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BELGIUM

For the Special section in this issue, the editors of “Ethics and Armed Forces” have presented experts from various countries with a six-item list of questions on the subject of military ethics and ethics education in their respective armed forces. These pages do not claim to be representative, but are intended to provide further illustrative material for the question of a common European approach in this area.

What is your and your country’s understanding of military ethics? What does it essentially deal with, and what is its main task?

A critical reflection on the principles, values and norms related to the military practice and profession. The Just War Theory is the central theory of the ‘military ethics’ courses that are taught at the Royal Military Academy (RMA). The main questions discussed in the courses are: When is it morally permissible to resort to military violence? How should military action be conducted? A specific challenge in this regard is to explore to what extent this age-old theory can still provide us with an adequate moral framework for judging new technological, political, and military evolutions.

Is there a public debate in your country on related issues? If yes, on which ones?

Recently, there was a public debate in Belgium on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and more specifically on questions like, “what means or tactics are morally permissible to defend oneself?” or “will this cycle of violence ever stop?” Another controversial debate is the one of so-called “killer robots” and the danger of artificial intelligence used during armed conflicts.

Do you see any commonalities between the EU member states and other European countries in the understanding and/or concrete questions of military ethics? If so, what are they?

Our surrounding countries integrated ‘military ethics’ courses in their military education. All these countries see the necessity to train the ‘ethics skills’ of future officers, one country focusing a bit more on theory than the other.

Has the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine led to a significant change in that sense?

The large-scale violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) in this war have stressed even more the necessity to educate our soldiers in the domain of principles, norms and values. Acting from a strong moral identity is the best guarantee that IHL will be respected to the greatest extent possible, and that the morally best choices will be made on the battlefield.

To what extent and for whom are ethics and military ethics part of military training and education? Who gives the classes?

The Chair of Philosophy of the Royal Military Academy teaches two courses of military ethics as part of the academic curriculum of the future officers. The students also take courses on IHL. During their four- or five-year formation at the RMA, the candidate-officers are invited to put the norms and values of the military profession in practice during military camp periods. Their leadership skills are evaluated on a regular basis. The values of the RMA (honor, self-discipline, commitment, courage and respect) are clearly visible at the entrance of the military university.

The Belgian Defence also accentuates its values: integrity, loyalty, respect and courage and makes a significant effort to make them visible in the army.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions or the most pressing problems of today that military ethics should address?

The use of artificial intelligence during wars has far-reaching consequences. The problem is accompanied with questions as: who is morally responsible when autonomous weapon systems are used? Is human dignity sufficiently respected when robots kill enemy soldiers?

Michaël Dewyn

Michaël Dewyn, Senior Captain, PhD, Assistant professor, Chair of Philosophy, Royal Military Academy, Brussels


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All articles in this issue

Military Ethics and Military Ethics Education: In Search of a “European Approach”
Lonneke Peperkamp, Kevin van Loon, Deane-Peter Baker, David Evered
Just peace despite war? In defense of a criticized concept
Markus Thurau
Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Not a Bit of the Old Ultraviolence
Arseniy Kumankov
Military Ethics Education – Bridging the Gap or Deepening the Chasm?
Dragan Stanar
The Retransformation of Soldiers’ Identities
Patrick Hofstetter
The Army is No Place for a Warrior
Christopher Ankersen
“Try to get more emotion into the classroom”
Deanna Messervey

Specials

Roger Mielke Janne Aalto
Michaël Dewyn
Patrick Mileham Stefan Gugerel Evaggelia Kiosi Mihály Boda Richard Schoonhoven