Morality and Modern War

In the light of the conviction of Sergeant A. Blackman  (2013) and the investigation of an SAS non-commissioned officer Colin Maclachlan (October 2016) for an alleged ‘mercy killing’ in Iraq, this study day explores the morally-ambiguous battlefield. The law is clear that ‘mercy killing’ is not a recognised concept, although ‘diminished responsibility’ is well-established. The armed forces of the United Kingdom and other Western countries are also clear that the Law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Conventions apply to all situations of combat. Yet the moral ambiguity of the battlefield, an extreme arena, reappears through time. Can this contradiction between the law and the soldier’s experience be resolved?

1.  Maintaining a strong ethical framework in war:
(a) How do you enable individuals to develop and maintain a strong moral framework in war?
(b) Does Generation Y have a different moral framework to previous generations?
2. The battlefield and moral ambiguity:
(a) Is the battlefield, inevitably, morally ambiguous?
(b) What is the impact of automated technology, and of adversaries who disregard the Laws of Armed Conflict?
3.  Virtue and ethics:
(a) What are the virtuous exemplars in the conduct of war?
(b) How do you inculcate and codify the virtuous ethos of an organisation? How do you educate and train people in this ethos?
4.  Duration:
(a) Does continuous conflict (rather than conventional war) erode ethical standards more readily?
(b) Does the burden of risk exposure, intensity and death of non-combatants deepen over time in conflict?
Speakers include: Professor Sir Adam Roberts (Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University), Professor Nigel Biggar (Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Oxford University), John Bellinger (former Legal Adviser for the U.S. Department of State and the National Security Council), Professor Allyson Macvean (Bath Spa University), Dr Esther Reed (Director of the Network for Religion in Public Life, University of Exeter), and Dr Rod Bailey (Oxford University)
This study day will take place at Pembroke College on 15 February, 11.00am to 5.00pm. It is open to all, but registration is required. Please email to confirm attendance, including ‘Morality and Modern War’ in the subject line. There is no charge for attendees at this event, but please note that lunch is not provided (although it can be purchased on from the on-site café during the break).