Robots on the trigger – while that sounds like science fiction, the fact is that around sixty countries and armies are currently working on such lethal autonomous systems. They evaluate the available data in fractions of a second, enabling them to decide accurately when and where to fire. Nothing can distract them. Human failings are no longer a source of error, and precise warfare using combat robots reduces collateral damage. This trend and the associated capabilities raise many questions as well as ethical concerns.
Can soldiers really be replaced? Are algorithm-equipped autonomous weapons systems actually capable of taking over highly complex decision processes in all kinds of deployment scenarios? Doesn’t responsible decision-making require a conscience? Self-reflection and empathy are key to making ethical judgments and decisions. Can these human abilities be translated even approximately into artificial intelligence?
The debate surrounding fully autonomous weapons systems is an example which shows that issues in military ethics, far from being aloof from reality, arise directly from the lives and experiences of the military and, for example, from the challenges which accompany asymmetric wars and conflicts, and technological advancements in warfare.
A second basic point emerges from this debate, namely that military ethics should be an interdisciplinary subject. The military question and military expertise, the international law perspective, the moral philosophical or even theological point of view, as well as current findings from the empirical sciences – such as psychology and political science – should be investigated and examined so as to enable an adequate response to current challenges, and avoid being one-sided or myopic.
Finally, the debate should be international, and contentious – as demonstrated by the articles in our first military ethics e-journal, “Ethics and Armed Forces – Controversies in Military Ethics & Security Policy”.
The intention of the e-journal is to make subject matter and content from zebis training and podium events available in essay style to an interested international audience, and so – in keeping with the role of zebis as an innovative church-affiliated educational organization – to promote and stimulate debate on current topics in military ethics.
I would like to thank everybody who has contributed to this edition – the renowned authors, the co-editors and especially the zebis editorial team.