The Australian Defence Force Military Ethics

The ADF Ethical Decision-making Framework asks all ADF members to think through four questions when faced with ethical decisions. It also asks ADF members to periodically reflect on a fifth question regarding their character and pattern of decision-making.

  1. Is this lawful? What are the obligations and constraints this creates?
  2. What is my intent? Is the objective I intend good?
  3. Is it aligned with Defence Values?
  4. Have I evaluated my thinking?
  5. How can I reflect on my character and decision-making?

There are three Tags under The Australian Defence Force military ethics banner:

  1. Personal leadership and moral reasoning
  2. Individual ethics – Unconscious bias/mindset/cognition ethics, and
  3. Personal versus organisational ethics

The Australian Defence Force’s Legal and Ethical Responsibilities for the Use of Force

Section 68 of the Australian Constitution vests in the Governor-General command in chief of the ADF. In practice, the Governor-General acts on the advice of the Australian Government. That advice is provided by the National Security Committee of Cabinet (NSC), which is chaired by the Prime Minister.  The NSC considers all major foreign policy and national security issues of strategic importance to Australia. The members of the NSC are elected politicians with broad Ministerial and Cabinet responsibilities across the key national security areas of government. The NSC considers a broad range of perspectives in making decisions. In Australia, the NSC acts as the legal and ethical authority for the deployment of the ADF.

There are three Tags under The Australian Defence Force’s legal and ethical responsibilities for the use of force banner:

  1. Legal aspects of ethics
  2. Just War, and
  3. Laws of Armed Conflict

Ethical Risks

Some of the more significant ethical risks to ADF members in performing ethically include:

  • Abuse of Power
  • Normalisation of deviance
  • The damaging effects of war
  • Moral drift and disengagement
  • Ethical relativism

 There are 10 Tags under the Ethical Risks banner:

  1. Responses to ethical failures
  2. Ethical Case Studies
  3. Moral courage
  4. Personal Moral Disengagement & Normalised deviance
  5. Bystander behaviour
  6. How to identify ‘at risk’ groups
  7. Ethical dimensions of operational leadership
  8. Sub-group ethics (ADF) and victims
  9. Ethics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Drones and surveillance/strike, and
  10. Cultural aspects of ethics (on Operations)

The Australian Profession of Arms

In Australia, the members of the ADF exclusively comprise the profession of arms. As members of the profession of arms we may be called upon to do things that would not normally be ethically permissible; we may be asked to kill. The use of lethal force and the destruction of property is a task that may be required to achieve the ADF mission, but this is not an end in itself. The ADF uses the ethical, disciplined application of force to achieve the national interest.

There are six Tags under the Australian Profession of Arms banner:

  1. Reasonable Challenge 
  2. Courageous restraint
  3. Values of the Profession of Arms
  4. The military ethos
  5. Ethics in the Military v.s. Military Ethics, and
  6. The ethics of responsibility

Ethics in War

While conflict occurs across many contexts and involves different capabilities in different operational domains – maritime, land, air, information and cyber, and space – the same ethical principles apply to them all. Informed by the just war tradition, these ethical principles define how ADF members conduct themselves in war, or ‘jus in bello’. The key ethical principles are:

  • discrimination
  • proportionality
  • military necessity
  • humanity. 

There is one Tag under the Ethics in War banner:

  • Principles of ADF ethics

Ethical Theory

There are three ethical theories that provide the basis for the ADF’s approach to ethics:

  1. Natural Law Theory – which examines intention, good ends, and reasonableness
  2. Duty ethics – which asks is the act right in itself? and 
  3. Virtue ethics – which asks what sort of person should I be?

There are four Tags under the Ethical Theory banner:

  1. Ethical Theory 
  2. Ethical Relativism 
  3. Principles used to determine if something is wrong or right, and
  4. Personal ethics

2021 Perry Group Papers

This year has been the fourth that we have run the Perry Group elective at the Australian War College.  The group aims to hone a more forward-thinking and creative mindset in our Defence leaders and strategists, using science fiction as a framework.  It also provides the opportunity for War College students to research, and develop a group paper on, future Defence capability outside of the normal War College continuum.

This year again, we sought CDF guidance on the topics that Perry Group members might explore.  The four topics are as follows:

  1. Space: What should be Defence’s strategy for the utilisation of the space domain?
  2. Information: What should be Defence’s strategy for the utilisation of the information and cyber domain?
  3. Climate: What security risks will climate change present to future Defence operations and business, and how should we plan for them?
  4. Artificial Intelligence: What challenges and opportunities does AI and automation present for Defence?

This year, we tried something different. Instead of writing an analytical piece, students were tasked to produce a short piece of fiction that would explore the issue and its implications in a more accessible way. In the process, students were mentored by noted futurists and authors such as Peter Singer and August Cole.

Each of the four groups produced a story that was guided by directing staff at the War College.  They were also allocated a subject matter expert from within VCDF Group who provided guidance on work that had already been done, and who also assisted in focussing the groups on key areas that would add most value to the work of Defence’s modernisation process.

The resulting narratives are attached.

I trust you find these papers insightful and enjoyable. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute again to the development of our future Australian Defence Force.

signature of M.B. Ryan

M.B. Ryan
Major General
Commander, Australian Defence College

October 2021

Logo of the Perry Group
covid-19 virus close-up
Team

Sagan

Post-COVID World

In the post COVID world, what are the possible scenarios for a post-COVID-19 global order and what effects may that have on Australian strategic policy?

Mr Matthew Bieniek
Australian Public Service

MAJ Dan Ellis
Australian Army

Lt Col David Groce MBE
British Army

LCDR Kerryn McCallum
Royal Australian Navy

SQNLDR Alice Paton
Royal Australian Air Force

47min
China's flag artistically merged with America's flag
Team
Consu

Campaigning in competition

What are the medium and long-range implications for Australia as a result of the US-China strategic competition, and what are our options?

Alex Schreiber

Mohayed Magzoub

Jim Fanning

Emlyn Mordike

Matt Kelly

27min
globe world view from outer-space with gridlines overlayed over the top
Team

Phoenix

Long range strike

New technologies provide options for the protection of Australia that we have not had before. What might this mean in particular for a long range strike capability? In particular, in the context of the 21st century, what does "long range", "strike" and "strategic" actually mean and what are the range of options we might have for a 21st century deterrent built around long-range strategic strike?

Ray Brin

Theresa Cunningham

Christina Dubej

Simon Frewin

Michael Smith

51min
drone flying over an explosion

Grey Zone

While ‘grey-zone’ has gained wide usage, it lacks an agreed definition, is used in a variety of ways to justify different kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities. Is ‘grey-zone’ a helpful term, or is it just another fad term that results in military and national security professionals abrogating their required learning about war as a phenomenon?

Thomas Dobbs

Garth Fallon

Sarah Fouhy

Tennille Marsh

Machlan Melville

24min

2020 Perry Group Papers

The Perry Group is an elective run by the Australian War College that aims to hone a more forward-thinking and creative mindset in our Defence leaders, using science fiction. It also provides the opportunity for War College students to research, and develop a group paper on, future Defence capability outside of the normal War College continuum.

Each year guidance is provided by CDF on the topics that the Perry Group might explore and VCDF group provides guidance to focus the group on key areas that may add most value to Defence’s modernization process.

The papers express recommendations or positions that aim to prompt further discussion in different working groups and committees across Defence. They do not reflect the position of the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

This year has been the third year that we have run the Perry Group elective at the Australian War College. The group aims to hone a more forward-thinking and creative mindset in our Defence leaders, using science fiction, so that this can be applied to futures oriented. It also provides the opportunity for War College students to research, and develop a group paper on, future Defence capability outside of the normal War College continuum.

This year again, we sought CDF guidance on the topics that Perry Group members might explore.

Each group that produced a paper was guided by directing staff at the War College. They were also allocated a subject matter expert from within VCDF Group who provided guidance on work that had already been done, and who also assisted in focussing the groups on key areas that would add most value to the work of Defence’s modernisation process.

Each paper contains an executive summary up front and a series of recommendations that may be useful to prompt further discussion in different working groups and committees across Defence.

I have left the papers largely ‘unfiltered’; I want to ensure that they remain an accurate representation of the views of our War College students. There has been some standardisation and editing, but the key ideas and themes in each paper remain unchanged.

I trust you find these papers insightful and enjoyable. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute again to the development of our future Australian Defence Force.

signature of M.B. Ryan

M.B. Ryan
Major General
Commander, Australian Defence College

15 September 2020

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