We inaugurate this new platform for a regular exchange of views on up-to-date questions
with a reflection of Dr. Henri HUDE, philosopher, director of the “ethics and juridical environment”
branch of the Research Centre of the French Military Academy St-Cyr Coëtquidan
and Vice-president of Euro-ISME analysing the question:
Does it make sense to talk about a European code of military ethics?
We sincerely invite you to study his critique and to comment on it within our Forum (here)

TOPIC of the MONTH

DOES A EUROPEAN MILITARY ETHIC EXIST?

A critical problem area

by

Henri HUDE

Does it make sense to talk about a European code of military ethics?

Is this notion not irrelevant and premature? Europe is not a state, nor even a confederation. It has no common army and as a consequence cannot, and does not, go to war. Only the member states have armed forces which can be committed to military operations, most frequently under a UN mandate and within the NATO framework. So are ‘European’ military ethics really UN or NATO ethics, or a collection of national military ethical codes? These are a range of questions stirred up by, for example, the creation of Euro-ISME1.

Europe must have a common code of military ethics if it is to fulfil its global political responsibilities.

We consider that world stability and the maintenance of peace today demand that a European power plays a global role2. In order to fulfil such a role, and such a new historic mission, Europe should above all be constituted as an alliance and have at its disposal armed forces and the appropriate politico-military institutions to direct them, in the service of an authentic global policy. Such an outcome is probably currently impossible, based on the politico-philosophic and economic principles operating in the majority of European Union countries3.It will also remain out of the question for as long as the liberal-post-modern type of world order prevails4. Nevertheless, the crisis in this world order gives pause for thought that, one day, it will be necessary to take a longer view, and not to believe that we have more or less reached the end of history, apart from a few finishing touches. The unfolding of the economic crisis, and the way it spread throughout the world, calls into question, or throws back into the melting pot, all the principles we have taken for granted. In order to break free of the crisis, the nations which make up Europe ought therefore to be able, as an act of solidarity, to take forward into the world a new philosophy, a new political philosophy and a new political project. Will that happen? We can’t possibly know. In any event, were it to happen, Europe, and notably its armed forces and their political leadership, must have an up to date and common ethical policy – an ethics for war (which is taken to mean recourse to armed force and to its use). At a time of nuclear proliferation, plus all the dangers which accompany the weakening of the USA’s liberal empire, this would even be a field in which Europe should demonstrate particularly original creativity. Let us view these few thoughts as an opportunity to prepare for the future5.

The critical question: can Europe be satisfied with a liberal post-modern type of military ethics?

We can envisage two potential problems arising from this rather difficult question; the first more critical in nature, the second more audaciously reconstructive. The latter would be a question of a renewal, a resolute modernisation and a deepening of Just War Theory. All we can do here is to point out that this is an unclear and difficult path to take and one which finds less favour in France than elsewhere, even though it is the constant subject of scholarly and practical6 articles. For the moment, we prefer to concentrate more modestly on the critical problem, leaving more ambitious research to one side. Therefore, the question to ask ourselves here is whether Europe can be satisfied with post-modern military ethics.

European countries are – at least superficially – currently governed by post-modern liberal ideology, although it is difficult to measure the depth to which it governs individual minds. As post-modern liberal ideology is an inclusive concept (and even more so because it claims to have renounced all ‘overarching’ inclusive and systematic ways of thinking), it must include, (and in fact does include), general morality and general ethics, even if their contents are often paradoxical, or simply negative7. This general morality, if applied to the field of warfare, would constitute the liberal post-modern ethics of war. Many would judge, therefore, that these should constitute contemporary European ethics of war – if Europe had the intention to be and was able to be constituted on the basis of this ideology.

1 : http://www.euroisme.eu/
2 : Henri Hude. Penser la Guerre pour faire l’Europe [Think about war to create Europe]. Pub Editions Monceau, 2010. www.henrihude.fr
3 : See below 13.
4 : See below. Note 7.
5 : Henri Hude, « Un point de vue philosophico-politique sur l’OTAN », [A politico-philosophic point of view about NATO] Sécurité globale, n° 17 (automne 2011) : L’OTAN après Lisbonne, [NATO after Lisbon] coordinated by Olivier Kempf, Choiseul Éditions.
6 : Dieter Baumann, Militärethik. Theologische, menschenrechtliche und militärwissenschaftliche Perspektiven, Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, 2007, with a huge bibiography « Literaturverzeichnis », p. 588-620. This work is the 36th in the collection « Theologie und Frieden » [Theology and Peace], published by the Institute for Theology and Peace in Hamburg. http://www.ithf.de
US authors, such as Martin Cook The Moral Warrior. Ethics and Service in the US Military, State of New York University Press, 2004, and George Lucas in numerous articles and presentations (see below, Note 13) have been developing for several decades a reflection centred on just war theory. Also interested in the same theme are the Israelis Asa Kascher ((article « Military Ethics of Fighting Terror : Principles », Philosophia (2006) 34:75–84,, in collaboration with General Amos Yadlin, accessible online at http://www.springerlink.com/content/x54w034215g7850r/fulltext.pdf and Michael Gross, Moral Dilemmas in Modern Wars. Torture, Assassination and Blackmail in an Age of Asymmetric Conflicts, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
7 : Amongst the works in which post-modern ideology is crystallised in a learned and philosophical way, we would in preference cite the works of John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, of John Rawls, Theory of Justice et Political Liberalism of Jurgen Habermas L’éthique de la discussion [The Ethics of Discussion] of Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), or Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (1989) of Gianni Vattimo, La fin de la modernité. Nihilisme et herméneutique dans la culture postmoderne [The end of modernity. Nihilism and Hermaneutics in post-modern culture.] (1999, trad.fr., 1987) or Après la chrétienté. Pour un christianisme non religieux [After Christianity. For a non- religious christianity]. (2002, trad. fr., 2004), and the writings of Michel Foucault in general.

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