Code of conduct could improve armed forces’ links with politicians after dysfunctional relationship resulted in Iraq War blunder

Systemic failure across government led to thousands of British soldiers being killed or wounded, says report

The dysfunctional relationship between politicians and generals which resulted in Britain’s disastrous blunders in Iraq and Afghanistan should be governed by a code of conduct backed by Parliament, to avoid future problems, according to a new report being released today.

For mistakes made by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in wars which saw thousands of British soldiers killed or wounded, and cost billions, were part of a systemic failure across government for which others should share the blame, according to the report by James de Waal, visiting fellow at Chatham House think-tank.

“There is a widespread view that Britain’s politicians should bear the main blame for the country’s military difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan. In particular, they are accused of failing to heed professional military advice and of launching over-ambitious missions with insufficient resources,” it says.

Instead, “Britain seems to have suffered a wider failure of the government system, with politicians, senior military officers and civil servants all playing their part,” according to the report, which covers the decade in which Britain joined US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan [2001-2010].

An informal approach of relying on good people who got along, instead “brought incoherence, inconsistency and opacity.” It “contributed to a continuing breakdown of trust between politicians and senior military officers, and disunity and division of purpose within the government.”

Fear of being accused of meddling in military affairs, and suffering unfavourable headlines, meant that politicians and civil servants “did little to ensure that military action supported political aims” and were “reluctant to challenge military opinion.”

As for senior officers, some “showed little appreciation of the political impact of military action,” while others sought to fight for the interests of their particular branch of the armed forces. The end result was “decisions on the use of military force not being taken solely on the basis of national interest, but because of politicians’ wish to maintain good relations with the armed forces.”

The report, by former diplomat and MoD official James de Waal, who contributed to the 2010 defence and security review, claims the scale of British involvement in Iraq was “primarily because politicians feared they would have problems with the British army if it was left out.” And as for Afghanistan, “In 2009, Downing Street was not convinced of the military need to send reinforcements to Afghanistan, but agreed to do so because it wanted to prevent hostile press briefings by the military.”

To guard against such issues arising in future conflicts, decisions over the use of force should be “subject to a formal code, approved by parliament. This code should define the process through which decisions are taken, and the roles and responsibilities of those involved.”

A more robust and transparent system is needed if the UK is to be able to ensure that its military and political leaders are united in the face of future conflicts, concludes the report.

Responding to the issues raised, Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said: “It was clear from the outset of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that the Prime Minister should have established a war cabinet that should have had regular and frequent meetings to coordinate the actions of the whole government in support of the conflicts.” Failure to do so “led to disjointed military and political action.”

He added: “A war cabinet could also have energised the sluggish defence procurement system that throughout both conflicts for example saw vital military combat vehicles produced for war-time use but with peace-time production methods which led to protected vehicles that could have saved lives being manufactured with all the urgency of a family saloon.”

And Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb, former director of British special forces, commented: “The military must have set out their responsibilities by Parliament and the People. They should then be equipped accordingly, trained continually and when asked provide answers to questions on their use and the likely consequences of their action. Those who then decide must heed their advice, but be equally prepared to understand the consequences of their decision.”

A Cabinet Office Spokesperson 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.” 

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: It's the sheer nastiness of the Riot Club that takes you aback, says Geoffrey Macnab
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We have an urgent requirement fo...

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are looking to recruit two ...

Primary supply teachers required in Ipswich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week