Whatever Happened to the Military Covenant?

Foreign Affairs & Security
Friday, August 30, 2013
Ben Harris-Quinney


When too many coffins draped in the Union flag began to return to RAF Lyneham at the height of the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Conservative Party started to discuss and recognise the importance and moral imperative of enshrining the Military Covenant in law.

Lord Forsyth produced a report that met a chorus of strong support in the Conservative Party. Members of our armed forces have, for centuries, willingly volunteered to place their lives in harm’s way in defence of the United Kingdom and her interests. It is the job of the British government, in return, to ensure that those men and women are only deployed to the theatre of war in defence of British interests, and never toward the ideological designs of one leader, or to the folly of vanity.

Tony Blair's attempt to reshape the world by his neo-liberal philosophy failed miserably, but his worst crime was sending British men and women to their death on the false pretense they were there to defend Britain. He had no right to do so, and had the military covenant then been enshrined in law, he would now be paying for that injustice.

I believe in a Britain of great military strength. As a committed realist I know Admiral Leach was quite right, had we not defended the Falkland Islands from foreign invasion Britain would never have been the same country again. I would even accept, in Iraq at least, that the United States had some realist defence for their involvement. A strategic hold in the Middle East is something that is crucial for America's prosperity and continued global dominance, perhaps comparable to our scramble for Africa a little over a century prior. Blair sought or received no such benefit from our involvement in ’Operation Enduring Freedom’’.

I cannot imagine anyone greets the situation in Syria, or Zimbabwe, or North Korea, or Egypt, or Libya, or any war torn region with anything other than disgust and sympathy. Whilst chemical weapons should be banned, fundamentally the loss of life is the tragedy, the method in which people are summarily executed by their governments would, to me, appear to be secondary.

There is no doubt that the world is full of grave injustice that would be bettered by outside assistance, but I wonder how many of those calling for intervention and commitment of British forces would themselves be willing to pick up a rifle in defence of the Syrian people? As set out in the Military Covenant the British Armed Forces have not signed up to defend foreign peoples with their lives, any more than any other British citizen has. To order them to do so would be a gross betrayal of trust and a truly cowardly act.

It may be that in the now unlikely event of British intervention in Syria any action is restricted to remote drone and cruise missile strikes, but If David Cameron does commit any British forces to future foreign conflicts that fall into harm’s way, he may not be breaking international or domestic law, but he will have made a prison for himself with his words. Words that once promised to guarantee that any government sending British forces to do anything other than defend British interests would be held accountable to those men and women of the armed forces before the law, for breaking the most sacred covenant our nation holds.

In 2005 David Cameron crowned himself the heir to Blair, he continues to progress towards his ideology and legacy, a legacy most conservatives fought, and continue to fight, to reverse.

Photographer: Sgt Ian Forsyth RLC
Image 45151756.jpg from www.defenceimages.mod.uk