As the military operating environment grows ever more complex and the weapons systems available to combatants become more lethal, so too must the skills and education available to combatants evolve if they are to operate effectively within this environment. Combatants must be equipped not only with expertise in the technical use of their tools, but also with the cognitive skills needed to make ethical evaluations and judgements, often in extreme situations. New types of conflict are raising new ethical challenges for protecting those finding themselves in harm’s way.
Over the past two decades gender aspects of, and large scale sexual violence in, conflict and their implications for sustainable conflict resolution have become a major aspect of peace and security discourses. More recently sexual violence against fellow female and male members within the military has become recognised as a major ethical and leadership challenge. There is a clear linkage between ethical behaviour within armed forces and their conduct on operations. These discourses cross the divide between scholars, for example of ethics, feminism and international law, and practitioners, for example in the UN, regional organisations, such as NATO, and member states. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in particular has been at the forefront of investigating sexual violence in armed conflict.
At the same time as these issues are being recognised (even if not yet given the attention they deserve), new technologies, from cyber to drone warfare, and also non or sub lethal technologies bring with them new challenges to existing thinking on discrimination and proportionality. To make sense in this environment, harm can no longer be considered in a purely physical sense. Combatants with neuro enhancements that make them physically and mentally ‘superior’ to other citizens raise profound questions about civil military relations as well as about the limits to what a society can expect from its servants. With the law often playing catch up to military innovation and changes in societal attitudes about what is permissible or even expected, determining what is correct from a military ethics perspective is increasingly challenging.
There is, thus, a growing acknowledgment that military ethics and a genuine, deep appreciation of human rights issues is a crucial component of the education of every service member. Fostering ethical awareness and moral decision-making in military personnel is a proven way of reducing unnecessary harm and suffering in conflict situations.1 However, as yet there is no agreed way to do this effectively.2 If it can be demonstrated that particular ways of delivering military ethics education are successful, and if these approaches can be replicated successfully in multiple environments, it would seem obvious that there is substantial benefit for everyone in making them available as widely as possible.