Military Ethics: A force for good

Military ethics have become a central issue for policy-makers. The ethical dimensions of military interventions have recently moved further into the political spotlight with the conflicts in Kosovo and Chechnya. But what are ‘military ethics’? When, if at all, are ethnic cleansing or genocide legitimate military options? Can external military intervention intensify a crisis? Did the apparent success of Operation Allied Force in Kosovo encourage Russia to seek to re-establish total control of the Chechen republic?

The World Today
5 minute READ

Patrick Mileham

Lee Willett

Leverhulme Research Fellow, Centre for Security Studies, University of Hull

The moral and humanitarian dilemmas for the peacekeeping soldier on the ground are immense. The pressure is intensified by scrutiny, quite properly by the chain of command, sometimes by legal representatives and always by the media. Moral as much as legal accountability haunts the military.

Military ethics can be defined as the spirit in which force is used to achieve political ends. In practice, the impact on military operations, planning and rules of engagement often falls short of the theoretical policy goal. The link between ethics and military realities, both strategic and tactical, is not always clear or easy to maintain.

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