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Military Ethics: an Introduction

We explore the ethical responsibilities that weigh on military professionals, who are ‘managers of violence’.

13,323 enrolled on this course

Bullet riddled Red Cross ambulance
  • Duration

    7 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Military professionals are unusual in having the use of lethal force as a central, defining feature of their role, and unique in the level of force that they are authorized to use. This fact places a considerable ethical weight on military practitioners as well as the civilian decision-makers who authorize military missions.

The military profession is also unique in having a dedicated ethical framework associated with it, Just War Theory. This defines the conditions for when it is justified for a party to resort to war, the requirements for ethical conduct within the bounds of a war or armed conflict, and the conditions for a just ending to war.

The ethical challenges that military professionals face do not, however, begin and end with the use of force. As such this course combines an overview of Just War Theory with an introduction to key principles of ethics that can aid military professionals in facing every day ethical challenges.

Leading military ethicist Deane-Peter Baker travels around the world exploring key issues and case studies and speaking with international ethicists, military professionals, historians, philosophers, government and NGO personnel to build a comprehensive introduction to this essential field. This course is a must for military professionals, civilian policy makers, journalists, NGO personnel and anyone interested in the appropriate conduct of military affairs.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 42 seconds Hello, I’m Doctor Deane-Peter Baker. I have the privilege of teaching here at UNSW Canberra. As you can see, it’s not your average university. UNSW Canberra works in close partnership with the Australian Defence Force Academy to educate future officers of Australia’s Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as exchange cadets and midshipmen from around the world. An essential part of the curriculum here is teaching these future military officers about ethics for the military profession. That’s a responsibility that my colleagues and I take very seriously. In fact, we can honestly say that we have one of the strongest programmes in military ethics anywhere in the world.

Skip to 1 minute and 25 seconds We work hard at giving our students conceptual tools that can help them deal with challenging ethical situations. We also help them think through issues that are particular to the military profession. If those are issues that are of interest or professional relevance to you, then join me. But we won’t be confined to a classroom like this. I’m inviting you to join me on a trip that will take us literally around the world as we explore key issues of military ethics. So let’s go.

What topics will you cover?

  • Foundations in ethical theory: Introduces the dominant approaches to ethics in general and focuses on the nature of ethics.
  • Ethics within the military profession: Focuses on particular ethical challenges that arise within the military profession.
  • Going to war: Weighs up the questions of whether entering into a war is ever ethically appropriate.
  • The conduct of war: Focuses on ethical principles that guide military forces as they engage in military operations.
  • The military and society: Explores the moral basis for the state’s authority to raise and employ military forces, and examines key aspects of the relationship between the military and society.
  • Ethics, technology and war: Outlines select issues that pose particular ethical challenges for those engaged in the conflicts of tomorrow.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Apply informed ethical thinking to issues that arise within the military profession.
  • Share your understanding of the ethical constraints on the use of force in armed conflict.
  • Identify key issues relevant to the way new and emerging technological developments are affecting the conduct of war.

Who is the course for?

Everyone with an interest in military ethics is welcome and encouraged to participate in this course. We start with a brief introduction to relevant ethical theories, so no specific background knowledge is required.

Who will you learn with?

Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, UNSW Canberra (at the Australian Defence Force Academy)

Who developed the course?

UNSW Canberra

Working at the intersection of a leading university and a military academy, UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy has been educating defence leaders for half a century.

Learning on FutureLearn

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  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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