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Forging a New Path: Prioritising the Protection of Civilians in the UK’s Response to Conflict


Liam Walpole and Megan Karlshøj-Pedersen

This report examines the serious challenges remote warfare poses to the protection of civilians in modern conflict and outlines how these issues can be resolved. The UK’s response to conflict over the last decade has been characterised by remote warfare. This is the trend where states deploy fewer numbers of their own troops and provide support to local and regional partners who do the bulk of the frontline fighting. Western policy-makers often perceive this approach to be both low-cost and low-risk. However, remote warfare carries serious risks to civilians who live in the theatres of military operations. UK policy currently fails to address these risks effectively.

The report sets out the following recommendations to resolve the current shortcomings in UK policy:

First, the UK needs to update its strategic policy documents on protecting civilians in conflict to reflect the lessons of recent campaign and the specific challenges that remote warfare poses to civilians.

Second, the Government needs to reform how it mitigates the risks of its security partnerships and the impact on civilians in the countries where the UK engages. Including:

  • Expanding the process of risk mitigation set out in its Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) Guidance;
  • Ensuring there is a clear approach to suspending, withdrawing or remedying instances of abuse committed by UK security partners;
  • Increasing the transparency and accountability of its OSJA assessments and improving the capacity for information-sharing on OSJA across government;
  • Allowing a committee like the JCNSS to adopt a broader mandate so it can more effectively fulfil its role in holding the Government to account on its national security strategy.

Third, as part of a commitment to act as a force for good in the world, the Government must ensure that all branches of the British Armed Forces are held to the same scrutiny.

  • It must take immediate action in ensuring that UK Special Forces prioritise the protection of civilians from their own actions but also the actions of foreign military units they are deployed to train.