Liam Walpole and Megan Karlshøj-Pedersen

29 July 2020

Read the Report


This report examines the distinct, serious challenges that remote warfare poses to civilians in modern conflict. While Western policy-makers often perceive this approach to be both low-cost and low-risk, this is not the case for civilians who live in the theatres of these military operations. Accounting for the risks to these civilians, and building effective tools to safeguard against their harm, is vital not just for legal and moral reasons. It must also be done to ensure that the UK’s international engagements actually contribute to forging peace and stability abroad.   

Nevertheless, the UK’s current safeguarding mechanisms are inadequate. Based on roundtables and expert intervews with military and political officials and members of the civil service, this report lays out the challenges of the UK’s current policies and the steps required to improve the UK’s safeguarding mechanisms in three different areas:  

  • The UK’s strategic documents on protecting civilians in conflict must be updated to reflect the reality of contemporary conflict. This is particularly true for the UK’s Strategy on the Protection of Civilians in Conflict and the Joint Services Publication 1325 on Human Security in Military Operations

  • The UK’s mechanism to mitigate risks to civilians from UK programmes and projects abroad, the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) Guidance, requires reform. As it stands, this tool lacks transparency and remains overly focused on the legal risks of abuses to civilians and fails to account for political and reputational risks.

  • Finally, the blanket opacity which currently covers the UK’s Special Forces makes it impossible to assess the effectiveness of their approach to civilian harm mitigation. It is vital that more accountability is introduced both when it comes to the Special Forces’ own mitigation tools and those they teach to partner forces in remote warfare. 

Image: REUTERS / THOMAS MUKOYA - stock.adobe.com. 


About the Authors

Liam Walpole (Policy Manager) and Megan Karlshøj-Pedersen (Research and Policy Officer).