21 November 2013


The British government decision-making process failed under the pressure of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, operating in a way which was incoherent, inconsistent and opaque, says a new report, Depending on the Right People, British Political Military Relations 2001-10, by James de Waal.

The report challenges the widespread view that Britain’s politicians, notably Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, should bear the sole blame for the country’s military difficulties. It draws on recent evidence, including from the Chilcot Inquiry, to show that Britain instead suffered a wider failure of the government system, with politicians, senior military officers and civil servants all playing their part. It argues that government policy-making must become more systematic in order to avoid repeating these mistakes in future wars.

The report author, James de Waal, says:

'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.'

These problems were the result of a situation in which there was no well-understood model for how ministers, senior military officers and civil servants should work together. All interpreted their roles in different ways, with effectiveness depending on the quality of individuals and the personal relationships between them.

James de Waal argues that in order to avoid the confusion and variation of political-military relations of the past decade, the government should make decisions on the use of force subject to a formal code, approved by parliament.

This code should define the process through which decisions on the use of force are taken, and the roles of responsibilities of those involved.

If Britain does not develop a more robust and transparent system to ensure that military force supports its political aims, the country will not be able to influence the future international situation as it wishes.

Notes to Editors

Read Depending on the Right People, British Political Military Relations 2001-2010 by James de Waal.

To interview James de Waal, please contact the [staff 176571 195650]