A Path Dependent Prerogative: Why British Prime Ministers Gave Up Their War Powers
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- Date created
- May 2019
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Stanford University, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Interschool Honors Program in International Security Studies, Theses
Collected here are the theses written by the CISAC Undergraduate Honors Program students during their senior year at Stanford., Collected here are the theses written by the CISAC Undergraduate Honors Program students during their senior year at Stanford.
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War powers in Great Britain have traditionally been the exclusive domain of the executive. Parliament did not hold a substantive vote of approval for war until 2003, when it supported regime change in Iraq. Parliament has since held four votes on military action: Libya (2011), Syria (2013), ISIS (2014, Iraq) and ISIS (2015, Syria). This abrupt shift, referred to as the War Powers Convention, has come without legal change in Parliament’s war powers. This thesis examines why parliamentary votes of approval started in 2003 and have been consistently replicated in an otherwise diverse set of political, strategic, and international legal contexts. I argue that the War Powers Convention emerged from a process of path-dependent institutional development enabled by Britain’s convention-driven constitution. Specifically, a contingent event in the vote over war in Iraq, forced by a significant Labour Party rebellion, was a critical juncture that launched a process of progressive reinforcement of the perceived superior legitimacy of parliamentary war powers. The more MPs and Ministers supported parliamentary war powers in their statements and actions, and especially as subsequent parliamentary votes were held, the more political-constitutional expectations adapted to affirm Parliament’s role. Through this reinforcement, what was a contingent choice to hold a vote in 2003 has become a politically-enforced constitutional convention that has constrained later Prime Ministers to follow earlier precedent, especially during the debates on military action against Syria and ISIS. Beyond war powers, path-dependence appears to be a promising framework to analyze convention-based constitutional change Britain more broadly.
- Preferred Citation
- Dow, Jake. (2019). A Path Dependent Prerogative: Why British Prime Ministers Gave Up Their War Powers. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at: https://purl.stanford.edu/qg915mn4898
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