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Call for system for going to war

Britain must have a more systematic way of deciding when to go to war to avoid repeating mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new report has said.

The Chatham House report said controversy surrounding Britain's involvement in the conflicts stemmed from a wider failure of government, including politicians, senior military officers and civil servants, rather than just the roles of former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Author James de Waal, a visiting fellow at Chatham House, said a new code of conduct should be established to decide when Britain should go to war, rather than decisions relying on personal relationships between politicians and military chiefs.

He said : "I got the sense that we had rather an unsuccessful 10-15 years of military intervention and I really wanted to try and work out what went wrong.

"The overall impression of British practice was of disorder and incoherence, informality and individuality.

"This seems to be a reflection of how the British governmental machine was unsuited in a number of important ways to the enormous challenges and pressure of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The report - titled Depending On The Right People, British Political Military Relations 2001-2010 - said the British decision-making process failed under the pressure of the wars, operating in an incoherent, inconsistent, and opaque way.

It said that despite widespread views that politicians such as Mr Blair should bear the blame for Britain's involvement, recent evidence, including that given at the Chilcot Inquiry, shows Britain suffered a wider failure of government systems.

Mr de Waal said problems stemmed from a situation in which there was no well-understood model for how ministers, military chiefs and civil servants should work together.

He said much of the information used in his report came from testimony at the yet-unconcluded Chilcot Inquiry, but said he doubted it would find a "smoking gun" pinning the blame on Mr Blair.

"People will think it's either a whitewash or that's the lesson to be learned, but I think the inquiry will actually find more interesting but less glamorous lessons - t hat there were some people who acted well and some who acted less well but actually it was a general failure of a system rather than specific people."

The lack of a specific system or code of conduct allowed people to "make it up as they went along" with the approach of Britain to crises such as that in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he said lessons must be learnt to avoid similar problems in the future.

"The main thing I would like is for us in Britain to start talking about the relationship between politicians and senior military officers - to have the sort of investigation of it that you have in America. In America there is a constant debate about how politicians and senior military officers are relating to one another."

He said in future the Government should make decisions on going to war based on a formal code approved by Parliament which would define how decisions about use of force are made, and the role of those involved.

"My concern is that you still have a situation where people really still depend on personal relationships," he said.

"We had a system which depended on the right people working in the right way and Britain needs to move to a system where there is a rather more structured system working towards it."

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "We will look at the findings of the report with interest. The National Security Council was set up by this Government to strengthen decision-making procedures on national security issues. It demonstrates the high priority given to national security by the PM.

"The NSC brings together key ministers, military and intelligence chiefs to consider a broad range of UK national security issues including foreign policy, defence, international relations, development, resilience, energy and resource security."


From Belfast Telegraph