design algorithms that risk committing war crimes in our name.

To return to where I started, even when the use of armed force is considered justifiable, the overarching aim of just war is a just and durable peace. It means that just war advocates are concerned with limiting the occurrence of war and, when it does occur, ensuring that its conduct is as humane as possible. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that our current understanding of the ethics of war are sufficient to deal with the changing nature of adversaries and the complex ways in which wars are now fought? Will he commit to exercising UK leadership with the UN and other institutions, albeit undergoing reform, as we have heard appealed for, to ensure that the conventions and treaties that govern our actions in war remain fit for purpose—the purpose of lasting, just peace?

Debate adjourned until not before 8.10 pm.