William Hague is due to arrive in Moscow today to discuss the civilian massacres in Syria with the country’s closest Security Council ally. At the same time the UN Security Council has convened an emergency session to discuss what the White House called a “vile testament to an illegitimate regime”.
The juxtaposition here between bilateral and multilateral diplomacy is striking. In a world where power is gradually seeping Eastwards – such that new polarities are emerging – bilateral diplomacy will become ever more important. This explains why the British Government is investing so heavily in building up its diplomatic network and presence in Latin American and the Far East.
Are there lessons here for the Churches and wider civil society?
If power is becoming more diffuse and if we really are entering a ‘G-Zero world’ then relying on traditional networks to influence policy is unlikely to have much traction. Organizing civil society demonstrations here in the UK might help to store up the government’s public diplomacy in international meetings. It might also on occasion serve to check certain policy stances adopted by the government that we find distasteful. But, when the government’s ability to realize the change we want is waning isn’t it high time we re-thought our own strategy of political engagement?
If we are concerned by the unfolding sectarian civil war in Syria and if we feel strongly enough that there are important principles that need defending then merely targeting the British Government to do more isn’t going to achieve much.
If Russia and China are the stumbling blocks for more concerted international action on Syria, then surely it makes better sense for us as Churches to reach out to the Russian Orthodox Church? If the response from the Russian Orthodox Church is muted, then we ought to redouble our efforts and identify those who do have access and influence with the Russian Orthodox Church.
All of this is by way of saying that churches and wider civil society need to rethink how they engage politically in a world that is undergoing far-reaching changes. Traditional methods of mobilizing and campaigning will become increasingly ineffective as the new disorder takes shape.
We need to take a leaf out of the government’s book. We need to look at ways in which we renew our alliances and relationships with partner organizations in those countries that are likely to have influence over the decisions that impact on our understanding of the common good.
Over the last 50 years an elaborate network of relationships has been developed that enables churches and civil society groups in the West to act as a voice for the voiceless. Institutions and bodies have been developed aplenty to structure these interactions. While we need to avoid any talk of reciprocity that strategy needs to be duplicated in reverse probably with a different set of partners.
Unless we are willing to think again about the Church’s mission in a networked centered world we are likely to find ourselves increasingly marginalized and frustrated. The first step in this recalibration is to recognise that even if the new rules are unclear the old ones don’t work.