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.

A useful demonstration of the way that JW principles can be applied to much broader areas than some might think

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  1. ‘Effectiveness of battlefield-ethics training during combat deployment: a programme assessment’, The Lancet Vol 378, 2011.
  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).
  3. D Whetham, ‘Expeditionary Military Ethics’, in George R Lucas, Handbook of Military Ethics (Routledge, forthcoming 2015).
  4. International Committee of the Blue Shield