What, exactly, is the relationship between ethics and law in the contemporary
discourse on military ethics?
The question comes up frequently, albeit often indirectly, within the pages of this journal. Indeed, the normative military issues that philosophers and theologians have debated for centuries have increasingly taken center stage within the field of legal analysis. Moreover, a rich body of international law has emerged in our time, especially since the end of the Second World War, that aims to regulate armed hostilities. Not only does this legal corpus overlap with the ethical literature on military force; in some notable cases, the law has ruled out certain forms of conduct that were previously viewed as open to debate. No longer, for instance, is revenge
deemed an acceptable reason for initiating war, nor is there any further need to debate whether enemy prisoners may legitimately be enslaved or put to death.
Against this background we can reasonably ask: What is the ongoing relevance of ethics within the military sphere? In particular, what is the role of moral reasoning vis-a`-vis the manifold rules of international law? Is ethics still needed, and if so, why?