Ethics & War

Human endeavor that war is, ethical questions remain relevant; given war’s perils, they are particularly crucial; and given war’s evolving character, they demand innovative and recurring consideration. The philosophical discipline of Ethics explores these questions, bolstering our stewardship of the military profession and the leaders it requires. 

Ethical Principles For The Design And Employment Of AI

COL Dave Barnes, Deputy Head of the Dept. of English and Philosophy, has served as Chief AI Ethics Officer for the Army’s AI Task Force since June 2019. He focused on DoD-level AI initiatives to ensure that the Army’s efforts are nested with DoD’s, and he worked to integrate ethics, law, and policy into Army AI responsible design. He assisted in drafting the DIB/DoD AI Ethics Principles, and he helped develop and teach the JAIC’s Responsible AI Champions pilot education program. Future efforts include leveraging West Point’s interdisciplinary intellectual capital to assist with framing an Army-wide AI Education and Talent Development program.

Walzer and War: Reading Just and Unjust Wars Today

This book presents ten original essays that reassess the meaning, relevance, and legacy of Michael Walzer’s classic text, Just and Unjust Wars. Written by leading figures in philosophy, theology, international politics, and military scholarship, the essays examine topics such as territorial rights, lessons from America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the practice of humanitarian intervention in light of experience, Walzer’s notorious discussion of supreme emergencies, revisionist criticisms of noncombatant immunity, gender and the rights of combatants, the peacebuilding critique of just war theory, and the responsibility of soldiers for unjust wars. Click here to view the edited anthology. 

Arguments for Banning Autonomous Weapon Systems: A Critique

Autonomous Weapon Systems are the next logical advancement for military technology. There is a concern that by allowing such systems on the battlefield, we are collectively abdicating our moral responsibility. CPT Cantrell examines two arguments that advocate for a total ban on the use of AWS: the “Responsibility” and the “Agency” arguments. He provides some objections and demonstrates why these arguments fail to convince, then argues that the use of AWS is a rational choice in the evolution of warfare. He concludes with a possible framework for future international regulations regarding AWS. Click here to view the full critique.

The Empathetic Soldier

Some will find it surprising that empathy has appeared in Army doctrine since 2006. Yet empathy’s role in the military profession remains obscure. Many military professionals struggle with how it is to be integrated with other, more clearly martial, virtues. Given the confusion over what empathy actually is, it quickly becomes easier to dismiss it. LTC Cutright clarifies the concept of empathy in light of recent scholarship and then shows the relevance of empathy to the tactical and operational demands of war. Empathy bolsters soldiers’ understanding of human actors and it improves soldiers’ overall intentions. These benefits derive from the nature of empathy as an understanding of another’s experience and the incorporation of this knowledge into further deliberation, especially important moral judgments. Click here to read "The Empathetic Soldier". 

The Human Dimension in 2035 and Beyond

West Point’s philosophy faculty have begun collaboration with the Futures Concepts Center to anticipate the human dimension of operations in 2035 and beyond. The collaboration has focused on the ethical understanding needed for employment of artificial intelligence and for increased resilience. Soldiers need to know why something is ethically right or wrong, not just whether it is right or wrong, for at least three reasons: to best exercise Mission Command; to best employ future human-tech interface solutions; and to reduce post-traumatic stress due to ethical confusion. 

For more information, contact LTC Cutright kevin.cutright@westpoint.edu, Dr. Richard Schoonhoven richard.schoonhoven@westpoint.edu