Casual Cannonballs

Tom Tugendhat, Conservative candidate for Tonbridge and Malling, claims that it “is ludicrous that European and British courts now expect our forces to operate in violent combat conditions according to a system more suited to the regulation of police powers on a Saturday night in the West End of London.” I agree that the military should not be held to the standard of Saturday night policing; but not for the reasons he does, and not with the same conclusion.

With the rise of coverage for UKIP, anything with European in the title was always going to appear as part of the upcoming elections in the United Kingdom. So I am not surprised that the Policy Exchange, a political think tank, has issued a report suggesting the United Kingdom withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

And – compared to the hard-line of rejecting all laws that were made in Europe – their stance of withdrawing from the ECHR during “war-like activities” is moderate and nuanced.

The idea that people who voluntarily joined an organisation created and developed to (among other things) defend against military force should not be able to claim as high a standard of protection from being placed in danger is definitely worth investigating. Whether that is by members of the armed forces not receiving the benefit of the ECHR at all or by creation of a standard that reflects their informed consent to certain risks of injury or death is a more complex question.

The last resort of kings, the cannonball.

– Victor Hugo

However, it is the second thread to their argument that I cannot reconcile: that the ECHR requires commanders to consider the safest option for others involved in combat, rather than being permitted to exercise lethal force as a first option subject to the Geneva Convention. I would rather the armed forces obeyed the Geneva Convention than not, but I cannot reconcile the idea of lethal force being so acceptable as a first option.

Killing someone should never be a legitimate first option.

And to attempt to make it so, not just for enemy combatants in a pitched battle but for all “war-like activities” does not align with the concept of the armed forces as defenders not aggressors.

So, it is ludicrous that European and British courts now expect our forces to operate in violent combat conditions according to a system more suited to the regulation of police powers on a Saturday night in the West End of London; the military should be operating according to a system that is more suited to the consequences of exercising lethal force rather than that of mere restraint.

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