Saturday, December 29, 2007
Should the Commons Decide on when we should go to War?
1. Any debate might prejudice the military effort through release of intelligence and, how much, anyway, should the government tell MPs?
2. Allies might well baulk at military decisions being dependent on the 'amateurs' in a legislature and the morale of the troops might be adversely affected.
3. The precise definition of when a 'state of war' has arrived is not easy to define; a peace-keeping role might suddenly escalate into a military action but surely no local commander should be kept waiting while MPs debate? As Guthrie comments; 'What we do is slide into war, you cannot avoid that'.
4. 'Tebbit suggests a debate here about a war powers act is redundant. "No prime minister is able to deploy forces without a parliamentary majority." Therefore, the government is already accountable to parliament, he claims. The US was different. Unlike in Britain, there is a separation of powers in the US between the president, the commander in chief, and Congress.'
It follows from all this that a US style 'War Powers Act' , such as Gordon Brown has suggested, would be counter productive. It occurs to me that maybe it would be better to delay Commons approval so that it is given retrospectively, when the pros and cons can be clearly identified-yet this would frustrate the whole idea of parliamentary approval. If this is neither possible or wise, then it seems to me the defence boys' apparently 'anti-democracy' arguments are hard to refute.
Having said all that I doubt if a War Powers Act would make much difference. If say, the Government had 60 days leeway the decision to deploy troops could be taken ahead of the debate, leaving things pretty much where they are now. (Requiring Parliamentary approval ahead of troop deployment is a non-starter: the “need for a swift response” argument will take care of that). Still, an Act would at least make a debate mandatory within a specific period (which could reasonably be shorter than 60 days).
Sorry for such a long post. It’s rare that I so comprehensively disagree with you.
That then must be left for politicians to decide. I absolutely agree with the previous post.
I don't think anyone disputes that such decisions should be taken by politicians- it's which politicians which is the question. Should it be those heading up the executive or the whole of the legislature? I have to say Politaholic's excellent comment is causing me to rethink my post and favour a Commons right to debate possible wars-he's right, they are usually clear to see on the horizon- if only in principle. But in a globalized world things can happen so rapidly sometimes- Sierra Leone?- that we just have to trust those in charge to make the right judgement.
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