PME Resources

Ethical Decision-Making: A guide to personal development in one of Army's core combat behaviours

By The Cove April 22, 2020
Trooper Jonathon Church in Rwanda

Our soldiers have strength of character. This is reflected in our ability to make ethical and moral decisions and be accountable. We do the right thing. We sustain our trust in each other and cohesion in our teams. 

LTGEN Rick Burr AO, DSC, MVO - Good Soldiering

Ethical decision-making: a core combat behaviour

Ethical decision-making lies at the very core of what makes Australian Army soldiers. While many nations and armed groups have created tactically effective teams, it is the commitment to act in an ethical and moral manner which defines who we are, both as individuals and as an organisation. We must never forget that as members of the Army, we not only act on the instructions of a democratically elected government, but that we represent the people of Australia, both while at home and overseas on operations. Every serving member is a guardian of the Rising Sun, not just for the Army but for the nation.

It is for this reason that ethical decision-making sits alongside combat shooting, army combatives, tactical combat casualty care, and combat physical conditioning, as one of the five core combat behaviours of the Australian Army soldier. These combat behaviours ensure that we are both Ready Now and Future Ready for the physical, mental and moral rigours of close combat.

Developing Ethical Decision Making

While the development of ethical decision-making is incorporated into formal and collective training activities - such as career courses and scenarios on exercises -  it is an aspect of our professional development that we can spend time investing in ourselves. It’s also a great way to use time in lockdown or at home to develop yourself. To help, the team at The Cove have put together a list of some resources for you to check out.

Good Soldiering. This is one of the Army’s keystone documents and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. It describes what is expected of you as an individual and how you contribute to an Army in Motion that places ethical decision making at the centre of everything it does. It can be found here.

The Cove’s Partnership with the King’s College London Centre for Military Ethics. The Cove has partnered with Kings College London (KCL) to offer you access to their world-class online military ethics course which was developed in cooperation with the University of New South Wales Canberra. We have covered the administration fees so that you can complete the course for free. The course covers the spectrum of military ethics and draws on expertise from academics, practitioners, and the very best curricula being taught in academies, staff colleges and war colleges around the world.

You can register for Key Concepts in Military Ethics: The Cove PME here

Centre for Defence Leadership and Ethics (CDLE)The Centre for Defence Leadership and Ethics (CDLE) is a centre of excellence at the Australian Defence College (ADC), located at the Weston Creek campus in the Australian Capital Territory. With a small dedicated joint team, CDLE provides a range of specialist advice, education and research to advance Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) in the study area of command, leadership and ethics. CDLE’s main focus is the practical application of leadership, ethics and cross-cultural competence across Defence. To do this, it draws on joint, all-ranks perspectives, reinforced through real life case studies, deep personal experience and world-leading research.

Some of the key CDLE activities include:

Working with the Services to enable personnel across joint, single Service, broader Defence and interagency forums to better understand and apply ethical and culturally-intelligent leadership in war and peace. For example - the CDF NCO Leadership Forum and the Cultural Intelligence for Defence Engagement Course.

Production of world leading research in the fields of military ethics, leadership and cultural intelligence. For example – NATO Research into Ethical Leadership and other CDLE papers presented to the International Military Testing Association (IMTA) and the International Society for Military Ethics (ISME).

Subject matter support and delivery to the command, leadership and ethics elements of the courses conducted by ADC such as the Australian Defence Force Academy, the Australian War College, as well as on single Service promotion courses and as part of Unit professional development programs (at all ranks and position levels).

Authorship and coordination of key doctrine activities for command, leadership and ethics. For example, Australian Defence Doctrine Publications (ADDP) under development in 2020 include Ethics and Leadership (ADDP 00.6 Leadership).

CDLE is a central, joint entity, providing a framework for sharing information, tabling concepts, developing learning programs, including delivering a range of specialist services for managing, developing and promoting command, leadership and ethics education, publications and doctrine. CDLE has an extensive library of command, leadership and ethics case studies and other presentations available that can be used for unit professional development, small group discussions or synchronised into a tailored program of delivery to address specific unit or functional development needs. To find out more and see how CDLE can support your unit, contact CDLE at: cdle [at]

Further reading: There are a number of great books and articles out there that cover military ethics and ethical decision making. These are some of our favourites:

Jim Fredricks - Black Hearts: One platoon's descent into madness in Iraq’s triangle of Death. If you read one book on military ethics, make it this one. This absorbing read into how a platoon lost its ethical way in Iraq contains sobering lessons for all levels of command. Want to know more? Check out Brendan Robinson’s book review of it on The Cove as well as Claire Von Wald's article which looks at what we can learn from the book.

Deane-Peter Baker - Key Concepts in Military Ethics. This book is structured as a series of ‘mini-chapters’ that cover a huge range of topics and issues: moral dilemmas, military and civilian interactions, freedom of the press, peacekeeping, terrorism, and humanitarian intervention. A great place to start for someone who hasn’t read much about military ethics before.

Ed Micheal Skerker, David Whethan and Don Carrick – Military Virtues. This book identifies 14 key virtues of the military professional and through opening commentaries and real world examples of those virtues in practice, it provides guidance for service personnel at every stage of their career. Includes a case study written by former Director of The Cove, LTCOL Tom McDermott, so we highly recommend you check this one out of the library.

Anthony E. Hartle - Moral Issues in Military Decision Making. When it was originally published, Moral Issues in Military Decision Making reflected the concerns posed by nuclear stalemate and the lessons of Vietnam. In that highly-praised work, Anthony Hartle outlined the essential elements of the Professional Military Ethic created for American military forces. In this new edition, he re-examines the moral foundations for America's military leadership in the post-9/11 era.

Sally Graham - Ethics: what can we learn from the case of SGT Blackman. In 2018, The Cove published a collective PME package on ethical decision-making using the case study of SGT Blackman from the UK's Royal Marines. It includes some useful questions for small team discussion and a facilitator's guide.
Defence Library Service. The DLS has a fabulous online collection on its OverDrive site, including ebooks, audio books and reading lists. It means there really is no excuse for not being able to read! You can find OverDrive by clicking here.









The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


Stop it. Ethics cannot apply to war - to fighting. Niceness and warfare are incompatible. Had we shown any niceness, had we applied ethics to our fighting then we would be Nazi now. What you are preaching is awful. Stop it.

In the Military, ethical decision making is vital for all soldiers to have and gain over the course of their career, and to continue striving to make better decisions, from all ranks, whether private, sergeant or captain.

Add new comment

Cove App


Fast access to The Cove anywhere, anytime. Additional feature of receiving notifications for new content.

Reflective Journal


Record your reflections in a structured way to improve your performance.