Military Ethics and Leadership shows how leadership and ethics belong together. The contributors assume that ethics is an element of leadership and that it is good leadership that stops people from crossing the line into unethical behaviour.

Thus, by extension, in the military it is good leadership that stops soldiers from moving from legitimate force to unjustifiable and excessive violence – and this good leadership comes from both commanders and from a soldier’s self or inner leadership.

Edited by Peter Olsthoorn, associate professor in Military Leadership and Ethics at the Netherlands Defence Academy, the volume has 19 writers contributing 13 chapters from the best presentations of the 5th International Society for Military Ethics (ISME) conference at Belgrade in 2015.

The chapters range widely, giving helpful attention to situational factors that increase the likelihood of unethical conduct, the role of small-unit commanders and the need for more education and training for lower ranks, and implications of different cultural assumptions – including over what is considered unethical (e.g. chai boys in Afghanistan) but also assumptions about guilt and confession.

With writers from Russia, Hungary, Netherlands, USA, England, and Australia; a significant value of the book is its diverse collection of case studies and insights of how militaries in different contexts are grappling with and prioritising ethics instruction.

Peter Olsthoorn frames the volume arguing how ‘Leadership, Ethics, and the Centrality of Character’ belong integrally together.

Tom McDermott and Stephen Hart write one of the most useful single chapters in ‘Armouring against Atrocity: Developing Ethical Strength in Small Military Units’. They offer a series of case studies of atrocity (My Lai, Somalia, and Marine A), and the dehumanisation and conformity experiments that help explain individual and group vulnerability. They honestly recognise that situational factors or group pressure often trigger unethical conduct which leaders need to be conscious of at the small-unit level given that ethics is not a luxury, but a survival necessity.

Dutch writers Miriam C. de Graaff, Peter W. de Vries, Walter J. van Bijlevelt, and Ellen Giebels offer helpful examples from the Netherlands on teaching psychological mechanisms and moving beyond theory to practice in military training in their chapter ‘Ethical Leadership in the Military: The Gap between Theory and Practice in Ethics Education’. One valuable suggestion they make is to teach with dilemmas from historical anecdotes and movies, but even more importantly from the learners’ own world and experience. Another is to focus not just on individual knowledge of ethical theories and normative rules, but on competence in ethical decision-making at both the soldier and team levels.

David Whetham’s ‘ABCA Coalition Operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Beyond: Two Decades of Military Ethics Challenges and Leadership Responses’ examines some basic challenges of ethical relativism that Western forces have faced in working with cultural groups with apparently different values, such as those which seem to allow corruption or sexual abuse of children.

Nathan L. Cartagena and Michael D. Beaty in ‘Military Leaders, Fragmentation, and the Virtue of Integrity’ argue that soldiers themselves can aim to foster virtues to help live integrated lives, exemplified particularly by the importance of integrity.

Patrick Mileham also focuses on integrity as a personal virtue in ‘Military Integrity: Moral or Ethical?’. He argues that integrity integrates other virtues and best fosters trust among professionals.

Mihaly Boda investigates the complex tensions of ‘Soldiers’ Autonomy and Military Authority’ and maintains soldiers still have a certain moral autonomy, for example never to kill civilians.

Angelika Dörfler-Dierken offers one of the best examples of how another country, Germany, is prioritising ethics instruction in ‘The Concept of Innere Führung: Dimensions of Its Ethics’. ‘Innere Fuhrung’ (Inward Leadership) recognises and elevates a German soldier’s capacity and responsibility to listen to and follow their conscience. This initiative, emerging as it did from the shame and lessons of Germany post-WWII, asserts that soldiers are citizens with personal responsibility to always respect human dignity. This is seen by Germany as necessary to avoid war crimes but also as decisively helpful in fostering a positive self-image for soldiers.

Arseniy Kumankov adds to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) debate in ‘Intervening as a Moral Duty: Michael Walzer versus a Multilateralism Approach’. He considers the duty of humanitarian intervention when human rights are violated, and argues it is especially appropriate by a supra-state body such as NATO, or even better, the UN.

George R. Wilkes examines different cultural assumptions about guilt and confession and their implications for ethics instruction, truth and reconciliation processes, and coalition partner teams in ‘When International Dialogue about Military Ethics Confronts Diverse Cultural and Political Practices: ‘Guilt and Confession’ as a Case in Point’.

Another collaborative team of Dutch writers – Miriam C. de GraaffFemke D.A. den BestenEllen Giebels, and Desiree E.M. Verweij – compiled a literature review of ‘Moral Judgement in War and Peacekeeping Operations’. Its biggest insight was not into what has been researched, but what has been overwhelmingly overlooked. More research is evidently needed into the actions and motivations of ranking soldiers and non-US military actors.

Boris Kashnikov in ‘The Disenchantment of Victory and Ethical Dilemmas for Military Leadership: Sovereignty, the Spell of War and Elusiveness of Victory’ argued decisive military victory is best assured by the most virtuous of means to satisfy international consensus. Tragically the all-too-common fear, hubris, and greed that motivates much of conflict leads to unethical actions on the battlefield, failure at a military level, and disenchantment in international relations.

Deane-Peter Baker concludes the book with one of its most valuable chapters, ’Special Operations Forces and Ethics: A Preliminary Assessment of the Leadership Challenge’. From his perspective as an Australian Defence Force Academy lecturer and instructor to a wide variety of Australian Defence Force units, Baker discusses the leadership and ethical challenges of Special Ops. He sensitively recognises that they incur greater risk, work in greater isolation, and use more unconventional tactics with greater autonomy.

They also often work alongside indigenous forces with their varying ethics and, by definition, function with deception and stealth. These factors exacerbate the likelihood of facing ethical dilemmas. At their best, Special Forces operators do not claim to exercise any ‘special’ ethical standards and prioritise ethical decision-making as among their most important professional competencies.

As well as the extensive case studies, I especially appreciated the book’s appeal for leaders to ensure their teams do not suffer unnecessary losses, including the unrecoverable loss of humanity and moral injury. ISME’s volume 3 Military Ethics and Leadership is an invaluable volume for ADF commanders and instructors to read alongside ADF resources such ADF Leadership and ADF Military Ethics.