Tag Archives: Military

Mrs May, it’s time for you to sort out the law for our armed forces

Friday’s Telegraph reported that, on Thursday, Mrs May told Defence Chiefs “to make every effort” to prevent abuse of the legal system by lawyers suing British servicemen over events in Iraq (and, presumably, Afghanistan).

Excellent start, and I hope that the Defence Chiefs immediately cease the current 1,500 investigations, consign them all to the shredder and redeploy the resources to defending the Realm.

However, it is not the role of the Armed Forces to regulate the operation of UK law.

The problem arises because of fears that if the UK does not investigate claims, they may instead be investigated by the UN’s International Criminal Court (although this has never actually happened). This has led the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, to advise that ceasing the current inquiries might be risky. Mrs May needs to have a word in his ear.

She should start by pointing out that the ICC is a UN body that has less than unanimous support and membership. The USA, Israel, Iraq, China, Russia and India are all not signatories. Why is the UK? (Answer: some deluded concept of ethical foreign policy invented by St Tone). Perhaps we should leave.

She could go on to point out that the UK armed forces are regulated by the Armed Forces Act, passed every 5 years, last time in 2011 and a Bill is currently before Parliament. The Armed Forces Act makes any UK offence an offence under the act. Last time I checked, murder, detention without trial, rape and the rest were all UK offences. The point, therefore, is that the British armed forces are perfectly well regulated. Ask (ex) Sergeant Blackman, who is currently in jail for shooting a prisoner in Afghanistan, or those members of the Army who were prosecuted for failings in Abu Ghraib.

On that basis, she could suggest that Mr Wright mans up, and informs the ICC (and the world) that as far as the UK is concerned its armed forces operate to the highest professional, ethical and legal standards and are perfectly capable of maintaining them.

She might also invite him to note that while MPs have the legal cost of any action against them arising from their duties covered by the State, soldiers have a means-tested form of legal aid. So the MPs who sent them to war are safe from the financial consequences – but Tommy Atkins is not. Perhaps a change to the law is necessary.

Surely she will not have to remind him of the problems of double jeopardy, exacerbated by the evidential problems of dealing with incidents some time ago with an absence of witnesses. Or to point at the ludicrously expensive fiasco of the Saville Enquiry.

She could also point out that the majority of the actions threatened have been brought by two firms. One is already closed (due Legal Aid finding accounting problems). The other, Leigh Day, is under investigation for “irregularities” in the handling of some cases.

While she is at it she should also suggest that the Attorney General reminds the Law Society (the solicitor’s trade union) that the rule of law is not the rule of lawyers. Moreover, she could invite him to point out to them that if access to law is unaffordable, justice is threatened. Perhaps all lawyers should be required to perform (say) 200 hours work per year free, pro bono? Or perhaps Parliament, whose concerns included justice, the law and the economy, should set the rate for all lawyers.

She could end by pointing out that world class armed forces are very rare and hard to replace. Lawyers are three a penny…

NOTE – I am now proud and delighted to be a regular blogger about defence matters on The Conservative Woman http://www.conservativewoman.co.uk  where this post first appeared.  If you like this you may well like some of the other posts on TCW so click here and have a look

Brexit may save the British Army

You may have noticed that there has been a bit of a kerfuffle with the Army being sued for alleged human rights abuses in Iraq – the kerfuffle being that these turned out to be spurious. The relevant firm is now being shut down.

You may not recall that there used to be a thing called Crown Immunity, which was provided by Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act. This meant that the Crown could not be sued for from actions for death or personal injury caused by members of the British Armed Forces. When the EC incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into EC Law Section 10 was deemed incompatible, and was thus repealed by Saint Tone’s Human Rights Act 1998. Net result, chaos on the battlefield and subsequently in court. Soldiers feel that the society that sends them to war is now penalising them for prosecuting such a war. This is not good for morale, recruitment or retention.
Brexit (when Mrs May gets around to setting it in motion) provides an opportunity to resolve this matter as we will no longer be bound by the ECHR, or indeed any other law that does not originate in and be passed by Parliament. So what laws does one need to control soldiers?

Firstly, some background. Before 1998 the British Army had been in existence for over 300 years, won a substantial number of wars was generally viewed as disciplined and lawful. Repealing Section 10 therefore, like so much of St Tone’s work, solved a problem that did not exist. Warfare is bound by the Geneva (and other conventions) which generally provide for the acceptance and treatment of prisoners and the safety of non-combatants, cultural icons etc. Of course, not all states are signatories and not all wars are between states. But the basic ideas are straightforward and easily interpreted. Note also that orders are only binding if lawful, so “shoot that prisoner” is not a lawful order. This is well understood and is enforced rigorously, as Sergeant Blackman found out.

Surrendering is actually not easy. Standing up on a battlefield is inherently dangerous and white flags are not issued to soldiers. Moreover, there comes a moment when surrender is no longer practically possible and accepting a surrender is equally dangerous, as members of 2 Para found at Goose Green in the Falklands, were a platoon commander was killed as he went forward to accept the surrender of a position waving a white flag.

Outside of general war the situation is more complicated. British troops serving in Ulster had no more rights to kill than anyone else under (then) common law. They were allowed to use lethal force only if a life was in imminent danger and there was no other way of preventing this. This was encapsulated in the Yellow Card, with all soldiers learned and understood by heart. There may or may not have been a breakdown on Bloody Sunday. The Saville Enquiry proved little beyond how much lawyers can charge and how memories of adrenaline fueled people who believe that they are in mortal peril are neither complete nor consistent.

A word on non-combatants. The battlefield is a very dangerous place whether you are armed or not. Mistakes are made, and mistakes with weaponry tend to be fatal to someone. While there is currently media interest in pursuing the perpetrator, the proximate cause is going to war in the first place and that decision lies in Westminster. And a note on scale. It is reckoned that some 116,000 Iraqi non-combatants were killed (by all sides and forces) in the 10 years following the invasion. The coalition was trying to avoid civilian casualties. By comparison, in the three months fighting in France after D Day in June 1944, over 20,000 French non-combatants were killed. (By way of context, the RAF killed more Frenchmen by mistake that the Luftwaffe did Britons on purpose during the Blitz). The point is simple, warfare gets people killed and is most dangerous for non-combatants.

Quite how to evaluate which deaths are collateral damage and which are the result of genocide is a rationalist’s nightmare and a lawyer’s gravy train. Clearly the answer lies in intent. The bombing of Caen in 1944 was intended to facilitate the British forcing the Germans out. It failed in that and killed many French non-combatants. The killing of the non-combatants was not the intention, but was a reasonably predictable side effect. Does that make it criminally reckless? And would that recklessness be more criminal than sending in British troops without the fire support that commanders at the time deemed necessary?

The brutal truth is that there is really only one rule in war; don’t come second.

Further Thoughts on Jihadist Terrorists

The UK faces a threat to public safety and public order from suicidal, murderous, home-grown jihadists whose actions are to some extent coordinated by a range of Muslim lunatics labelled ISIL. Other EU states face a similar threat – as does the United States.  As the perpetrators are home-grown the solutions will vary from country to country.  Selfishly perhaps, I am predominantly concerned with the UK.

Continue reading Further Thoughts on Jihadist Terrorists

BOOK REVIEW: Swarm Troopers by David Hambling

Drones have become and integral part of warfare in much the same way as a mobile phone has become a fundamental platform of modern life.  Both technologies emerged in the late 1980s, and both have advanced astonishingly quickly.  The reason for the rapid development of mobile phones is simple; money. The smartphone industry spent US$150 billion on R&D in 2014. The Pentagon spent US$60 billion on all its research programmes combined. This is possible because of the economies of scale and the exploitation of free market economics.  Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: Swarm Troopers by David Hambling

Corbyn is correct (possibly for the wrong reasons)

Today Parliament is debating whether RAF jets should be used to drop bombs on IS in Syria as well as Iraq. Cameron wants to do it, as it seems do many MPs, Corbyn does not. Having been a soldier I’m no terrorist sympathiser, but I do think that Corbyn’s conclusion is correct. Let’s review the facts.

Firstly there are plenty of jets from other nations already dropping bombs on IS in Syria. The availability or otherwise of a few RAF Tornados will not make a significant difference as there are already plenty. There is a technical point, which is that only the RAF has Brimstone (a very clever weapon) but this has not been widely raised and although Brimstone may be best other systems are adequate. So whether or not the RAF joins the bombing has no significant military relevance.

Some have stated that it’s time we stand shoulder to shoulder with are allies. We already are, as we have done since the end of the cold war. Bosnia, Gulf War Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq again. Where were the Germans? Or most of the rest of the EU? It’s a fatuous point.

Secondly, as any soldier or historian can tell you, bombing alone cannot deliver a military outcome. The one exception was the nuclear bombing of Japan; otherwise no strategic military result has been delivered by air action alone. Yes, the Vietnamese were brought back to the peace talks by B52s, but at the time there were several hundred thousand GIs on the ground (who lost). Yes Serbia was cowed by a bombing campaign, but it was ground troops who liberated Kosovo. And if you are reliant upon ground action there is no point in starting to prepare their battlefield though air strikes until you have a workable plan. As far as I am aware there is not yet any such plan for Syria (let alone a workable one).

Thirdly, dropping bombs always causes some collateral damage, which is jargon for demolished buildings and dead innocents. While it is not the case that the infidel west is waging war on Moslems, pictures of bomb damaged buildings adorned in scattered Arab body parts is an image that is easily exploited to support this argument. This risk is of course exacerbated by the bombs that miss their target, and many bombs do miss. Even when they hit, there is often some question as to whether the target was legitimate, or the intended one. There are better, more accurate ways to destroy individual terrorists, but these can only be performed on the ground.

Anyway, all the evidence points to the perpetrators of the Paris killings coming from within Europe. They may or may not have received their motivation, training and equipment from IS in Syria (as opposed to IS in Iraq – which we are bombing already) but they were home grown, as were the 7/7 bombers and that maniac who killed Fusilier Lee Rigby. As Rod Liddle pointed out in last week’s Spectator, the logical retaliation for the French Air Force wold be to bomb Brussels (which, incidentally, would probably get UKIP support).

Finally bombs are expensive, and so are the planes required to drop them. Flying two Tornadoes from Cyprus to Syria and back is not cheap; I estimate the fuel alone as costing £50,000. One Brimstone bomb is another £100,000 so a cost of £250,000 per sortie in fuel and bombs seems sensible. Add in some maintenance, supporting aircraft and 100 or so airmen and £1,000,000 per day seems about right. Let’s just remember our country is bankrupt.

If you want to prevent terrorism in the UK (which is part of Dave’s job) then all you need to is secure the borders and keep the militant parts of the domestic population in check. That has far more to do with getting a grip on immigration control, the UK Border Agency and supporting police and security services than dumping HE in middle east. We are in a more secure position than mainland Europe as we have the additional vetting opportunities arising from being an island. We also have very strict gun controls and more cameras than France and the rest.

The terrorist threat IS poses to UK is not existential. It is far more akin to Bader Meinhoff and the Red Brigades than the IRA. The clue to defeating terrorism is not to be terrified, and I am not. The jihadist morons are far less likely to kill me than bad drivers and this point needs to be emphasised. Yes, at some stage there will probably be another outrage in UK. If it was as effective as 9/11 and killed 3,000 then my chance of being one of them is under one thousandth of a percent. I’m more likely to win the lottery – and so are you.

If you want to bring peace to the Middle East then good luck with that; my guess is that the choice is either supporting a nasty, secular dictator type like Assad or breaking up the artificially created countries a la Yugoslavia is the way to go. If Saint Tony can’t achieve it then Call Me Dave has no chance. But, lunatic terrorists aside, I don’t much care if there is a caliphate or not. The British Empire had few problems with the Ottoman Empire as we’re separated from them by the rest of Europe. I see no reason to fear one being created, particularly now that there is a world glut of oil.

If Cameron really wants to solve the problem he needs to put reliable (spelt British and other NATO) troops on the ground and keep them there until the job is done. Unfortunately he’s sacked most of them and already demonstrated that he does not have the ability to persuade the British population that it is worth the effort.

While I disagree with Corbyn’s creed, on this matter his analysis is broadly correct.

Terrorism is defeated by intelligence, which seems to be in short supply in Westminster.

BOOK REVIEW: Deep Sea Attack by Martin W Bowman

My review of this book was originally written for ARRSE (www.arrse.co.uk) and appears with their kind permission.

This book describes the RAF’s campaign against the German Navy and Merchant Marine in the Atlantic, North Sea and English Channel. This was a vital part of the war, firstly in ensuring the UK’s survival and later in turning the screw on the blockade of Germany and preventing Kriegsmarine action against the D-Day landings. The operations were conducted by the RAF Coastal Command, at one extreme with 15 hour patrols hunting U-Boats and at the other with shorter missions across the channel against any surface shipping. It is a story of great technical innovation, endurance and immense physical courage.

Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: Deep Sea Attack by Martin W Bowman

Book Review: Deep Sea Hunters by Martin W. Bowman

My review of this book was originally posted on ARRSE (www.arrse.co.uk) and appears here with their kind permission.

One of the major British concerns during the Second World War was maintaining sufficient imports of food and materiel for the population to avoid starvation and be able to fight.  The German U Boat campaign threatened to win the war.  Its ultimate failure to do so was caused by a combination of improving convoy escorts and in particular improved airborne anti-submarine warfare.  This book seeks to tell the story of the latter.

It should be a rich tale.  The crews were routinely flying long endurance missions (often over 15 hours), sweeping their search area at low level.  If they spotted a surfaced U Boat they had to be able to deliver their ordnance before the U Boat crash dived, and that required flying straight at the target and over it.  Never easy, buy the end of the war U Boats had an armament equivalent to that of a ZSU 23-4.  Few modern combat pilots would relish the prospect of taking that on in a plane the size of a Hercules, but slower.

Continue reading Book Review: Deep Sea Hunters by Martin W. Bowman