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GERMANY

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 understand “military ethics” as military professional ethics, as a sphere of ethics whose task is the application-oriented, normative reflection of soldierly action. In particular, I distinguish between three aspects of this task: a. Ethics of action – making good decisions; b. Ethics of life – developing basic attitudes/virtues of soldierly service; c. Ethics of justification – giving and communicating good reasons for your actions. Military ethics stands within the larger framework of political ethics and is committed to the qualities, normative principles and criteria of peace and justice.

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

Especially since 2017, the political leadership of the armed forces has identified a “need for ethics”. The then Federal Minister of Defense’s assertion became notorious: she said the armed forces had a “fundamental attitude and leadership problem”, which needed to be addressed by intensifying “personal development” in its threefold form as political, historical and ethical education. The tried and tested form of professional ethics education in the form of character guidance training or “life skills classes” (Lebenskundlicher Unterricht, LKU) taught by military chaplains was seen as in need of supplementation. The relationship between LKU and ethics education continues to be the subject of intense and controversial debate.

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?

The Bundeswehr’s concept of “Innere Führung” (leadership development and civic education), with its emphasis on the “conscience-guided personality” (as stated in the draft Joint Service Regulation on “Ethical Education”), seems to be a “unique feature” in the interaction with other European armed forces, whereby there are certainly differences between conceptual and practical questions. The gap between aspiration and reality seems to be particularly pronounced in the Bundeswehr.

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

The catastrophic nature of Russian warfare, with its seemingly programmatic violation of international humanitarian law – the images from Butcha in March/April 2022 have become iconic – has brought home the importance of the normative self-commitment of soldierly service. Questions such as “How could this happen?”, “What happens to troops who allow this to happen?” and “How can we protect ourselves from this?” are on the minds of many soldiers and are discussed extensively in training courses.

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

To date, military professional ethics has been taught primarily by military chaplains as part of LKU for 90 minutes each month (according to regulations). It is currently being discussed whether ethics education should be the responsibility of military commanders or service chiefs, and even conducted by them in future.

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

Following up on the aspects mentioned above in 1:

a. How can I or we make good decisions that take into account fundamental aspects such as the effectiveness, legality, and legitimacy/morality? Questions of proportionality (proportionalitas) and discrimination (discriminiatio) drawn from the just war tradition seem to me to be fundamental in this regard.

b. In developing a reflective soldierly identity that is embedded in the whole of a personally responsible life plan: “What are my core human and professional values that constitute my moral compass?”

c. How can I justify to my “inner forum” of conscience and to the public, and especially to the people affected by my actions, why I do what I do as a soldier? In liberal democracy, soldiers are addressed as moral subjects in terms of their indispensable personal responsibility. Military ethics helps them to face this responsibility.

Roger Mielke

Dr. Roger Mielke M.A., theologian and social scientist, military dean at the Bundeswehr’s Leadership Development and Civic Education Center (Zentrum Innere Führung) in Koblenz, and a lecturer at the University of Koblenz and at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich (Studium Plus).


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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