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War Powers: A Big Debate but only Partial Answers

Jonathan Eyal
RUSI Journal, 25 June 2008
Iraq, UK
The decision to go to war in Iraq sparked a debate about the powers of the Government to commit troops abroad. Jonathan Eyal explores this debate.

As Tony Blair's rule drew to a close during the 2006–2007 period and as the Prime Minister came under increasing pressure from his own backbenchers to retire, the debate about the powers of the Government to commit troops to military operations grew.

The debate was couched in lofty legal principles: Britain, it was alleged, lagged behind most Western democracies in allowing its executive to send its uniformed men and women into battle without an explicit approval, or even a reference, to the country's elected representatives. A prime minister could simply use the powers of the Royal Prerogative to do so. And, although Parliament could, in theory, refuse to provide the necessary cash for such military ‘adventures’, the way party control operates today – with chief whips making sure that MPs vote as they are told to do by the Government – means that even this ancient sanction of ‘refusing supply’ could no longer act as a break on the dominant powers of the executive. The situation, it was alleged, was both intolerable and unworthy of a mature democracy. If Britain is to send troops into battle in the future, Parliament must be involved in the decision from the start, by approving the scope and nature of the operation, and by discussing its purposes and objectives

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Jonathan Eyal
Associate Director, Strategic Research Partnerships

Dr Eyal is the Associate Director, Strategic Research Partnerships, and International Director, at the Royal United Services Institute... read more

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