Welcome to Military Caveats!

 

This is a blog dedicated exclusively to the discussion and analysis of “national caveats” and the impact of these caveats on the effectiveness of multinational security operations.

National caveats are politico-legal constraints that are imposed by national governments on national military forces to restrict the movements and activities of their armed forces when they are deployed on international security missions. 

National caveats can restrict a very wide array of operations within any military mission, based on factors including – but not limited to – geography, operations, tactics, logistics, combat, allies, the use of lethal force, weaponry, the weather, and even the time of day.  

To illustrate, national caveats may constrain:

(1) exactly where geographically national forces can deploy or operate within any given conflict theatre, Multinational Operation (MNO), mission sector, district or prescribed Area of Operations (AO);

 (2) what specific military and non-military activities they are allowed to conduct, and whether or not national forces may participate in important combat/combat support, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and/or counter-narcotics operations within the mission, in addition to security patrols, riot control operations, reconnaissance operations, surveillance and intelligence gathering operations, or reconstruction and development operations etc.;

(3) who may be regarded as “Enemy” fighters, and whether they may be lawfully targeted with lethal force;

(4) whether or not lethal force may be used for mission accomplishment including the defence of civilian life and/or civilian property, as well as for individual and/or unit self-defence, and – where lethal force is permitted – the degree of lethal force that may be employed in each capacity;

(5) which precise weapons may be utilised to deliver lethal force, and in what manner or with which tactics;

(6) the precise ground force numbers, or alternatively the precise number of aircraft, ships, tanks, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), vehicles or other military equipment, that national forces must always deploy from base with or operate with during any military sortie or operation;

(7) which allied foreign or native local forces they may or may not operate alongside, cooperate with, or give medical aid or medical evacuation transport to;

(8) which allied foreign or native local forces national forces may or may not share surveillance or reconnaissance intelligence with;

(9) which weather conditions, ground terrain, and air altitudes are or are not acceptable to execute military operations in (e.g. in ‘winter conditions’ such as during or after snowfall, over mountainous or difficult terrain, and in high air altitudes etc.); and

(10) on which days – or even during which period of time during the day or night (including vital manoeuvre periods around dawn and dusk) – national forces may or may not execute their assigned tasks.

In this way government-imposed caveat constraints have the potential to hinder every kind of tasking issued by a Multinational Operational Commander to any one national contingent operating as part of a Multinational Force (MNF) within an international security campaign. Consequently, through this device of national caveats, national governments located thousands of miles away from the theatre of conflict can override orders issued by Multinational Command and micromanage critical events on the battlefield.

This can have significant ramifications for military personnel on the ground, civilians residing in the theatre of conflict, and even the success or failure of the security campaign as a whole.

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During the last 25 years, it has become an increasingly common practice for national governments to impose these restrictive national caveat rules on the forces they contribute to multinational security operations.  The caveats have regularly led to security crises within these multinational missions, most notably in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.  However, despite the many negative effects caused by widespread government imposition of caveats within both past and current multinational operations, there has been a marked lack of research into this important issue.  

This academic neglect is largely due to the fact that national caveats are classified, contained as they are within the secret body of Rules of Engagement (ROE) issued to military contingents prior to deployment.  This secrecy, combined with acute government sensitivity towards any discussion of caveats in international security affairs, has for decades prevented any rigorous academic analysis of this problematic issue and its effects within international security endeavours, either by defence scholars in the domain of Defence & Security Studies, or even scholars in the domains of International Relations or Political Science. The result has been a large and dire “caveat gap” within academic literature.

This blog seeks to address this urgent caveat gap in an academic capacity, by publishing information, discussion and analysis pertaining to national caveats in a public sphere. The information used in this analysis has been drawn from multiple primary and secondary sources, collected over a period of more than 10 years from 2008-2019. These sources include:

(1) Official documents, reports, articles, press releases and press conference transcripts published by the United Nations (UN), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Headquarters, and the Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministries/Departments of multiple national governments;

(2) Hundreds of formerly-classified written communiqués between the U.S. Department of State and its various missions in national capitals around the world, including in Kabul and at NATO Headquarters, drawn from the stunning cache of diplomatic cables publicly released worldwide by Wikileaks between 2010-2011;

(3) Formal and informal interviews, communications and correspondence with defence civilians and military personnel with experience or expertise in caveat-related issues in the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand;

(4) Academic articles from defence and security journals on a range of subjects, together with papers issued from political and military conferences and working-groups;

(5) News articles and commentary from global print and online media;

(6) Articles, briefs, reports and commentary published by political and security institutions, independent think-tanks, and political and defence magazines; and finally

(7) Audio-visual material taken from journalistic television interviews and documentary DVDs, especially those relating to the problems faced on the ground by military forces in Afghanistan as they have attempted to fulfil ISAF mission objectives in the Afghan theatre of war.

It is hoped that the information offered on this site will assist military personnel from all the land, sea and air services of national armed forces around the world to better understand this issue of national caveats within international security affairs, so that they might be better equipped to not only manage and negotiate this tricky realm of national caveat red-tape within multinational security missions, but also mitigate or avoid caveat-generated disasters in current and future theatres of conflict and war.

 

– Dr Regeena Kingsley