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Human rights actions risk US-UK military relations, General warns

19 October 2018

The "fog of law" – the growing risk of legal action against members of the armed forces following combat operations – could be undermining the operational effectiveness of British troops, and putting at risk the special relationship between the US and UK military, according to a former US military commander. 

General David Petraeus made the claim on a visit to the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange, and in an article in the Times today. He identified the problem as "increasing friction" between the legal framework of, on the one hand, the Geneva Convention, under which lethal force is allowed as a matter of first resort against a clearly identified enemy, and on the other the European Convention on Human Rights, which permits it, he states, only as a last resort and in exceptional circumstances.

The latter had given rise, he added, to "judicial pursuit of British soldiers and veterans", which was "reported to be having a chilling effect on recruitung and retention of British armed forces and on their overall morale".

Pointing to the "relentless and seemingly unending pursuit of veterans from the 1970s in Northern Ireland", as well as actions arising from operations in Afghanistan, he claimed that the UK's fighting capacity "will be greatly diminished if it cannot reform the legal framework within which it fights, and restore the primacy of the law of armed conflict".

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