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Home Articles posted by Aurel Sari

Hybrid Threats and the United States National Security Strategy: Prevailing in an “Arena of Continuous Competition”

Published on January 19, 2018        Author:  and
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The dividing line between war and peace is blurred. This is one of the messages emerging from the National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States of America adopted in December 2017. The United States is accustomed to viewing the world through the binary lens of war and peace, yet in reality, warns the new National Security Strategy, international relations is an “arena of continuous competition” (p. 28).

This is not exactly a new theme. The idea that war and peace are relative points on a continuous spectrum of confrontation, rather than mutually exclusive conditions, has become quite popular in recent years. Writing in 2013, General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation, observed that the 21st century has seen a tendency “toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace”. Speaking in 2015, Sir Michael Fallon, the former British Secretary of State for Defence, declared that contemporary adversaries are deliberately seeking to “blur the lines between what is, and what is not, considered an act of war”. More recently, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General, suggested that in the past “it was easy to distinguish whether it was peace or war … [b]ut now there’s a much more blurred line”.

The fluidity of war and peace is central to the vocabulary of “gray zone conflict” and “hybrid warfare”. Both concepts are preoccupied with the strategic challenges that adversaries operating across multiple domains present. The notion of gray zone conflict puts the emphasis on the sphere of confrontation, concentrating on the fact that adversaries operate in the area of ambiguity that lies between the traditional state of war and state of peace (see US SOCOM, The Gray Zone). By contrast, the notion of hybrid warfare emphasises the modus operandi adopted by certain adversaries and competitors, focusing on their use of the full range of military and non-military means in a highly integrated manner (see NATO, Wales Summit Declaration, para. 13). Read the rest of this entry…

 

Missing the Mark: Reprieve, ‘Kill Lists’ and Human Rights Advocacy

Published on September 6, 2016        Author: 
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Deception, lies, murder, conspiracy. This is the stuff of crime novels. It is also the story spun in a report published earlier this year by Reprieve, a human rights charity active in the UK and the US. In its report, entitled ‘Britain’s Kill List’, Reprieve claims to reveal shocking proof that exposes the involvement of the British Government in a global assassination project:

On September 7th, 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron came to Parliament and announced a “new departure” for Britain, a policy of killing individuals the Security Services and the military do not like, people placed on a list of individuals who the UK (acting along with the US and others) have identified and systematically plan to kill. The mere admission that there is a Kill List certainly should, indeed, have been a “departure” for a country that prides itself on decency. Unfortunately, it was not a “new departure” at all, as we had been doing it secretly for more than a decade.

Reprieve alleges that the British Government has been complicit in preparing and executing a ‘kill list’ for years, that such a ‘kill list’ is incompatible with the rule of law and that the Prime Minister has deceived the public about Britain’s involvement in this ‘disturbing’ practice. These are serious allegations, which merit a response, even a belated one. All the more so, since on closer inspection they reveal an astonishing appetite for sensationalism and disregard for accuracy.

Who is deceiving Parliament and the public?

On 7 September 2015, former Prime Minister David Cameron announced to the House of Commons that the Royal Air Force carried out a drone strike on 21 August 2015 inside Syria against Reyaad Khan, a British national and member of ISIL. The strike killed Khan and two other members of ISIL. By declaring that the operation was a ‘new departure’ for Britain, Reprieve claims that the Prime Minister has deceived Parliament and the people (pp. 5 and 7), given that this was not the first occasion the UK has acted upon a ‘kill list’. Indeed, much of Reprieve’s report is preoccupied with demonstrating that the UK has contributed to a ‘kill list’ well before the Prime Minister made his announcement to Parliament. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Jaloud v Netherlands: New Directions in Extra-Territorial Military Operations

Published on November 24, 2014        Author: 
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Last week, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in Jaloud v Netherlands. The case arose out of the fatal shooting of Azhar Sabah Jaloud by Dutch troops in the early hours of 21 April 2004 at a checkpoint in Iraq. The applicant claimed that the investigation into the incident was inadequate and therefore in breach of the Netherlands’ procedural obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Jaloud is the latest in a growing line of Strasbourg cases addressing the application of the Convention to extra-territorial military operations. The Court’s jurisprudence on the subject is a source of endless fascination. Like any good thriller, its twists and turns leave the observer suspended in fearful anticipation on a never ending quest for legal certainty. Will the law stretch as far as the facts or is jurisdiction a threshold too far? Will the Court prevail against conceptual confusion? Which of its dicta is up for silent reversal? And what will be the next victim of normative conflict?

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Sorry Sir, We’re All Non-State Actors Now: A Reply to Hill-Cawthorne and Akande on the Authority to Kill and Detain in NIAC

Published on May 9, 2014        Author: 
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The recent High Court judgment in the case of Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defence [2014] EWHC 1369 (QB) has sparked a lively debate about the authority to detain individuals in the context of a non-international armed conflict (NIAC). In response to a post by Kubo Mačák offering a critical perspective on Mohammed, Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne and Dapo Akande have lent their support to the judgment in arguing that no legal basis for lethal targeting and detention exists in IHL.

Essentially, Lawrence and Dapo advocate an understanding of IHL which conceives it as a purely regulatory framework in the sense that its sole purpose is to impose constraints on how States and non-State actors conduct hostilities, without recognising or conferring any rights on them to engage in such hostilities in the first place. On this view, killing and detention is permissible in armed conflict not because it is authorized by the rules of IHL, but because, and only in so far as, it is not prohibited by other rules of international law. In this post, I intend to demonstrate why this ‘Lotus approach’ to IHL is not compelling.

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The Legal Framework of Future Military Operations: Inching Towards a More Strategic Approach?

Published on April 8, 2014        Author: 
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In July 2013, the House of Commons Defence Committee launched an inquiry into the legal framework governing future operations of the British armed forces as part of its preparations for the next Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Committee has now published its findings in a report entitled ‘UK Armed Forces Personnel and the Legal Framework for Future Operations’.

The very fact that the Defence Committee saw the need to launch an inquiry into the legal framework governing military operations is remarkable. It demonstrates just how much legal considerations are shaping the current strategic and tactical landscape. It also lays bare a substantial degree of unease about the role that rules of law and legal processes play in an area as politically sensitive as the deployment of the armed forces.

Bearing in mind the complexity, contested nature and sheer scope of the topic, those who followed the inquiry closely may be forgiven for awaiting the publication of the Committee’s report with a certain sense of trepidation. How would the Committee deal with the extraordinarily broad remit of the inquiry? And what might lie at the bottom of Pandora’s box? These concerns turned out to be misplaced. The Committee must be commended for producing a balanced and informed report, no doubt assisted by the breadth of the expert evidence available to it. Above all, it is refreshing to see that the Committee succeeded in avoiding some of the untested assumptions and high drama which have been evident in the debate about the legal regulation of the armed forces.

Two main themes emerge from the report. The first is that the legal framework governing military operations is complex. This point may not come as a revelation to legal experts working in the field, yet acknowledging this complexity has very significant policy implications. As I have suggested in greater detail elsewhere (‘Deployed Operations and the ECHR’), legal complexity is here to stay and cannot be resolved for good. If all that we can achieve is a better balance of the competing considerations, we must focus our efforts on reducing the adverse effects of legal uncertainty on the armed forces, rather than chasing unrealistic attempts to simplify the law. The Committee’s recommendation to enhance the armed forces’ understanding of the law by providing them with better legal training, manuals and advice would go some way towards this end.

The second theme which emerges from the report is a strong sense that the Government must act more proactively and look at the legal framework for future military operations from a more strategic angle. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Better Get A Lawyer: Are Legal Constraints Defeating Britain’s Armed Forces on the Battlefield?

Published on October 25, 2013        Author: 
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Aurel SariAurel Sari is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Exeter and an affiliated member of its Strategy and Security Institute.

Last Friday, the Policy Exchange, a British think tank dedicated to the development and promotion of new policy ideas, published a Report entitled ‘The Fog of Law: An Introduction to the Legal Erosion of British Fighting Power’. The Report makes fascinating reading and deserves serious attention. Written by Thomas Tugendhat and Laura Croft, its aim is to explain how the cumulative effect of legal developments taking place over the past decade has undermined the ability of Britain’s armed forces to operate effectively on the battlefield. The Report questions the desirability of what it calls ‘legal mission creep’ and offers seven policy recommendations designed to reverse it or at least arrest its future development.

Undermining the warfighting ethos

Flexibility, initiative and the acceptance of risk and responsibility are central to British military doctrine. As the British Defence Doctrine puts it, one of the key components of the ‘British way of war’ is ‘a style of command that promotes decentralised command, freedom and speed of action and initiative’. ‘The Fog of Law’ brings together a considerable body of examples to suggests that the growing legal regulation and civilian oversight of the armed forces—in particular the spread of inquiries, the extension of civilian duty of care standards and the constant threat of litigation—have begun to undermine the warfighting ethos of the military and restrict commanders’ freedom to act. A series of legal developments have contributed to this change. However, Tugendhat and Croft direct their fiercest criticism against the European Convention on Human Rights, which they describe as the ‘main weapon used in the legal challenge against the [UK Ministry of Defence]’ (p. 17). In their view, the extension of ‘a civilian understanding of duty of care and rights guaranteed by the ECHR’ to combat operations represents a ‘legal intrusion into decisions made in a time of war’ (p. 28).

It is important to stress that ‘The Fog of Law’ does not advocate the complete exemption of the armed forces from the rule of law. The Report makes abundantly clear Tugendhat and Croft’s view that the problem is not the imposition of legal constraints on the armed forces as such, but the extension of civilian law to the military. Indeed, their entire discussion seems to be predicated on an underlying assumption that civilian law and military law are distinct normative regimes and that their respective spheres of application can, and should, be neatly separated from one another. Civilian law and oversight are thus depicted as alien forces which ‘intrude’, ‘assault’ and ‘intervene’ into the military sphere, ‘encircling’ it and ‘encroaching’ upon its autonomy. This is the stuff of high drama, but the accuracy of the picture painted is open to question. The assumption that there is law for civilians and law for the military seems to mistake both the nature of the problem and its solution. Read the rest of this entry…