Nigel Baker

Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See

24th January 2013 Holy See

Training Diplomats to Understand Religion

Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi meeting H.E. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster (September 2012)

Earlier this week, I was in London to attend and address the first ever course run by the Foreign Office on religion and foreign policy. The particular focus was on the issue of freedom of religion or belief, but the wider goal of the course is to help British diplomats understand better the importance of religion in shaping foreign policy. The course, delivered by the Woolf Institute based in Cambridge, included case studies, lectures and reflections from diplomatic practitioners.

Supplementary to this course, which will be refined and developed for a further session in March, is the launch in the Foreign Office of a parallel series of lunchtime seminars on aspects of religion and foreign policy. Archbishop Nichols of Westminster gave the first seminar before Christmas alongside Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi, focusing on the international role and activity of the Roman Catholic church, the importance of religious freedom, and the relationship between the Catholic Church and government. Over 100 British diplomats of all grades and specialities took part. Further lectures planned will cover sources of religious tension and freedom, the Church of England and international diplomacy, the right to be secular in the Middle East and North Africa, and the impact of conflict on relations between communities in the Middle East.

I personally believe that an understanding of the dynamics of religion and faith in global society is not only a legitimate and important tool of foreign policy practice, but an increasingly essential one for our diplomats and foreign policy advisers in a modern world in which religion is ever more important as a driver of political, social, cultural and even economic motivation. In the same way that we expect diplomats to develop a keen knowledge of international economic issues, or the intricacies of multilateral negotiating techniques in areas from disarmament to climate change, we cannot ignore religion. Unlike in much of the world, most British school children or students do not regularly attend a place of worship, even if a large majority of British people still express a religious affiliation. So our new recruits, and more experienced diplomats, need training to engage a world where faith and religiosity is more common and evident than at home. Whether a diplomat agreed or disagrees with the values expressed by faiths, not understanding them puts him or her at a great disadvantage across the globe, from Khartoum to Karachi, Rio to Riyadh.

So I am delighted that the Foreign Office has launched this initiative. Understanding religion, and religions, needs to be an integral part of our diplomatic armoury.

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel is currently British Ambassador to the Holy See. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11).

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provides a window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The issues Nigel has written about include: Women at the Holy See, British Parliamentarians’ visit to the Holy See, Diplomacy and Faith and the phenomenon of World Youth Day.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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