Introducing #StrategyAndEthics

This essay is part of the #StrategyAndEthics series, which asked a group of academics and national security professionals to provide their thoughts on the confluence of ethical considerations, the development of strategy, and the conduct of war. We hope this launches a debate that may one day shape policy.

When discussing ethics in a national security or military context, most people immediately think of the tradition of moral discourse about war, dominated by the Just War Tradition or Just War Theory. In this tradition, especially as it is taught in most civilian and professional military education largely based on the moral and legal principles first championed by Augustine and Aquinas, the only consideration of ethics in war involves either the morality of the choice to enter war in the first place or the ethical aspects of the tactical practices employed during the conflict.  

What of the ethical nature of choices made at the level of strategy and/or policy? Rarely are there discussions of the morality of the lessons passed down by strategists and war theorists such as Thucydides, Realists of various stripes, Clausewitz, and more contemporary figures such as B. Liddell Hart and Colin Gray who tend to root themselves in practical considerations and historical precedent. What role do ethical considerations play in the selection of policy goals, the approaches employed to meet them, and the level of resources dedicated to the wartime effort?

To address this lack of understanding of ethics across the spectrum of war, the Ethics and Strategy series is designed to explore some of the following questions about these two traditions and the lack of intersection and discourse between them:

  1. Why? What are the reasons for this lack of discourse and discussion between these strains of thought? 
  2. What are the points of intersection and common interest?
  3. Is there a moral obligation to have and maintain effective strategy? Why? What would be the moral grounds of such an obligation?
  4. What are the moral obligations that ought to contain or limit strategy? Are there any?
  5. What strategic considerations ought to constrain or inform moral discourse about war? 
  6. What of the role of moral theory in strategy education and training?
  7. What is the role of various aspects of strategy (history, psychology, political science, military science) in the training of military ethicists and others involved in moral discourse about war
  8. What are future directions and considerations for dialog?
  9. Are certain kinds of conflict (responsibility to protect, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency) more amenable to a moral/strategic intersection? Why?

We hope you enjoy this series as much as we did working on it. If the articles generated ideas or you want to join in the conversation, put it down on paper and send it our way.  Some submission guidelines to support your efforts can be found here.

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Header image: Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, also known as Wanderer Above the Mist, an oil painting composed in 1818 by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich (Wikimedia)