International Military Ethics Symposium*

* Opening Address at the International Military Ethics Symposium at
the Royal Norewegian Air Force Academy 25th November 1999.

Honoured guests – ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure for me to be present here today on this International Military Ethics Symposium and give this opening address to such a distinguished audience at the Royal Norwegian Air Force Academy. But first of all, I would take the opportunity to greet you all from the Minister of Defence in Norway and wish you good luck with the Symposium.

The issues to be discussed here today are at the very top on our agenda. And
I therefore look forward to participating in today’s session. The opening of formerly closed borders have led to a shift in the world and cleared the way to a constructive dialogue, increased mutual trust and expanding co–operation. It is therefore a great pleasure for me to welcome our foreign guests. Military ethics at the crossroads on the threshold of a new century, is an issue of common interests.

The program for this symposium is extensive, offering a variety of concurrent session topics addressing some of the largest challenges facing the military ethics program of the new century. Perhaps includes the program also some though–provoking speakers. These topics includes teaching the fundamentals and historical distinctives of the military ethics, the development of the ethical theories of war, character development and views from the cultural, professional and international law imperatives on the military ethics. Most importantly, you will have ample time for networking and informal discussions of issues important to each of you.

With the advent of the year 1999 we are approaching a marked divide in our reckoning of time. It gives us cause to reflect on the great triumphs – and tragedies – that have taken place over the century, and the millennium, on which we shall be able to look back in barely a month’s time.

The society at the end of the second millennium is characterised by post–modernism, secularisation and increasing complexity. It has been said that the future is a country for which we have no map. Irrespective of which way we choose, we march forward through changing surroundings. In order to be effective, organise life, and deal with upcoming problems, we have to adapt the new surroundings – to demonstrate the ability to evolve and develop. The new surroundings also include the ongoing changes of values.

The study of ethics is the conscious philosophical reflection on moral beliefs and practices. Because all of human conduct essentially takes place in relationship to other human beings, ethical standards generally reflect the value ascribed to human life by the prevailing ways of life. In Europe, which is profoundly influenced by Christian and Humanitarian moral teachings, the overriding ethical imperative is that human life has infinite value and inherent dignity.

Growing up with a certain background is resulting in a system of values and norms that we have in mind. There is an immense offer of competing values, and the most attractive wins.

The legitimate purpose of the military forces of a nation is to defend the fundamental values of society and, above all, the life, freedom and security of each individual. The study of military ethics must consider not only the conduct of individual military members in a variety of circumstances, but also address the larger issue of the morality of using military force to achieve national objectives.

The inability of the international community to reconcile compelling interests in the case of Kosovo can be viewed only as a tragedy. It has cast in stark relief the dilemma of so–called «humanitarian intervention». The respect for human dignity prevails even over the use of instruments of force.

For us, the military is a political instrument; which means that the military core values are firmly anchored in the historical and cultural fundamental values embodied in the Christian and humanitarian traditions, the character of the United Nations, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and international law. In this context, the international agreements have their roots in a general system of values. It is important that the military accepts these values, because the acceptance of these values determines the behaviour of the soldiers, facing the toughest ethical dilemma in conflict situation.

Human behaviour is the root of the interactions between people. The military lifestyle is framed by very particular interactions. All together, the composite effects bears directly on how a military person approaches his profession. Professionalism is the product of the combined knowledge, skills and mindset of the individual unit.

Military personnel have an obligation to accomplish legally assigned missions. The foundation of military ethics is the conviction that, whatever conducts supports, the accomplishment of that purpose is «right» – provided that it is consistent with the value and dignity of human life. Whatever conducts detracts from that purpose, or violates the value and dignity of human life, is «wrong».

Ethical education of military personnel must be aimed at developing sincere character. Especially important is the ethical education of military leaders. They influence their subordinates and are often the only guidance they have.

Military behaviour itself promotes traditional values like discipline, loyalty and integrity.

The practice of these itself, becomes a fertile ground for the demonstration of the vitality of the moral framework that points it out.

The importance of these values seems diminishing in the civilian society. The military is directly affected by the changes of values going on within the society. This means that the military constantly is forced to examine its understanding of values.

The last 10 years we have seen an increased emphasis in the area of military ethics in military academies. We face numerous and diversified ethical challenges. We therefore welcome involvement in the wide set of co–operative efforts aimed at meeting the challenges we are addressing here today.

Vaclav Havel once said: «Democracy must renew its respects for the immaterial dimension that exists not only above us but within us and between us. This is the only possible and reliable source of self–respect, respect for others and respect for the order of nature and humanity».

With these words I wish you all the best for the symposium and, particularly since we are in my hometown, hope that your stay here in Trondheim will be as pleasant as you all deserve.

Thank you for your attention.

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