Analysis and Opinion

The Ethics of Military Profession

 “Every soul will be held responsible for what it had done”

(Holy Quran, 74:38)


E-What are Ethics, Morals and Values?
The term ethics is a derivative of the Greek word ethos, which literally means a stable hiding place, something absolute and unchanging in relation to customs, habits, character or disposition. Ethics is also a branch of philosophy which seeks to address questions about morality. It is defined in simple terms as the rules or moral principles which govern the conduct of a person or members of a profession3. Ethics are thus internally defined and adopted whilst morals are externally imposed. Morals define personal character, what is right or wrong, while ethics stress a social system of what is good or evil in which those morals can be applied. In other words, ethics are the code of behavior expected of the group to which an individual belongs. Morals refer to human behavior where morality is the practical activity and, ethics describe the theoretical, systematic, and rational reflection upon that human behavior4. Ethics are the standards by which one should act based on values. Values are the core beliefs such as duty, honor and integrity that motivate attitude and actions. Remove ethics, justice and fear of law from a society and there will arise a mere gang of criminals on a large scale.
Islamic Code of Ethics
After a description of the meanings of ethics, morals and values, it may be relevant to view these tenets in the context of the religion of Islam, which is the raison d’etre for the creation of the state of Pakistan and the prescribed ethical standards. The ethical system of Islam is eternally divine and forms the foundation of an Islamic society. The Islamic code of ethics, enshrined in Sharia, directs its followers to zealously guard their behavior, words, thoughts, intentions and observe certain norms and moral codes in their family affairs; in dealing with relatives, neighbors and friends; in their business transactions; in their social affairs and in private and public life. There are many similarities between the Western and Islamic ethics and moral values but the main difference is that while the Western values are evolving, the Islamic precepts remain constant. Islam, as a way of life, stresses more on human values and behavior than obligations towards the Creator. The Holy Quran provides a set of all-encompassing moral stipulations listed below5:
  •  Worship only Allah.
  •  Be kind, honorable and humble to one's parents.
  •  Bring neither misery nor wastefulness in one's expenditure.
  •  Do not engage in mercy killings for the fear of starvation.
  •  Do not commit adultery.
  •  Do not kill unjustly.
  •  Care for orphaned children.
  •  Keep promises.
  •  Be honest and fair in interactions.
  •  Do not be arrogant in claims or beliefs.
Military Connotation of Ethics
Each profession has its own code of ethics that a member of that particular profession must adhere to in terms of their daily interactions and dealings. The difference that sets the military apart from so many other professions is that it is bound to protect the honor and integrity of the motherland, even to the peril of lives. Though the ethics practiced by other professions such as doctors, judiciary and bureaucrats may not be too different than the Armed Forces, their degree of emphasis tends to vary. No other group, in a civilized society, has latitude like the military in defining its own standards of conduct and core values. The military also claims special moral permission to perform acts of extreme violence and destruction at the call of duty. A nation-state and society entrust the military to uphold its value system, freedom, its very existence and therefore, demands the highest ethical standards, professionalism and responsibilities from its ranks. Hence the notion of duty above self.
Military ethics is closely related to a state’s constitution, laws, history and heritage and, in the case of an ideological state like Pakistan, the core of its foundation remains the religion. To behave ethically is consistent with what is considered to be right or moral and is a bedrock of mutual trust. Every major religion emphasizes truth, high-value system, justice, honesty and integrity, to name a few virtues. Compliance of ethical behavior is imperative both as a moral obligation to the state, people, family and to establish a framework for professional behavior, occupational responsibilities and to establish a benchmark for self-evaluation. A U.S. professor finds roots of military ethics in the “three O’s” principles:

a.   The Principle of Owning. The military leaders owe allegiance to the country, the chain of command, their fellow soldiers and their families. Hence the ethics of military must contribute towards their needs and aspirations.
b.   The Principle of Ordering. What comes first – God, country or corps? In a given situation, a leader has to prioritize and decide whether his decisions should support the cause of law, his formation or his entity.
c.   The Principle of Oughting. What ought to be done if the choice is between the chain of command and ethical conscience. A careful purview of rules, end state and existing realities would form the guide.

The Principles and Approaches of Ethics and their Applicability
The principles of ethics vary with every country and service. These are enshrined in values that distinguish the actions of a professional soldier. Some common principles applied by most armed forces are: discipline, loyalty, integrity, honor, selfless service, sacrifice, personal courage and justice. Such values hold valid in an organization with a purposeful mission, established lines of authority, professionalism and, above all, accountability. The primary purpose of ethical principles is to provide individuals and even groups the capacity to morally distinguish right from wrong and good from bad when laws or specific instructions are no longer helpful. Military ethics judge and justify military actions from a moral point of view. It defines standards of good behavior for individuals, groups, the organization and develops these standards. It asks critical questions of existing laws in connection with organized military force and seeks to change these laws. A central concern of military ethics is the question of the use of organized military force, and when may a soldier use physical force or even kill, along with the degree and level of force to be applied (the just war). 
The recorded ethical discipline has entailed four fundamental approaches to the ethical decision-making framework: Utilitarian Ethics (outcome based), Deontological Ethics (duty based), Virtue Ethics (virtue based) and Communitarian Ethics (community based). Creating and nurturing an organization, characterized by moral excellence, is a lengthy process. The influences which affect an individual are family, religion, society and experiences. Parents are the first to voice and demonstrate ethical boundaries followed by influences by siblings, teachers and friends etc. Religion allows people to accept an established set of moral rules. By following these spiritual laws, individuals feel that they are behaving ethically. The society and culture also impact the ethical code because it engulfs you. Racism, gender discrimination, corruption, feudal culture and other form of prejudices can become an accepted norm in societal ethics. Societies also define values; for example, three prime American core values are Freedom, Equality and Justice6. The experiences in life can also impact ethics. Emotions and personal traumas do cause a powerful shift in beliefs. As an example, many people oppose a death penalty but if a loved one is murdered they may change their stance and so forth. Ethics are also developed by our feelings of happiness over good deeds and guilt over wrongdoings, a manifestation of an internal check by the conscience.
Implementing Ethical and Moral Values
Ethical behavior can be ensured by the means of law, religious beliefs, fear or personal convictions. Laws and regulations set guidelines for prohibited behavior but cannot prescribe every conceivable behavioral code and as such are limited in their scope. The other sure way of ensuring ethics is through the use of fear and punishment. Fear is a powerful motivator. Repressive managements make it their primary means of coercion and compliance. Fear of career stagnation, public discourse, court-martial and job insecurity, all contribute towards strict observance of set moral values. Personal convictions form the most effective framework of moral and ethical behavior. Ideally, we would expect one to instinctively do what is right or behave rationally whether regulations give guidance or not. Personal convictions do take inferences from the society. Relativism, which holds no clear divide between right or wrong, has engulfed most of the advanced and enlightened communities. To address these intangibles, the U.S. military lays down ethical obligations for various scenarios: gifts, relationship with juniors/females, influence peddling, use of transport, perks and privileges and maintains a list of ethical misconduct causes for public information.7 A similar elaboration and its enforcement is also required for our system.
In a society beset by corruption, injustice, violence and prejudice, there exist many challenges for the military and its leadership. Individuals in uniform, despite training and motivation, are bound to take inference from these behaviors of the society. This is more relevant because of the outreach of the media, and holding the military organization responsible for an individual’s misconduct. Military decision-making has become a subject of debate and galore, which imposes a restraint. As a sequel to the aforesaid, there is greater accountability in the ambit of an individual, society, nationally and even internationally. The rise of careerism at the expense of professionalism has made the interest of an organization and the country secondary. Economics and monetary benefits have eschewed the pride in a profession and sense of responsibility and commitment. A traditional malady in the Armed Forces has been zero error syndrome and non-acceptance of mistakes made by the subordinates, committed in earnest. The military is handicapped in terms of reforming the ethical behavior of its individuals because their value base already develops before joining the organization. The subordinates of today are more aware and have a wide-ranging exposure. They judge their leaders, their ability to lead and die with them and can clearly discern between preaching and practices accordingly.
Ethical Challenges for Military Leadership
Leadership development in ethics entails a stimulus that challenges a leader’s capacity to rethink and reorganize the framework in solving increasingly complex problems under certain environments. Research indicates that there are five essential constituents of a development model, viz, operational assignments, self-development, institutional education, mentorship and other developmental experiences. If we judge our existing system of grooming, it generally meets the test, the shortfalls are more in approach than form and lack of emphasis. Leadership training forms part of the syllabi of all courses while the discourse is restricted to tangibles only. The major impediment is lack of scope for the training of mental faculties, delving in uncertainties and cognitive behavior. A conformist approach of status quo remains prevalent to avoid mistakes. At most instances, truth remains untold and subordinates proffer opinions that the superiors wish to hear.
Ethics and value systems are evolved by the hierarchy that permeates down to the lowest ranks from the pyramidical apex. In the same analogy, even bad examples are also set at the top. There is an element of conflict with the self, goals and wrath of superiors which impinges on observance of the devised ethical standards. Acceptability of the model behavior by the superiors, peers and subordinates also creates a dilemma vis-à-vis interest of the organization and the state. The ordained religious practices also have linkages with ethics. Over the years there has been a visible decline in our educational standards especially in grooming the moral fiber. The reliance is on seeking degrees in the shortest possible time for future careers as opposed to knowledge and civic norms. The society, in which members of the Armed Forces live and function, has a serious impact on its ethical dogmas. If there is rampant corruption, bigotry, radicalization of the religion, compromise on merit etc., these factors, despite protective layers of motivation and penalization, do cast a lasting impression on the ethical behavior. 
An Overview of the Observance of Ethical Behavior in Our System
Creation and observance of proper ethics is one of the important command functions for a leader of men. The foremost influencer is behavioral ethics of the superior, which are not only emulated by the subordinates but become an intangible criterion. At the personal level, it is important to have determination in order to follow ethics even if there are setbacks and for the sake of posterity. A legacy left behind is longer than the service and even life! Besides personal attributes, honor forms the foundation of a military value system. It is the cement which binds the entire edifice of the military profession. The contract with the nation, organization, family, and subordinates has a binding compulsion to observe high morals. The credo of Indian Army, given by Field Marshal Philip W. Chetwode, C-in-C India in 1932, is an example: “The safety, honor and welfare of your country comes first, always and every time. The honor, welfare and the comfort of the men you command comes next, your own ease, comfort and safety comes last, always and every time”8.
The most workable module for the inculcation of ethical behavior in subordinates is by setting personal example and to lead in all matters. Our Holy Prophet (PBUH) always observed the highest standards of moral values and ethics which were emulated by his followers and form the basis of religious practices even today. In the Battle of Trench (Khandaq), he was without food for three days like his compatriots, and participated with his followers in digging the trench for the protection of the city of Medina9. The Armed Forces have well defined rules and regulations covering the entire spectrum of the stipulated ethics and moral values expected from the enlisted. The observance of these principles with conviction and fear of punishment in case of failure remains a time-tested recipe for their observance. It is imperative for the leaders to align organizational goals with ethical standards, which also involves work ethics with intellectual honesty and commitment. It is the human psyche to forget, and therefore, repetition followed by accountability ensures high ethical standards by Armed Forces personnel even under trying circumstances. The model of repetition is extensively followed in the Holy Quran where it has been ordained to offer prayers more than 700 times and to acquire knowledge has been stressed more than 800 times.
There are also a few intangibles in the pursuit of ethics and moral values which generally vary with a personality, even though the Armed Forces tend to create similarities in behavior. In my reckoning, loyalty to the country and organization, opposed to a person(s) is one such attribute. Justice, fair play and rewarding merit also tends to promote ethical behavior. Pursuit of excellence and not mediocrity plays a role in following high ethical values. When others can rely on your knowledge and competence to cope up with a difficult situation, they will not shrink in their moral values. To promote ethical code of conduct in the Armed Forces, the following specific measures must be adopted by the senior leadership:
  •  Indoctrination and repeated training on ethics at the time of induction.
  •  Rewarding ethical behavior and likewise, punishment for the failures.
  •  Periodic training and continuity of stress on ethics and moral values at all stages of training.
  •  Senior leadership should try to be a role model for the new entrants and their juniors.
  • Appointing a proper body at service level for looking into issues related to the ethical code of conduct of personnel, their non-compliance and proffering remedial measures.
  •  Promoting whistleblowing and reporting of non-observance of ethics.
Ethics and moral values are the substratum of a viable and enlightened society. These are applicable both as individual norms and at the edifice of the organization. A nation-state expects from its Armed forces the highest standards of ethics, professionalism and sense of responsibility to guard its sovereignty and ideological moorings. The prescribed ethical and moral standards in our services draw their inspiration from religion, nationhood and culture. Despite a visible deterioration of values from the society we live in, these have, by and large, remained efficacious but require more vigilance, personal examples and punitive actions for the enforcement.


The writer is former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. 
He has also been Commander Lahore Corps and remained Military Secretary to the President. He is the author of 'Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan' (published 1983).
E-mail: [email protected] 


1. Stanford Encyclopedia, Plato’s Ethics: An Overview.
2. Wikipedia, Code of Hammurabi, Babylonian legal text.
3. Dictionary, Oxford Languages.
4. Larry R Churchill, The Teaching of Ethics and Moral Values. P 296-306.
5. The Holy Quran, chapter 17, Al-Israa, verses 17:22.
6. American Charter of Independence.
7. U.S. Department of Defense, Employees’ Guide to the Standards of Conduct. January, 2019 and Military Ethics and Conflicts of Interests by Rod Powers.
8. The Chetwode Motto, at the time on Inauguration of Indian Military Academy on December 10, 1932.
9. Battle of the Trench – Wikipedia.

 

 

Read 94 times


TOP