The high-level Berlin Security conference 2015 provided a fitting venue for the presentation of two significant prizes in the field of military ethics.

The awards were made by Euro-ISME, in conjunction with the French Association CIDAN, which exists to promote relations between the military and the armed forces not only in France, but across Europe. Euro-ISME is represented on the jury which selects all the prize winners and especially encourages individuals and organisations to apply for the special military ethics award.

The CIDAN and Euro-ISME prizewinners with former French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie.

The CIDAN and Euro-ISME prizewinners with former French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie.

The awards are given under the patronage of the President of France, M François Hollande. John Thomas, one of Euro-ISME’s executive directors, represented Euro-ISME at the presentation ceremony.

This year there were several very strong candidates for the military ethics prize. Geneva Call, one of the candidates in the ethics category, was awarded the CIDAN prize ‘Civisme, Sécurité, Défense (Civic responsibility, Security, Defence) for their outstanding and innovative work. They take instruction in ethics, the laws of armed conflict and humanitarian law right into the heart of conflict zones and deliver it to fighters who often have no previous knowledge of any of the these subjects.

The military ethics prize was awarded to Dr David Rodin who is one of the world’s leading authorities on conflict ethics, and is sought after as a consultant by governments and businesses as well as armed forces.

John Thomas’s speech in which he congratulated both prize winners is reproduced here:

Good morning,

My name is John Thomas and I am an executive director of the International Society for Military Ethics in Europe.

I have been invited to say a few words about two of the prize winners, Dr David Rodin and Geneva Call.

But first a brief word about the importance of values and ethics in the world today.   One of the world’s largest accountancy firms – Arthur Andersen, and one of the world’s largest merchant banks – Lehman Bros, both collapsed because they had allowed an unethical culture to infect their decision make to the extent that unacceptable practices became the new normal. And right now here in Germany we see the current profound difficulties faced by the Volkswagen Group which again have at their root an institutionalised distortion of ethical values.

In the military sphere, where not merely profit and loss, but lives and quite literally the fates of nations are at stake, ethical behaviour is arguably even more important. We saw in Paris last Friday [13 November 2015] the appalling depth of depravity to which those with no ethics and values, other than a hermetic and fanatic self interest, can sink.

John Thomas addressing the Berlin Security Conference and congratulating the prizewinners.

John Thomas addressing the Berlin Security Conference and congratulating the prizewinners.

That is why we need people of the calibre of Dr Rodin to understand, distil and communicate the often complex issues in way that we can all understand.

In the United Kingdom it is rare for philosophers to be well known outside academic circles. Unlike the French, for example, we as a nation are relentlessly, if not obstinately, pragmatic, rather than philosophical, by nature. Dr Rodin is one of the few philosophers in recent times whose advice is actively sought by leading military institutions, governments and business. Perhaps his outstanding achievement is to help make ethics relevant again and to be able to communicate the fact that an understanding of ethics and the embodiment of ethical principles into military and business life is fundamental to our well being as a society. He is succeeding in expanding the perimiter of ethics within organisations.

If Dr Rodin is primarily a scholar, Geneva Call are primarily practitioners. Those of us from countries with a long tradition of studying and teaching just war theory, ethics, the Law of Armed Conflict and humanitarian law can still make mistakes, but we do take these subjects seriously. However, the nature of modern conflict is such that many, if not all, of the members of the irregular armed groups who oppose us, or who oppose each other, have no knowledge or understanding of these subjects. The use of child soldiers, of rape and indiscriminate brutality as weapons of war are tragic manifestations of this lack of knowledge and understanding.

Geneva Call had the wisdom to recognise the size and scope of this problem, the imagination to develop innovative ways of tackling it and the courage to go to war torn regions to deliver that solution. It is a remarkable organisation staffed by remarkable people.

We are therefore privileged to have on stage here today one of the world’s leading military ethicists and the representatives of an NGO that is a world leader in taking that subject to where it is arguably most needed. On behalf of the International Society for Military Ethics in Europe I commend both of them to you.