Report: Lawful but Awful? Legal and Political Challenges of Remote Warfare and Working with Partners

In this report for the Oxford Research Group Remote Warfare Programme, Emily Knowles and Abigail Watson delve into the legal implications of remote warfare partnering practices. In a number of military interventions the British government has undertaken in recent years, operations have been carried out ‘by’, ‘with’ and ‘through’ various local partners. This has had the advantage of greater flexibility and manoeuvrability for British forces in the short term but has prompted a number of legal questions concerning responsibility for the actions of partner forces. Beyond the legal questions, Knowles and Watson posit that even if legal, such actions are not necessarily morally just – “what is lawful can still be awful.”

Modern military interventions can extremely complex in their composition. Large, ad-hoc coalitions may see state and non-state actors amalgamate. This can complicate lines of responsibility, questions of accountability and possibilities for transparency. Longer term, this risks generating a climate of distrust and weakening the legitimacy of interventions.


Knowles, E., & Watson, A. (2018). Lawful but Awful? Warfare and Working with Partners. Oxford Research Group: Remote Warfare Programme