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.

Research Programme

Supported by Postdoctoral Researchers, a PhD programme and a programme of Visiting Fellows, the Centre will conduct a comprehensive study into the ethics education provided for armed forces around the world and the way that different countries approach emerging ethical challenges in defence. This has never been done before. Therefore, currently, there is no way of comparing and contrasting the Professional Military Ethics Education (PMEE) that is conducted because there is no single place where current practises in this specific area of activity are recorded. This means that there is currently little or no consensus in military ethics pedagogy about what approaches are most effective in improving understanding, and more importantly, behaviour.

For example, who should deliver ethics education for greatest effect - should it be the commanding officer, chaplains, military educators, or academics? Finding out who does what, and with what effect, would therefore be hugely beneficial if trying to promote best practice in this area. There is also a need to develop a sound basis within the military and civilian communities in and between western and non-western countries for reflection and deeper, critical understanding of gender perspectives on armed conflict and armed forces. There is ample scope for the development of the critical discourse on gender aspects within militaries and in intervention and peace support operations.

Key research questions and themes:

  • What are the current issues in military ethics and security worldwide?
  • What are the different responses to these challenges?
  • How do we develop deeper and cross-cultural understanding (civil-military and inter-national) of gender and security?
  • How can this contribute to more effective, gender-sensitive leadership within the armed forces as organisations and in operations?
  • How does one measure effectiveness in this area and what exactly is being judged?
  • Even if one makes progress in addressing any of the above issues/questions, how does one go about transmitting and disseminating best practice?


Ensuring appropriate and effective dissemination of its research findings is an essential part of the Centre’s aims. Existing networks such as the European, US and Asia Pacific Chapters of the International Society for Military Ethics will be engaged with to promote and share ideas, while the Centre will also seek to establish close working relations with other institutions, organisations and networks that share our goals and aspirations.

Being able to support military ethics pedagogists in visiting military institutions worldwide, discuss issues, aid course development and curriculum design and share best practice will be an important part of the Centre’s remit. There is a proven but largely unsatisfied demand for military ethics education that simply cannot be met by the few existing professional military ethicists worldwide. An Introduction to Military Ethics and Law, delivered via a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), designed according to research-led findings, run by the Centre for Military Ethics and open to all, would provide a way of delivering this vital area of military education to a global audience.

Backed by King’s College London’s reputation, it will be attractive to military institutions around the world as a low cost, high impact way of exposing military personnel to an area of their education that is otherwise often difficult to deliver, as well as offering train-the-trainer/educator courses. The only cost would be the ability to access the worldwide web and granting personnel the time to engage with the programme.3 To ensure the maximum impact, the whole course will be translated into a number of different languages, beginning with but not limited to French and Spanish.

Key People

Dr David Whetham

Dr David Whetham


Dr David Whetham is Reader of Military Ethics at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College at the UK Defence Academy where he coordinates or delivers the military ethics component of courses for between two and three thousand British and international officers a year.

David has been a Visiting Fellow at the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership, Annapolis (2011), and with the Centre for Defence Leadership and Ethics at the Australian Defence College in Canberra (2009). He is also a regular visiting lecturer in military ethics at the Baltic Defence College, the Military Academy in Belgrade and for the Royal Brunei Armed Forces.

Publications include Ethics, Law and Military Operations (Palgrave, 2010), Just Wars and Moral Victories (Brill, 2009) and with Andrea Ellner & Paul Robinson (Eds), When Soldiers Say No: Selective Conscientious Objection in the Modern Military (Ashgate: 2014).

David is Vice President of the European Chapter of the International Society for Military Ethics (Euro ISME) which holds an annual conference for military practitioners, academics and defence policy-makers.

Please pass all enquiries through David:

Dr Sally Rohan

Dr Sally Rohan

Deputy Director

Dr Sal Rohan is a Senior Lecturer in Defence Studies. Since joining the new UK Joint Staff College in 1997, she has been instrumental in the development of Joint Military Education. Having served as Deputy Dean and Deputy Head of the Defence Studies Department, she also has wide experience in senior course management, as Academic Director of the postgraduate joint and international Advanced Command and Staff Course and of the Intermediate Command and Staff course Land. Her responsibilities have included the translation of military objectives into educational outcomes through curriculum design, course development and support, and the negotiation of multi-stakeholder buy-in. She has had responsibility for Quality Assurance of all Departmental teaching and assessment and is currently engaged in the development of a new Masters Programme for the British Army.

A specialist in European security, (The Western European Union. International Politics Between alliance and Integration, Routledge, 2014), she has served as faculty member of the European Union’s European Security and Defence College, and is an academician at the Central European Academy of Science and Art.

Sal’s current research on service, national and international Professional Military Ethics Education (PMEE) has taken her as far a-field as South America and the Balkans, where she has had unprecedented access to military establishments. She has contributed to the work of the UK Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre as a member of the Tri-Service Military Ethics Working Group, conducting a review of the current Moral Leadership training gap and developing an ethics education and training curriculum. She has also worked with the UK single services on their provision of through-career ethics education, alongside chaplains, military trainers, recruiters and personnel planners. Her work on the Professional Military Ethic as a vehicle for Military Ethical Education is due for publication imminently (Ashgate), and she is co-author (with David Whetham) of a commissioned manuscript on comparative professional military ethics education (Manchester University Press), to be published in 2017. She is also an active member of the European International Society for Military Ethics.

Dr Andrea Ellner

Dr Andrea Ellner

Core Team

Dr Andrea Ellner is a Lecturer in the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College at the UK Defence Academy. She is an inter-disciplinary scholar who holds a PhD in Political Science, Free University of Berlin, and MA History, Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich. Her current research and specialist teaching focus on historical and contemporary dimensions of civil-military and military-society relations in Europe and the US, particularly gender integration in Western armed forces, ethics of war and military organisations, social discourses on war and warriors, gender and armed conflict.

She has served on the Committee of the University Association of Contemporary European Studies (2005/6), was a visiting lecturer at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris (2005) and a Research Associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London (1994-5).

Publications include ‘The Ethics of Inclusion: Gender Equality, Equal Opportunity and Sexual Assault in the Australian, British, Canadian and US Armed Forces,’ in George Lucas (ed.), Handbook of Military Ethics. (Routledge: forthcoming 2015) and "War Resisters in the US and Britain – Supporting the Case for a Right to Selective Conscientious Objection?" in Andrea Ellner, Paul Robinson and David Whetham (Eds), When Soldiers Say No: Selective Conscientious Objection in the Modern Military (Ashgate: 2014).

Dr Ellner is a member of the European Chapter of the International Society of Military Ethics (EURO-ISME), the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), London, the Royal United Services Institution (RUSI), London, and the British Pugwash Society.

Major Tom McDermott

Major Tom McDermott DSO MA

Research Fellow

Major Tom McDermott DSO MA joined the British Army in 2001. Through fourteen years' service he has operated from the tactical to the strategic. He took part in the 2003 Iraq invasion as a tank commander, and has worked in both the EU Military HQ in Brussels and within highly-sensitive MOD departments. In 2011 he attended the Australian Command and Staff College in Canberra, where he gained an MA in Strategy and Policy and was awarded the Governor General's Prize as the best student.

In recent years he has specialised in the NATO operation in Afghanistan, planning and coordinated high-tempo strike operations throughout the country. In 2013 he commanded the Reconnaissance Force for the UK's 7th Armoured Brigade (the Desert Rats), where he led 50 air-mobile missions. For this he was awarded the UK's Distinguished Service Order. Maj McDermott has most recently been employed as an Instructor at the Defence Academy of the UK, specialising in leadership and land warfare. In October 2015 he will transfer to the Australian Army.

Gwilym Williams

Gwilym Williams

Undergraduate Research Fellow, Summer 2015

Gwilym Williams is an Undergraduate Research Fellow in the Centre for Military Ethics, at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, where he is working with Dr David Whetham on a project to highlight ethical dilemmas in military environments and provide prompts for discussing them in formal and informal settings. He has recently completed his undergraduate degree in History at King’s, where he largely focused on military and political issues, writing his final-year dissertation on the politics of the despatch of Spitfires from Britain to Australia during the Second World War. He hopes to begin the MA War Studies programme at King’s in September, and to pursue a career relating to the armed forces and British defence policy.

No matter where, war remains a deeply and intrinsically human endeavour. The 'look' is the same ... #ethics

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Ethics, Law and Military Operations

Ethics, Law and Military Operations

Ethics, Law and Military Operations

David Whetham (Ed.) Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
Ethics and the Military Profession: The Moral Foundations of Leadership

Ethics and the Military Profession

Ethics and the Military Profession: The Moral Foundations of Leadership

George Lucas & Rick Rubel 4th Edition, Pearson, 2011
Ethics For Military Leaders

Ethics For Military Leaders

Case Studies In Ethics For Military Leaders

Rick Rubel & George Lucas 4th Edition, Pearson, 2011
Military Ethics: An Introduction with Case Studies

Military Ethics: An Introduction

Military Ethics: An Introduction with Case Studies

Stephen Coleman Oxford University Press, 2012

Military Ethics Playing Cards: Land Edition

To coincide with Global Ethics Day on Friday 16th October 2015, King’s College London’s Centre for Military Ethics are launching their new playing cards.

Starting with the assumption that playing cards are a ubiquitous, everyday part of life, the idea is to use them as a vehicle for raising ethical awareness. 54 questions from across the broad area of military ethics have been carefully developed by leading researchers and ethicists based on professional military ethics education curricula, in conjunction with research and testing on military focus groups, and in consultation with specialist lawyers. The cards will be made available to military units and can be used to prompt informal discussion and debate, normalising the discussion of ethical challenges faced in military environments.

Beginning with the Land Edition, with questions orientated towards the Army, the concept will be expanded to cover other services and the Joint environment. Each card has a web link to the King’s Centre for Military Ethics where, as the initiative develops, we will place additional prompts, questions and information for each question, along with reading and articles. Groups of questions will be thematically linked so impromptu or pre-planned supported discussions can quickly be developed using the open-access material.

Military Ethics Playing Cards
Military Ethics Playing Cards


  1. ‘Effectiveness of battlefield-ethics training during combat deployment: a programme assessment’, The Lancet Vol 378, 2011. « Return
  2. E.g. see Carrick, Connelly & Robinson (Eds), Ethics Education for Irregular Warfare (Ashgate, July 2009); Paul Robinson, ‘Ethics Training and Development in the Military’, in Parameters (Spring 2007). « Return
  3. D Whetham, ‘Expeditionary Military Ethics’, in George R Lucas, Handbook of Military Ethics (Routledge, forthcoming 2015). « Return
  4. International Committee of the Blue Shield « Return