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Issue 2023/02

Core Issues of European Military Ethics

In October 2023, servicemen and women from 19 nations participated in the first military exercise for the planned EU Rapid Deployment Force in Rota, Spain. The sheer practical dimensions of such multinational operations are likely to pose great challenges for the militaries involved.

Regardless of these aspects or the debate about joint European armed forces, this edition aims to explore the question of whether there is such a thing as European military ethics. It is a question which the International Society for Military Ethics in Europe (EuroISME) has been considering for years. To answer it satisfactorily would probably require several editions of Ethics and Armed Forces.

The introductory article by Lonneke Peperkamp, David Evered, Kevin van Loon and Deane-Peter Baker shows just how extensive the project would be. Proceeding from a description of military ethics principles and problems, they compare the main features of ethical education in the Dutch and Australian armed forces.

The other articles are focused more on illustrative questions intended to prompt further consideration of possible basic principles of European military ethics on various different levels. The baseline of this issue of Ethics and Armed Forces was a broad understanding of military ethics, encompassing questions of the legitimacy of military force as well as standards of conduct for the military personnel. It was left to the authors to choose whether to make reference to the Ukraine war, which demonstrates on a daily basis that a clear value orientation is essential in military decision-making and action. Markus Thurau, for example, firmly rejects the notion that just peace has become defunct as a guiding principle in the face of this war. Arseniy Kumankov discusses the significance of the revisionist theory of just war for today’s “new wars” – among which he includes the one between Russia and Ukraine. Dragan Stanar highlights the essential role of properly conceived ethical education for members of professional armed forces, and the civil-military relations. In view of often unquestioned claims about the transformation of the military job description, Patrick Hofstetter argues that military ethics should be evidence-based. Christopher Ankersen explains why, in his view, the “warrior” is not a suitable role model for members of modern professional armed forces. Deanna Messervey is interviewed on the question of how ethical education can take proper account of findings in neuroscience and social psychology, and prevent moral and legal transgressions. This leads us back to the claim that “although military ethics is an academic field of research, there is a strong focus on the education of military personnel” (Lonneke Peperkamp et al.). It should promote legally compliant and values-based conduct om every level, also to protect our own military personnel.

In light of these contributions from various disciplines and nations, we feel sure that this edition will inspire further reflection and discussion within and outside of Europe. The same applies to the current Special: Our editorial team asked experts who are involved in ethical education in the armed forces in various countries to provide concise answers to a questionnaire on military ethics. Of course this should not be thought of as a representative survey of “national viewpoints”, but rather as an opportunity to compare and contrast the individual approaches with one’s own understanding of military ethics. 

A heartfelt thank you is owed to all those who have contributed to this edition conceptually, linguistically, and creatively. In particular, we would like to thank Colonel (ret.) Manfred Rosenberger, member of the EuroISME Board of Directors, who gave us his active support throughout the production process.

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Rüdiger Frank

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