Ethics for a 21st Century Army: Creating a Code of Professional Military Ethics

Aug 9, 2010

Full Video

Global Ethics Forum TV Show

Major Chris Case (West Point) and David Rodin (Oxford University): What are the basic principles that should guide professional soldiers in the 21st century?

Introduction JOEL ROSENTHAL: Thank you all for coming.

I know that some of you may be disappointed that General Petraeus is not here this afternoon. But I should tell you that, up until 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon, the event was on. Clearly, he and his staff had every intention of coming, up to the point where it was literally just not possible for him to be here [Petraeus took over command of Afghanistan on June 23]. So I know that there was real interest and real intent.

I have learned that his staff has said that they will call us as early as next week to look for a time to reschedule.

I would like to think that the reason is this particular venue and the opportunity to speak specifically about moral and ethical issues as they relate to the use of military force. I'd like to think that General Petraeus himself and his staff see a great opportunity to come here, in this forum, to engage with an audience like ours, to discuss these issues and to learn from each other.

We're a very earnest institution and time is the most valuable commodity of all. We realized yesterday, when we sent around the notice that the General would not be here, that many people had cleared their calendars for this time. So we thought: How can we use this to our advantage?

These gentlemen who are with me here very quickly came up with the idea: Well, let's get together and have the conversation anyway, in preparation for the General's eventual visit. I want to thank you both for that idea.

Let me introduce our panelists. We want to make this as conversational as possible and go right to a questions and answers period.

Let me recognize, first, David Rodin, who is our Senior Fellow, and is a resident at Oxford University. He came all the way from the United Kingdom to be with us this week. David, thank you for doing that. He was to be the presider yesterday, but now you're filling the role of panelist today. So thank you.

Sitting to my left is Major Chris Case from West Point, who teaches in the English and Philosophy departments. He is also an associate at the Army Center for Professional Military Ethic [ACPME], which he'll tell you about. I want to thank you, Chris, for all the work that you have done for us and in helping to facilitate the eventual meeting with General Petraeus.

We've had a longstanding relationship with West Point, with many of the service academies and war colleges. We're delighted to be working with you.

I'm going to turn it over to Chris, who will say a little bit about the work that's going on now at West Point. Chris has been working with the Army Center for Professional Military Ethic and can tell us a little bit about what's happening.

Remarks CHRISTOPHER CASE: First, I'd like to thank you, Joel, for hosting this forum and having us come out here to discuss this topic.

And thanks to David for coming all the way from England to work on this. This is not the first time he has done that, and we appreciate your help.

Today I'd like to have a discussion on three large areas relating to the Professional Military Ethic [PME].

At the Army Center for the Professional Military Ethic at West Point, we are looking at codifying an articulation of the Army ethic. It isn't to say that we don't have an ethic already. We just don't have one that's articulated in any one place. We have a variety of ethical sources that we draw from—be it oaths, law, and codes—but nothing that is the professional ethic.

I'd like to talk about three big areas that we need help with. What we're trying to do is go out and talk to a variety of different people, to get the best ideas that we can, and figure out how we should articulate this ethic for the Army.

Those three issues are the big areas that I'd like to talk about: One would be general issues about adopting and inculcating an ethic for an organization like the Army and challenges we face with doing that. I'd also like to talk about two specific areas that relate directly to the Professional Military Ethic, which are why and how we fight.

When we start thinking about those areas, it can help us figure out the right moral principles that underlie the ethic.

One way to frame this discussion, or to think about a Professional Military Ethic, is to look at common conceptions of the Powell doctrine and the Petraeus doctrine and some common misconceptions of these two doctrines. If we talk about it in those terms, we can maybe get some clarity and help us at the ACPME figure out how the Powell doctrine and the Petraeus doctrine are really related to each other, rather than two distinctly different things.

As a way to overview, first of all, I'd like to talk about what the PME isn't—or, really, what I'm not here to do today.

I am not here today to talk about what the PME is. I don't have the answer, so anything I say is going to be as a way of thinking about things. I don't espouse the PME. We're trying to figure out what it is. It isn't done yet.

We don't think it is going to be some silver bullet to correct bad behavior. We're not looking for a magic talisman, that could say, "Now we have this ethic and nothing bad will ever happen again in war." That would be ridiculous. War is a bad-taste business and bad things happen in war.

And it's not a done deal. We're still developing it, thinking about it, reflecting on it. So this is all part of the process. Anything I say today is really ways of thinking about things and ways we may or may not go. I am not speaking for the ethic in any official sense.

Another general overview question is: What do we think the PME can do? This is an interesting sort of question that we've had. What do we hope to achieve with a Professional Military Ethic that we don't already have captured somewhere?

One thing that the PME can do for us is to help with our moral reasoning. We can talk about that in more detail later.

The other thing it can do is help to reconcile some apparently conflicting elements in all the variety of codes, ethos, and laws that we have now. There are some of these things that appear to conflict with each other, and maybe what the PME can do is reconcile some of those paradoxes.

What we're trying to do—and I want to be clear about this—is we're not trying to come up with an ethic that justifies what we already do. We're not looking around the Army and saying, "Here's what we do, and now let's go and figure out a way to make it sound like it's good."

What we want is an ethic that provides a moral baseline for conduct, the way we should do things. Then we can judge our actions based on what we should do, rather than looking at the actions we do and then justifying them after the fact. Ideally, that's what the PME could do.

Another challenge as we think about the overarching Professional Military Ethic—and it relates back to my last point—is whether it's a transactional ethic or transformational.

If it were transactional it would be: "Here's all these things we do, and now we're going to come up with an ethic that says they're okay." We don't want to do that.

In many ways, it's going to be transformational—transformational being that it's leading the Army somewhere. This can be a little bit of a scary thing if we say, "Hey, we're trying to lead the Army somewhere, and it has to do with morality and ethical reasoning."

But it really isn't anything new. We're not inventing some new moral doctrine. It's based on things we already have. It's just properly articulating and understanding those things. That is important to understand.

And then, with the Powell and the Petraeus doctrines, we're going to frame it in these terms.

It is first important to say what those things aren't. Let's set aside the cartoonish versions of the Powell doctrine and the Petraeus doctrine.

The cartoonist version of the Powell doctrine that we often use in the military is this idea that we'll always use overwhelming force. What in the world does "overwhelming force" mean?

It doesn't mean "kill them all and let God sort them out," even though the cartoonish version thinks that. We need to set that to the side and say, "It's not that."

The cartoonish version of the Petraeus doctrine would be: "We're just going to pass out soccer balls to everybody and then hope for the best." That's not what the Petraeus doctrine is at all.

The Powell doctrine and the Petraeus doctrine both have the same underlying moral principles; they are just both pointed towards different ends.

The Powell doctrine is more focused for an end on a traditional self-defense paradigm of what the military does, whereas the Petraeus doctrine might be focused more on expanding the scope of what we use the military for.

Based on what the ends are, we can obviously have different sorts of conduct, but based on those same moral principles. That's the kind of thing that the Professional Military Ethic needs to be able to articulate.

Typically, at least in internal discussions, people interested in these things set up the Powell doctrine and the Petraeus doctrine as an "either/or" proposition—either we use overwhelming force or we pass out soccer balls. That is not the case. It could be a "both/and" proposition.

With that, I'd like to see what David thinks and open things up.

Thank you very much, Chris, for those remarks, framing this process that the Army is currently going through, and trying to develop and codify a Professional Military Ethic.

Let me just say at the outset how grateful and how honored I have been to be involved in this process, to have had the opportunity to work with a group of really remarkable scholar-soldiers, like Chris and like Bob Underwood who's sitting in the audience here, and a number of their colleagues at West Point and further on in the Army.

The U.S. forces—and the United Kingdom, my own country—have come through a tremendously challenging period in the last decade in a range of different ways. But seeing the process that you're going through at the moment, and seeing the seriousness and the level at which the discussion on these issues is being engaged in within the Army, really gave me a lot of confidence that this is really an organization that is able to learn, to think, and to address these issues in a really serious way. I have a lot or respect for that.

I should also say at the outset how grateful I am to Joel and to the Council for supporting my role and involvement in this. Without them it wouldn't be possible. So thank you, Joel, for that.

I don't intend to say too much, because we're envisaging this very much as a discussion in which we're hoping to involve all of you. But I just wanted to say a few words, picking up on some of the themes that Chris has laid down, about some of the framing issues, or how we might come to think about a process like developing a Professional Military Ethic for the Army.

Traditionally there have been a number of different ways that people have thought about the relationship between ethics and the profession of soldiering.

One of those ways of thinking about it is that soldiering and warfare is just a domain apart. Most famously, this tradition is articulated within the tradition broadly understood of realism. The famous Cicero doctrine, that in the times of war the laws are silent, is a kind of domain set apart. Very few of us in the modern world accept anything like that.

But what has a lot more currency is a kind of restrictive version of that view, which says that there is a domain within which we can expect soldiers to engage in moral reflection and to take issues of ethics very seriously, but it's very tightly restricted. This has had its most forceful articulation in the idea that's often called the "moral equality of soldiers."

There are questions about the justice of going to war that are rightly directed towards the sovereign, and perhaps the most senior people within the armed forces, but those are not really an appropriate domain for reflection for ordinary soldiers. This can be seen as reflected in the famous Augustinian idea that a soldier in many respects is a sword in the hand of a sovereign; in a sense, he's a tool; we can't expect agency on that level to be exercised by soldiers.

This is an idea that has really come under very significant scrutiny and challenge by a number of philosophers and scholars working in this area in recent times. The source of that scrutiny has been from a recognition—or at least an argument—to say that it is wrong to view soldiering and war as a domain completely apart. A soldier never simply becomes a sword in the hands, where a soldier remains, and must remain, a moral agent. If we are to understand the profession of soldiering, if we are to understand the activity of war in moral terms, we have to have some way of reconciling that.

This is also part of the challenge of articulating what the Professional Military Ethic is about and how it can provide a form of explanation and a domain of appropriate agency for soldiers within the context of that kind of assumption—the assumption that warfare is also a human activity, that it is also an activity that is governed by the normal moral judgments that we expect of human persons.

It seems to me that there are two really significant areas in which this challenge is going to manifest itself.

One is on this assumption that soldiers don't have to worry about the whole traditional ad bellum side of things—questions about the justice of war. There is a whole set of questions about to what extent is it reasonable to expect to request soldiers lower down the chain of command to reflect on these questions, and what do we do if soldiers decide the campaign, the operation, is perhaps problematic morally.

How as an organization ought the Army to respond to that? Should it encourage that kind of reflection? What should it do with its soldiers and officers if they do reflect on those questions and reflect critically?

Another area where these kinds of challenges bring things into focus is in the area of proportionality and collateral harm that is inflicted in the course of operations.

If we start from some kind of assumption that there is a set of basic universal human rights, including the right to life, then there is a set of very difficult questions of how we account for the collateral harm that we inflict on enemy civilians. Why, for example, do we think about appropriate levels of collateral harm in operations abroad in very different ways than we do, for example, in the context of police operations in our own territory or the territory of allies?

These are two areas where the shoe really pinches. There are very significant issues for us to work through in this process. Perhaps we can open up there to some questions and reflections.

Great. Thank you for setting the table.

There are a few things that we can talk about.

One is the question of the Petraeus doctrine itself. One of the reasons we wanted to invite the General here was a basic principle of that doctrine, which is the protection of noncombatants, and to explore that as a basic operating principle, and what the roots of that are. I wanted to keep that alive as a discussion point.

Also, General Petraeus frequently would talk about the need for the armed forces to "live our values," in the sense that this is a values-based approach. One of the reasons we wanted to have him here is to explore what that means, and whether there are professional military values or broader societal values in some way. I hope that that can be part of the conversation.

The other part of the conversation I wanted to get to was specifically the development and process of this PME, the Professional Military Ethic. When General Petraeus had written under his leadership The Counterinsurgency Manual, now often referred to as the Field Manual, it was important to him and to the people who did it that it was an open process and that it wasn't just a closed, professional military process, but that this was a societal effort. I'd like to talk and perhaps get your views on that.

I also wanted to just throw out one other data point, which is not a happy one, but it's one of the reasons that we are sitting here, which is that there is some friction and problems that the Professional Military Ethic is trying to address.

Perhaps most well known was the 2006 Army Mental Health Survey. This was a survey of troops that were at that time returning from Iraq, which had some disturbing findings.

It revealed that more than half of the U.S. troops disagreed with the statement that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect. Almost 10 percent reported mistreating civilians by kicking them or unnecessarily damaging their possessions—many claimed that they had not been instructed otherwise. One-third of Marines and one-quarter of the soldiers said that their leaders had failed to tell them not to mistreat civilians.

My understanding of this effort is the need to address the results of a survey like that. This is all happening within a context, this quest for a Professional Military Ethic, and a re-articulation of that.

There are other issues obviously now with things like night raids, the use of drones and so on. There are ongoing operational issues now, particularly in Afghanistan, that are presenting great challenges to people who are thinking about the correct moral ethic that should be guiding these kinds of operations.

I just wanted to make sure you all understood this is all fair game and this is what makes it so important.

From my perspective at the Carnegie Council, it's wonderful that our armed forces do this in such an open, self-reflective way. This is a great opportunity for us.

DAVID RODIN: That's a really helpful context to place on all of us.

It's important to reflect on what a process like this can and cannot reasonably be expected to do.

We all know that having a code of ethics changes nothing on its own. Having the most wonderfully constructed, philosophically informed code of ethics doesn't mean anything if people are not prepared to take it on board and take ownership of it. On its own the code is not really going to change very much.

What it can do is provide a lever and a context for conscientious people within the organization to use as a kind of tool in their engagements with the hierarchy and with those higher up the chain of command. It can create a sense of expectation.

This comes back to Chris's point about the extent to which this is transactional versus transformational. If it's just transactional, it just recognizes what's there and it doesn't take you forward.

But on the other hand, it can't be completely utopian—otherwise nobody would recognize it as their right.

A lot of what the process is about is trying to find that right balance. It is about finding something that resonates with the organization and those within it. At the same time it carries the organization towards its greatest potential, its best reflection of itself, rather than some of those aspects that are reflected in the statistics that you referred to.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Great. I'd like to open the floor and get some comments, questions, and suggestions.

Questions and Answers PARTICIPANT: You start out by saying that the Powell doctrine emphasizes overwhelming force, and that the Petraeus doctrine focuses on the protections of civilians. That is not my full understanding of that. I don't think you have interpreted it correctly.

CHRISTOPHER CASE: I agree. The common case is that's a misconception. So I'd like to hear what you have to say.

PARTICIPANT: Both of them emphasize overwhelming force first, and you end up with the Petraeus doctrine requiring more force because huge numbers of troops are needed in order to stay with the people. You are not allowed to use a lot of other kinds of force—artillery, air force and so on—or you have to use them very carefully. So I think you should be careful about this.

It also means that the troops who are out there and who have said, "I want you to be extremely careful." You have seen a lot more troops come back than I have, but I've talked to quite a number of them and they are very worried about this.

In other words, they are quite sure that they are getting killed more rapidly because of the so-called Petraeus doctrine.

To your first point, I think it's a misconception to say that the Powell doctrine is an overwhelming force and the Petraeus doctrine is about giving out soccer balls, for instance. When you talk about force in your comments you just made, you're talking about force in numbers of people.

Yes, I would say that the Petraeus—let's say the COIN [counter-insurgency] strategy—does require a lot of ground troops to be successful. But when I'm talking about force, I'm talking about using force or violence, not necessarily the amount of people or machinery that we use. I'm talking about the actual application of violence when I say "overwhelming force."

These were set up as the cartoonish versions of these two things. I don't think that's what either one of those are.

It's a misconception maybe to say the protection of civilians in the Petraeus doctrine is causing us to lose more people.

Or, even if that is true, let's say the Petraeus doctrine is costing us more troops—I have to say: Towards what end? What is the goal that we are trying to achieve?

Until we find out this question of why we fight and what it is we are trying to achieve, we can't figure out what the proportional cost is to the soldiers. How much risk we expect soldiers to take in relation to harming civilians depends upon the goal that we are trying to achieve.

Until we get this "why we fight" thing straight and the goal that it is pointed towards, it's hard to figure out the proportionality question. How much force or how much application of violence depends on the goal that we are trying to achieve.

It's along a spectrum. It can't go too far one way or too far the other way.

DAVID RODIN: It really does point to a very deep question about how the U.S. forces, as Chris said, are articulating the why. What is really the deep rationale for the ideas that we're trying to articulate in this ethical way?

It seems to me to be undeniable that the set of ideas that we group together under the Petraeus doctrine, which are clearly much more complex than the kind of cliché stereotype, certainly does give more emphasis to kinds of ethical-like ideas. And necessarily so, because the whole center of gravity of this conception of operations is all about legitimacy.

What you're trying to do is to develop and maintain the legitimacy of the government and the authorities within the area that you're seeking to protect. As part of that, as Petraeus and McChrystal have emphasized, you have to take much greater care with civilians and all of the things that go around that.

The deeper question is: Why ought we to do this? Why does the legitimacy of the government matter? Why does civilian protection matter?

One answer to that is simply a tactical answer: In these kinds of operations this is the best way to achieve something as close to victory as we're likely to get.

But there's another answer, which is independent of that tactical answer. That is an answer that says those things are important because human beings are humans and they have certain rights and they have certain demands for respectful treatment that are simply independent of whatever other tactical goals you have.

Now, in an ideal world—although we're very far from an ideal world in the context we're fighting at the moment—there may be some level of alignment or overlap between those two different objectives, the tactical objective and these kind of broader moral ideas.

But the tension is still there, and the question remains: If we're in a different context, would we simply be willing to jettison a lot of these ideas? At what point would we do that? What would be the rationale?

Those are the kinds of questions that really speak to this deeper set of issues that Chris has referred to by this articulation of the why of these conceptions.

PARTICIPANT: When we start talking about risk to soldiers and wanting to avoid the death of our military unnecessarily, that shows a fundamental and deep relationship between the tactical value and the intrinsic value of these things that we're talking about.

Even if I have a strategy that seeks to protect as many of my forces as possible, but through that it's actually an ineffective strategy, it seems to me to be disrespecting those who die in service of that strategy more so than those who die in service of a strategy that actually has a hope of success. It may in the process cost more lives, but those lives would be sacrificed for something that could in the end reconcile their deaths, as opposed to simply lead to fewer deaths.

Yes. This comes back to the previous question as well. If by calling in air support and killing a half-a-dozen civilians you might be saving a number of your comrades at the moment, but you generate half-a-dozen more insurgents or suicide bombers that are going to lead to 20 additional casualties a few years down the line, you're clearly not coming out ahead. That's clearly an important part of the articulation.

That would be the tactical.

DAVID RODIN: That would be the tactical, exactly, yes.

What I was trying to talk about was even if we set ourselves up to have a strategy and tactics that pursue force protection, to talk about it in the way the Army talks about it—above the protection of noncombatants. Since that strategy in all possible conflicts—but that's a large claim, so let's stick with COIN sorts of fights—that strategy appears to be ineffective. It won't lead to resolution.

To me, a soldier that in dies in service of a strategy that will not lead to victory is disrespected in the same way that we would disrespect the noncombatant who might die in that service. I think that shows a deeper sort of relationship between the tactical and strategic value of the things that we do in a moral sense.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Just following up on that, is this something that should be woven into the fabric of the Professional Military Ethic? The basic principle of the protection of noncombatants and the assumption of risk.

PARTICIPANT: When we're talking about protecting noncombatants it is really about protecting human dignity through the protection of human rights. If we interweave that into the Professional Military Ethic, we may find that the burden of risk at points would be higher for the soldier than it is for the noncombatant, but what produces that burden of risk is the common ground of human dignity and not some particular strategic military.

DAVID RODIN: Right. And part of your point is that when thinking about those issues of basic rights, basic dignity, we shouldn't only think about noncombatants. Soldiers as well have this dignity and these rights that need to be respected and considered in these decisions. That seems to me to be clearly right as well.

PARTICIPANT: The soldier who is strictly the instrument of the sovereign is disrespected in the same way as the person that is killed by the instrument as well.

CHRISTOPHER CASE: I would agree with that.

PARTICIPANT: I guess I'll jump in to follow up on that. I'm in vigorous agreement with both Dave Rodin's comment and Bob Underwood's.

It has seemed to me lately that there has been this nice confluence in a way between the ethical and the strategic. I hear a lot of people stressing the importance of noncombatant immunity in a way that they might not always have done.

My concern is, as has already been voiced, that the justification for this emphasis on noncombatant immunity is usually given in strategic terms—that's how you win a counter-insurgency—rather than in moral terms. So, of course, that raises the worry that if we're fighting a different sort of conflict, where there isn't this nice confluence between the prudential and the ethical, that things might go the other way.

I'm worried about how exactly one avoids that. I suspect the answer is to somehow, as Bob says, write this into the Professional Military Ethic. Soldiers, it seems to me, tend to be more receptive to the strategic concerns than the ethical.

But, in a sense, there is an opportunity here, because we've got people thinking along these lines, and taking it seriously. If we can begin to emphasize the ethical aspect, perhaps even prize it above the strategic aspect, we might manage to build it in some sort of robust way that lasts. At least that would be the hope.

CHRISTOPHER CASE: Yes. One of the biggest challenges with inculcating the ethic is that first we have to get you to see the instrumental value of it. I don't think that we should discount the instrumental value as the hook. I get you to see the instrumental value of it, and then over time, as you reflect on it, you might see the intrinsic value as well, hopefully. If we can put together an ethic in the right way, that has the right reflective quality about it, we could then get people to reflect on it, and once they buy the instrumental value, they will see the intrinsic value.

PARTICIPANT: Agreed, absolutely.

But getting back to something Bob said, a lot depends upon, as others have said, on how we define victory. Of course, if one defines victory simply in terms of winning militarily, then that's going to prize the prudential, as opposed to the ethical, at least given the right set of circumstances.

if we define victory in some way that necessarily involves and includes the ethical considerations, then we go a long way towards avoiding the worry that "Well, more guys die if we do it your way; let's do it my way," sort of thing.

DAVID RODIN: Yes, I think that's right. It's one of the tensions that we've been very conscious of navigating. You find within existing documents and existing articulations of the ethics, very contradictory ideas.

One idea is the soldier never gives up, the mission is absolutely critical, the soldier will stick in and do whatever it takes to succeed in his mission. On the other hand, there are a set of ideas that have emerged from international law, that there are certain basic protections, and certain things that you ought never to do.

Now, those two ideas can't both be true. If the mission always comes first, then it can't also be the case that there are certain basic restrictions, like killing civilians or torture. There's a basic tension in those kinds of articulations of the ethic and that's one of the big questions to be addressed here.

One of the things that makes that kind of tension much more likely to occur has been the idea that soldiers ought not to be engaged in a kind of process of critical reflections of the kinds of objectives that they are given.

This does touch on very difficult issues of civil-military relations, and it comes back to some of the ideas that I was talking about at the outset. If the soldiers' conception of what they are about is to take the missions that the civilian authorities give to them and to do those effectively, then inevitably there are going to come certain kinds of tensions of that form.

One of the questions is: To what extent ought the military have some kind of domain of pushback?
To be able to say to civilian authorities that there are certain kinds of objectives that are perhaps inappropriate because they can't effectively be achieved within the limitations of what would be effective.

CHRISTOPHER CASE: That's a proportionality consideration. If our domain of expertise—that is, our professional knowledge—is the application of the principle of violence, we look at a situation and say, "There is no way I can use a proportional amount of violence to achieve that aim." At what point do we then say, "Well, we just can't do that"? Right now there's not a whole lot of mechanism for that.

PARTICIPANT: Absolutely.

I'm curious about this idea of a domain of pushback. Of course, people always—and I think rightly—get concerned about anything that threatens to undermine civilian control of the military. It seems to me at a minimum what you'd want to do is find some way to ensure a deep asymmetry in the pushback.

I have relatively little problem with a military that refuses to fight when fighting looks like a bad idea. I have a big problem with a military that decides to fight when the civilian authority tells them not to.

DAVID RODIN: And rightly so.

PARTICIPANT: Right. So you really want that asymmetry there.

DAVID RODIN: Exactly. And how might you go about articulating that kind of idea?

We have very strong resources for articulating that kind of idea. Part of that has to do with what philosophers call the doctrine of doing and allowing. It's morally a more grave thing to do something that is a violation of some other person's rights than it is to not do something that would protect or facilitate some moral objective. So there's an asymmetry in that sense.

The grounding of the doctrine of civilian control is exactly to protect the domain of civilian politics from intervention by the army. That's an enormously important moral objective.

But to have some kind of domain of negative autonomy, where you said that soldiers may have some limited right to exempt themselves from participating in certain kinds of missions that they believed didn't pass some kind of minimal moral threshold—it's really not clear how that would threaten what we think is important about this idea of civilian control from that perspective.

So you are right, it's very important to articulate that asymmetry, but there are good resources for doing that.

PARTICIPANT: It seems to me the results of that 2006 survey are very dismaying. It really cuts your job enormously.

So the question is: How do you approach the job? Are you looking at major violations in recent U.S. military history? Is it some philosophical thing that you're doing?

CHRISTOPHER CASE: Are you talking about the job of formulating the military ethic?


CHRISTOPHER CASE: I take the philosophical approach. We're looking for the moral principles that ground it. But other people in the ACPME are looking at a variety of things, like the Army culture and professional ethics. In fact, they are analyzing that study.

We have people who do behavioral science research, all sorts of domains that we're looking at for how to craft the ethic. I don't happen to be involved in looking at these studies other than the outcome of the study.

But you're right, it does pose a huge challenge when you look at that study. And there have been other follow-up studies that the ACPME is also doing to look at ethical decision making and reasoning based on time served in combat. Does the amount of time somebody spends in a combat zone affect their ability to make ethical decisions? Things like that will inform some of the way we do these things.

But I don't have any expertise in that area. I'm really doing the philosophy part. So I'm looking for the underlying moral principles.

PARTICIPANT: You seem to be looking at the places where the Army violated some moral principle and so forth to come up with some analysis of how it could have been different and what kind of approach could have been made.


PARTICIPANT: Looking backwards.

CHRISTOPHER CASE: Yes, that's part of it. They're analyzing all sorts of different things that have happened, to try to figure out maybe why it happened. I personally am not involved in any of that. That's not my job, not that part of it.

PARTICIPANT: I want to just make a suggestion on the level of professionalism. One of the things that distinguishes a profession is the idea of individual institutional autonomy, that a profession, because it has specialist knowledge of a certain kind of activity—that that profession in aggregate and the members of the profession are able to make certain kinds of decisions that guide how they go about their work.

The military, in a way, although it possesses some other professional credentials in strength, has never been particularly good on the autonomy side of things, although it has come and gone maybe historically. Sometimes, frankly, if you look at us and what we do and how we go about our work, we look more like bureaucrats than we look like members of a profession.

This idea of a pushback is a very interesting one. Maybe it is time to bring the military profession up to the next level in terms of it really being a profession. Or at a minimum, the idea to be written into the new Army ethic that one of the ethical demands on the military profession is that it serve as a repository of the knowledge of what warfare is really like and what it does and what it doesn't do.

"Sir, you want us to do this thing? Good. We'll go in there and we'll kill people and we'll blow things up. And if the thing you want us to accomplish is going to be"—to be maybe a little cartoonish about it—"achieved by what armed forces do"—which is, as the Romans said, bellum gerunt, to wage war—"then we'll do it."

We understand that war is a military profession. What we are saying maybe in this case is, "We're not sure that warfare is going to help this situation."

Of course, you've got the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is the senior military advisor to the president, and he's supposed to have a lot of weight. But sometimes the secretary of defense and other people have more influence.

How do you write that in—at least make it a footnote, if not a chapter—that the military ought to have this kind of stature in its own mind, and maybe in the mind of the larger society as well?

You're right on the profession part. We're doing a lot of thinking about the domains and jurisdictions of professions and this idea of certain jurisdictions where you have autonomy.

If we're going to talk about pushback and autonomy, one way to get at that is this idea of proportionality and, being the people who are experts, our expert knowledge is killing people and breaking things. Being able to give good advice to the political leadership when the things you want us to kill and break are not worthy of the end-state that you're trying to achieve, or they're not going to achieve it is a proportionality consideration.

Some of it has to do with people inside the military understanding the difference maybe between what we can do and what we should do. The difference between something being legal and something being moral.

One other feature that professions have that underlies the autonomy that they have is that they almost all have a very strong duty of care towards their patients, those that they act upon. One of the reasons why doctors have this domain of autonomy is that there is this very ingrained duty of care for those that they act on.

One interesting question is: If soldiering is a profession, who are those over which we have a duty of care? Well, traditionally, of course, the duty of care is very strongly articulated with respect to one's compatriots, one's citizens.

But those are not typically the ones that we act on. We act in other countries far away and those that feel the sharp end are not our citizens. One of the real questions is: What is the duty of care that we owe to those people and how do we understand the limits of that?

Another comment on killing people and breaking things. Yes, that is what the Army does. But you can also say: "What do doctors do? They administer certain kinds of toxic substances and cut people open." Yes, they do do those things, but what's important is the reasons for which they do them.

That again comes back to Chris's point: What is the articulation, the reason for which we kill people and break things? From that follows the account of who you can kill and how many things you can break and who you can't kill. So that's where it all needs to lead from.

This is going to lead to a comment about how much we want to do with the notion of it as a profession like any other profession. Maybe I can raise the point by saying that what you're talking about is leading to a whole further way of thinking about Just War theory.

In philosophy there's a view that's associated with the Kantian view, or the social contract view, that a requirement of any valid moral principle is acceptable in full transparency to those who have to act according to it, and not just acceptable to them if they're being deceived, but acceptable with full autonomy.

What you're talking about leading to is, in some sense, the notion that one constraint on a just war is not just that it serves certain sovereign interests, but that it be acceptable in certain ways to those people who have to carry it out and engage in the sacrifice, which is actually an element in Just War theory that has not been prominent, in terms of the position of the soldier.

But I worry that by seeing it as a profession—and maybe this is because I come from the Vietnam generation—it's not just that soldiers have to live with this as they're soldiers. In fact, some of the things that Joel was mentioning at the start point out that they have to live with these decisions for the rest of their lives.

They have to be able to say to themselves, whether or not they are still a soldier, "Maybe I wasn't asked at the time whether it was a good idea, but the reasons for it were ones that I can now recognize as valid."

I wonder if that's a problem, because being a soldier for many people is not like being a physician or a lawyer. Certainly, the notion of a citizens' military suggests it shouldn't be like that; it should be something that's integrated.

So I wonder, first of all, how you are thinking of it as a profession? Second, how does it relate to this notion of why we fight and how it is going to impact that?

CHRISTOPHER CASE: Do you want to say something to that, Bob, real quick?


One thing that your comment brings to me is that one thing that the ACPME is working on is where we draw the line in the organization with who is a professional, as opposed to who might just be a member of the profession.

Within the military there are the guys who enlisted after 9/11 because they wanted to do a couple of years and then they want to get out. You have guys like Chris and I, who appear committed to a long career. And then there are people who are somewhere in between. Whether or not those people are all professionals in that sense is a hard line to draw.

But it is true that all the people in the United States Army stand a chance, especially now, of finding themselves with a rifle, on a battlefield, having to make these sorts of decisions. That's what we think the professional ethic needs to be able to address.

The problem that you talk about is actually sort of the central negative criteria of any professional ethic that we might come across. We have to give something to everybody in the Army, whether or not they are going to be a professional member. Something that will allow them to reconcile their identity as a citizen, their identity as a father, as a brother, as a Christian or a Muslim, with their service in the Army that keeps them from having these problems that we seem to be coming back with out of Iraq and Afghanistan, in terms of the moral dissonance that people tend to feel.

It also relates to why we fight, in terms of construing the sort of thing that can command an allegiance from people, to risk these sorts of burdens. It has to be in defense of some normative conception of our government.

I'm actually sympathetic to the Kantian conception, the public reason.

: That was along the lines of what I would have said.

DAVID RODIN: Both of those interventions were incredibly helpful. I do think that the constraint, as you put it, that a military operation ought to be something that can be rationally endorsed by all of those who are asked to engage in it, is implicit in the idea of recognizing what Bob was talking about in his earlier intervention. That the soldiers have to be recognized as human persons with dignity and all the things that go along with that.

The trick, or the tension, is that a military organization always has an interest in instrumentalizing its men, in turning them into something like Augustine's sword in the hand, which implicitly always runs the risk of destroying their agency.

So the real tension, the real trick, is how to provide a space for recognizing exactly that kind of process—the process of recognizing dignity and recognizing that agency that you're talking about—in a way that will still be compatible with what an army is and what it has to do. We're all still struggling with this.

One kind of idea that I have tried to put forward as a way of trying to navigate those two conflicting ideas is to try and articulate an expectation from the perspective of the soldier looking upwards up the chain of command. That would be an expectation that they can expect of their senior officers and civilian leadership, that the operations that they are asked to participate in, the wars that they are asked to fight, will be legally and ethically justified operations.

Articulating some kind of expectation that soldiers can have of their superiors would be a helpful first step along that line, and one that need not be overly threatening to what an army is and what an army does.

PARTICIPANT: We can defuse a lot of the tension if we talk about it in straightforward terms and talk about it in terms of a citizen's expectation of its government, because that's at the root what we're talking about. We're an all-volunteer force, but that does not mean that we are mercenaries in service of a paycheck.

By and large, we have done this because we feel some sort of fidelity with the country that we serve. One of the reasons we feel that fidelity is because of the type of country that it is.

That's right. It is a citizen's expectation. But there's something unique about citizens who are also soldiers, because they are the ones who will be carrying out the orders, who will be firing the munitions. They are the ones who we are asking to die, but also to kill, in these operations. So there is a particular expectation that they ought to have the right to expect from those who ask them to undergo those operations.

But you're right that there is a more generalizable one as well for citizens.

To whom does a soldier as a professional have a duty, apart from to his colleagues and to his country?

It seems to me that somewhat of a parallel can be found in the legal profession, because you've got an adversarial profession. Unlike doctors, you have an enemy, or at least an adversary, on the other side. But you can't do anything to win the case as a lawyer. You've got to act in accordance with rules of procedure; as an officer of the court, you have a duty to the court; and you have even a duty to your adversary not to pose misleading questions or fabricate evidence. That seems to me to be a profession where, because of its adversary nature, there may be parallels that give some interesting ideas.

But in the context of a soldier having a right to receive—to know that the information given, or the basis for the decision to send them into war, where they could be killed and may have to kill people—that they have some, perhaps not only right, but even a duty to form a view on whether the information or the decision is at least honestly based. That seems to me to open huge issues.

What if in 2003 senior soldiers were to have said, "I don't believe that there are weapons of mass destruction. I think the evidence is just not there. Hans Blix says it's not there. He says the inspections are doing the trick. There's no immediate danger. Therefore, this is disproportionate under an ethical doctrine that I think is applicable. I also think that the information we are being given is untrue—I won't say dishonest, but certainly inaccurate."

I can't imagine that the ethic code that is being contemplated would be viewed under any circumstances as ultimately giving a soldier, not even a right, but an obligation, to say "No" and to refuse to act on an instruction of the kind that was given in 2003.

CHRISTOPHER CASE: You're right about that. Selective conscientious objection is probably something that's not even going to be entertained. But we think it's at least worth thinking and talking about.

We can get at this idea of talking about why we fight and reconciling the ends towards which you are willing to do violence, or possibly die, without going so far as saying that now we're just going to have an obligation or a duty to not fight if the information may be bad.

It doesn't need to be so extreme as, "I think any soldier who thinks that the information is bad can not fight." But it doesn't need to be so extreme that we say, "We can't even let soldiers think about the ends towards which they fight."

The answer is somewhere in the middle between these two views, because the view traditionally, is that soldiers don't even concern themselves with the ad bellum considerations. It's just assumed that "Hey, the United States is a sovereign country; I serve the United States; therefore, everything I do is okay as long as I do it within the bounds of the law. But I have this justification that's transitive to me."

We can get away from that without going so far as to say, "Anybody who doesn't feel like they're justified can go ahead and go home."

Now questions come.

PARTICIPANT: The way I understood the program, it was set up was to show the tension between the Powell doctrine and the Petraeus doctrine. Actually, I always thought that they dovetail.

I sense that Powell, from my understanding and having read his book, was not an advocate of using the force but of having it available, having 500,000 boots on the ground in the Persian Gulf and things like that. My feeling is to run an effective counterinsurgency you have to have that overwhelming force at least available in terms of boots on the ground.

There's a very good book out now, called Black Hearts. It's about the breakdown of soldiers in a particular platoon in the Triangle of Death in 2006. Obviously, not everybody in that platoon engaged in this, but four of the members of the platoon go out, they rape an Iraqi girl, murder her and her family, and set them on fire. They were all apprehended and court martialed.

The thing that came across most from that book was that they felt—all the platoon, not just those who engaged in it—that they were really out there by themselves. They were completely stretched, there weren't enough people, that they were out at these outposts, traffic control points, for endless hours.

So my question to you is: How much of a factor do you think having the overwhelming force available is in seeing the effective use of the Petraeus doctrine?

CHRISTOPHER CASE: I probably don't have a whole lot of comment on that as far as how much force we should or shouldn't have.

It's a good point that he made, the connection between the Powell doctrine and the Petraeus doctrine.

Ideally, could we have more force to make COIN work better? Sure.

But we have to balance other concerns as well. Economics and all these other concerns of how much can we really bring to bear to do that, sort of balancing what size military do we have, how much can we commit to doing this.

PARTICIPANT: But if we don't, Powell said we shouldn't be there.

CHRISTOPHER CASE: You're right. It's a valid concern. It all goes back to this idea of pushback and proportionality and can we or can we not then go and say something like, "Given the resources you've given me, I can't achieve this mission in a proportional way." Right now that's only available to a few people, and then once they get their marching orders they move out and try to execute the mission.

DAVID RODIN: Part of what's going on here as well is that very deeply inculcated within many militaries, but I think particularly within the U.S. Army, is this very "can do" attitude. "We were told to do this. Well, we can do it." Maybe sometimes, with the mission and with the resourcing, maybe it can't be done effectively.

This is another one of these areas where the ad bellum and the in bello, which for so long have been kept to my mind so artificially apart, where they connect.

If the operation is one that just cannot be effectively achieved given the assets and the resourcing in play, then it can't be an appropriate mission to be undertaking, because you're going to be there wrecking things and causing death and devastation. If there is no realistic prospect of you actually achieving some kind of just, equitable end-state out of the end of that, then the whole thing is very deeply compromised—not only from a strategic but also from an ethical perspective.

Going back to that idea of the professional domain of expertise that the Army has is one clear area where the military ought to feel entitled to have that kind of sense of pushback to the civilian leadership.

In the Bush Administration, just prior to our invasion of Iraq, General Shinseki tried to tell the Administration by his testimony in Congress, "We need several hundred thousand troops for several years." He was completely marginalized, pushed out of the Army.

And then General Franks was pushed in, and they were trying to shove down his throat the notion that we could win the war with 50,000 people. I think ultimately 130,000 was the number, and that was not enough.

The concept that you need more people to run an occupation and do a transition than you do to win the fight, especially in a conventional warfare situation, was totally lost on the Bush Administration.

I don't know how much of it the current administration gets. When they took office, it was 32,000 in Afghanistan. Now I think it's 90,000. I'm not sure that's enough.

PARTICIPANT: A great thing we're doing here. But I'd like to point out this is by no means a new issue.

We have with the Israelis today a complete knockdown-drag-out fight in our sister organization, Human Rights Watch, where the Israelis are saying, "You expect me to not shoot into these houses where people are shooting out at us?" It is exactly what Petraeus—well, really McChrystal—is having to say to his people. And they don't like it.

Then you've got Vietnam, free fire zones. Lots of people didn't like that. Anybody who has been there didn't like that too much. We knew damn well we were shooting people who were noncombatants. And I don't need to mention Agent Orange.

Then you've got mines. We're all against mines, I presume we are—or are we? Our government is not against mines. Why? Because our government is the world's policeman. If you were in Brazil, you could vote against mines because you don't have anybody out there who has to be protected. Here, our government is saying, "Well, we're not so sure where we stand on mines."

Just a couple more.

You remember intermediate-range nukes. We made a decision to let the Russians have another 2 million people and 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, hundreds of thousands, more tanks than we have. What are we going to do about it?

Chris, where do we stand on this particular issue? Our government said: "Well, we'll use intermediate-range nuclear and we will have half or a third as many troops as the USSR." It's an issue.

Civil War—we also like Mr. Lincoln, think he did a pretty good job. He almost lost the war. He said, "I want a Grant and a Sherman who will do horrible things. That's the only way we're going to win this war."

Finally, we got World War II. We bombed the hell out of everybody there. What happened? I don't know if you ever read the bomb studies that came out of that. Big mistake, didn't work, at al. Except that the nuke probably did.

So the issue is we all agree with morality. It's just a little bit difficult to write it down, how you're going to use it and when you're going to use it. It is difficult as hell to do it.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: If I could just jump in, because one of the things I wanted to raise is a core philosophical issue at the center of the development of the ethic. The places where we do agree where there's problems, or we get into trouble, is this idea of somehow dehumanizing the "other," dehumanizing the enemy, or dehumanizing in some way the noncombatants.

Most people would agree that that's a built-in problem. Somehow trying to reconcile that with the idea that we're talking about the use of force against human beings and people who will still have some sense of humanity.

I don't know if that's reconcilable at all, but isn't that at the heart of what we are trying to get at, which is how do you maintain war as a human activity that has some value.

It seems like the problem with that survey that I mentioned before. Somehow, whether it's through training, whether it's through stress, lack of training, that at some point there's a slide to the dehumanization.

DAVID RODIN: An implicit culture that somehow creeps in and becomes accepted.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Right. One possibility for the ethic is to be somehow a response to that.

CHRISTOPHER CASE: I agree. It's probably one of the hardest parts of doing this. It's teaching ethics and Just War theory. In talking to cadets, one of the things that always jumps out at me is this weird sort of thing when we talk about Just War theory or international humanitarian law: "I need you to be able to go and kill people. But I also need you to do it the right way."

That just seems like a really odd thing. "I need you to kill people, but do it humanely."

"I want you to kill somebody, but I don't want you to wear their ears for a necklace, because that would be wrong. But killing them is okay." Then I have to now unpack why is killing them okay but being disrespectful in the way that you do it is not okay. Or being disrespectful afterwards is not okay but taking their life is okay." It's an odd thing to think about, and it's a big challenge for the professional military. Teaching ethics, morality, and killing all at the same time is paradoxical.

PARTICIPANT: A concept that we've been alluding to a lot today is accountability and how you can be accountable individuals for these kinds of things, like dehumanizing the enemy. If we're going to build a new system of ethics for the Army, there has to be a system towards which people at every level can be held accountable.

But it's interesting to talk about this in the light of some of the special operations things that have currently been in the press and how we can talk about these operations that we're not allowed to know anything about. They are only accountable internally, and is this a problem ethically?

CHRISTOPHER CASE: You're talking about special operations like CIA/Black Water, or are you talking about special operations command?

PARTICIPANT: The special operations task force. I read an article about it recently.

CHRISTOPHER CASE: There are interesting things that relate to civil-military relations and off-the-record, black-book-type jobs that happen, as well as private military contractors that relate to the professional military. Who is subject to the Professional Military Ethic? Who is subject to these rules?

JOEL ROSENTHAL: My understanding of the report from the United Nations rapporteur, Philip Alston, on the issue of the use of drones is that he was recommending that the drone program be moved into a uniform military jurisdiction, specifically so it would be subject to accountability and ethic.

Yes, because there are a couple different concerns with contracting out those sorts of things.

The accountability question is number one. What are the rules when nobody even knows who they report to or who makes decisions?

We don't know what the criteria is for extrajudicial killing. Whereas in the military we have clear criteria for who is a combatant, noncombatant, and targets. That's one issue that I can't say much on, except that yes it's an issue.

The other issue is the idea of professional knowledge. When we contract out or have other agencies do things that are typically the domain—or ought to be the domain—of the military, that encroaches on our professional expertise and our professional knowledge in some ways.

For example a drone program. They have this really great technology that's developed by some corporation that now some other corporation is employing at the behest of our government.

The professional military that serves the nation is cut out of the loop on what the technology is and how to employ it. Now you have people who are not subject to the same rules and ethics but have this expert knowledge that is in the domain of what the military ought to be doing. It's a huge concern that is well above my pay grade, other than to say yes, you're right, it is a concern.

DAVID RODIN: Clearly accountability mechanisms are really important. Some of those ought to be internal, going up and down the chain of command. Some of those ought to be external, involving civilian oversight, and I would also argue some kind of international legal oversight. The United States is not a signatory to the ICC [International Criminal Court]. I would love it if they were.

Accountability is important. But it's not the only thing that's important with a code of ethics. There is another role that these kinds of ideas can play and can have a very important function when they do play that role properly, which is simply to provide a kind of a shared basis for decision making, discussion, debate, and application by conscientious individuals when they are seeking to perform their duty. That is not a matter of accountability or oversight. It's simply a matter of the kind of shared understanding of the role that people within an organization have about what it is to do this role well.

When a code does articulate properly with some kind of shared ethic, it fulfills all of those roles. It's not simply a basis for enforcement and accountability, but also for conscientious decision making by conscientious agents.

PARTICIPANT: This speaks to this idea of a shared understanding, or what it is that grounds us.

When we talk about military organizations, one of the things to keep in mind as we try to articulate this is what for centuries in some ways has been the glue of unit cohesion. I'm not sure if I could point to loyalty exactly as that thing. But there has been something over time that as we've looked back on units that have fought together has kept them together and fighting for each other.

The concern I'm beginning to have is about this sort of a decoupling, or a separation of the professionals, as the officers perhaps, who will have to embrace, understand, articulate, teach or own the ethic in some way, that begins finding itself distanced from someone further down the chain. We're talking about surveys of soldiers and actions that are out there.

The problem is that unit cohesion is in tension, that potentially one conception of cohesion based on, let's say, loyalty to each other, is in tension then with this other kind of ethic that suggests a different kind of loyalty—a loyalty to someone whom I don't even know.

That is going to be a real challenge down the road. Finding a way to articulate this, to get the buy-in for whatever that code is that distances, perhaps slightly, loyalty away from the thing that has been really the glue of unit cohesion for a long time.

One of the reasons that platoons are loyal to each other is because they take value in that organization. It's something beyond simply the fact that you're next to me and you're in my platoon. Those conceptions of the unit and how it can command loyalty become powerful because they become part of our personal identity, they become part of the way in which we see and interact with the world. Through that platoon is one of the ways in which I find my place in the world and I interact with it.

There is nothing inconsistent with that sort of identity and a properly moral conception of the world. If we could articulate it in some way in the Professional Military Ethic, this sort of paradoxical relationship between the value of the collective or the value of the unit and the value of the individual, and sort of which one is more important and how we sort those things out, we are probably not going to ever get a real clean answer. If it is paradoxical, it's going to be paradoxical.

But we could go a long way to giving even the soldier who may or may not be the professional the resources to say, "This is not the sort of platoon that I owe allegiance to, this is not the sort of platoon that I want to be part of my identity."

JOEL ROSENTHAL: I'm going to call a formal adjournment in just a moment.

David and Chris, did you have any final comments?

Yes, just to pick up on some of those final thoughts.

I personally feel a little bit ambivalent about the idea of framing this in the context of a professional ethic. It seems to me that the idea is helpful in some respects, and they speak to what soldiering is about. But there's a lot of what soldiering is about that is not fully captured by that idea of a profession and professional ethics.

The challenge is placing some of these ideas of professionalism alongside some of the ideas that the two of you have just been talking about, which speak to a much older tradition of a conception of military virtue, that places ideas of loyalty and of honor very centrally.

Part of it is working with those very deep, very old ideas and re-formulating them in a way that's appropriate to a 21st-century organization and wars. In supplementing that with a third really crucial component, which is about a set of much more universal ideas, that come in part from the human rights tradition and from this idea of an expectation of dignity for all persons equally, irrespective of who they are and where they come from, that really forces us to engage in a very honest way with questions around the ethics of killing.

To come to Chris's point again, if we are going to have a way of explaining to the cadet, to the platoon sergeant, why we expect him to kill, and kill efficiently and kill well, but only in certain kinds of ways, only with certain kinds of limitations, that requires a very honest engagement with these questions of the ethics of killing. When is it permissible to kill? Under what conditions? And whom? And why?

Each of those three components probably needs to be addressed and, to the extent that we can, integrated within this kind of document.

I'd like to thank David. I'm not going to say any more, because I can just keep going and going.

I'd like to thank everybody for coming and say that this is an ongoing project and an ongoing conversation. Feel free to contact us and talk more, if you'd like.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: In formally concluding, I just want to say it speaks very well for our country that we have such extraordinary men and women working on this in such a diligent and open and serious way.

Thank you, Chris. Thank you, David. Thank you all for coming.

We'll adjourn formally, but we'll have an informal discussion continue. Thank you.

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