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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?

I would say that we have two answers to this question. First, I would say, that in generally we speak about ethics of national defence (which includes for example Just War Theory and humanitarian law) and the justification of compulsory military service. And secondly – inside the armed forces – military ethics is professional ethics of military persons. This despite it that we have a conscription system. The professional ethics in that sense consists of training/teaching/educating military ethics, researching and discussing about it. The first dimension is much more widespread in society. The second one stays mainly inside the armed forces.

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

As mentioned above – the ethics of national defence and the ethics of conscript service are subject of public debate. To be honest, the debate is not very lively if you look at the whole society – it’s more like discourse. And its main topic is normally the question of equality (conscription is compulsory for men and voluntary for women), not military ethics itself.

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?

Yes and no. Yes, if we are discussing about the professional ethics inside the different armed forces – I would say that we have common understanding of the subject. No, if we are discussing about military Ethics in general. That’s because I have found that conscription and large reserve – and the associated ethical challenges – are something which are not so familiar in each and every armed force.

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

Not significantly.

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

To conscript ethics training is part of the “warfighters mind” programme which focuses on the psychological, social and ethical parts of soldiers’ performance. In a basic training there are some 3-4 lessons/drills about military ethics. In a special training – and for those who are trained NCOs or officers in reserve – there are 3-4 lessons/drills more. Most usually, teachers are military chaplains. Sometimes drills/lessons are led by NCOs or younger officers.

Professional NCOs undertake their initial ethical education during the common portion of their basic course in the Army Academy, Air Force Academy or Naval Academy. Following the NCO Basic Course 1, the aim from the perspective of military ethics is that the junior NCOs will act according to the values of the Defence Forces and be competent in applying the principles in such a way that they are able to develop and maintain the ethical competence of the unit and its members. During the Advanced NCO Course phase (a requirement for ranks of Sergeant 1st class/Chief Petty Officer, Master Sergeant/Senior Chief Petty Officer and Sergeant Major/Master Chief Petty Officer), the focus shifts from developing the NCOs’ own value-basis to strengthening the value-basis of subordinates or junior NCOs. For example, this might be accomplished by providing strong moral leadership as an illustration of an appropriate standard to emulate. Developing the ethical leadership curricula is the responsibility of the branch schools and the implementation of the curriculum is mainly the course director’s responsibility. Thus, the implementation of ethics teaching may vary from branch to branch, and even from course to course. Classes are normally given by the academies’ military chaplains. 

Officers study at the National Defence University. There are no separate ethics classes during the three-year Bachelor of Military Sciences studies. Instead, ethics is linked with the other studies of leadership and military pedagogy. Students may also do their Bachelor’s thesis on a topic in the field of ethics.

On the 2-year long Master’s course, typically commenced after a working phase of approximately five years (and a promotion to 1st lieutenant), the students deepen their ethical skills in ethics in leadership courses. Again, students have the opportunity to write their Master’s thesis on an ethics-related topic. After completing the Master’s degree students are promoted to the rank of Captain/Lieutenant Senior Grade.

In the senior staff officer and general staff officer courses, ethics is tied to practice in the leadership and comprehensive human performance studies. The focus is on the ethics of leadership. Students also have the opportunity to write their final thesis on an ethics-related topic.

In National Defence University classes are given by researcher from Defence Research Agency.

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

1. Teaching military ethics in a new security environment.

2. The challenge of autonomous weapons systems.

3. Prevention of moral stress.

Janne Aalto

Janne Aalto, Senior Chaplain (OF-4), Dr.  Finnish Defence Research Agency

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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


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