Rationale for Canadian Defence Ethics

General Considerations

3. The Defence Ethics Program is a value-based program build on values that are constitutive of democracy. In as much as a democratic society must ensure its own defence, theses constitutive values must also determine what that society will accept as the institutionalisation of its national defence. For that reason, the Defence Ethics Program takes as a start point that the unique circumstances and requirements of the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence consistent with these constitutive values. With that in mind, ethics for Defence is guided by three general assumptions about the nature of Canadian society. The first assumption postulates that it is a fact that Canada’s modern democratic society is characterized by a multiplicity of comprehensive belief systems, some of which are characterised as philosophical, while others are deemed either religious or secular. In the second assumption, these comprehensive belief systems are considered to exhibit an overlapping consensus (Rawls, 1993) of values in a free and democratic society. The third assumption states that within the kind of overlapping consensus found in a free and democratic society there is a set of fundamental values that defines what constitutes Defence.

4. Let’s take a closer look at these three claims. The first assumption, that Canada is a modern democratic society characterized by a multiplicity of comprehensive belief systems, is well supported empirically and does not seem to present any significant problems. The second assumption about the existence of a certain overlapping consensus implies that a democratic society is strong and healthy in as much as the values and principles of the comprehensive belief systems at work within it can accommodate the essentials of democracy, as we know it. A look at the history of these comprehensive belief systems teaches us that they are considered incompatible in many important theoretical and practical ways. In addition, there is no indication that one of these comprehensive belief systems will impose itself globally now or in the foreseeable future as the one and only acceptable comprehensive belief system. In spite of these considerations, it is reasonable to postulate that there exists a certain overlapping consensus of values that constitutes a public space that is stable enough to allow everyday live to unfold democratically in our society. In that way, it can be claimed that we routinely experience an overlap amongst these belief systems. One way of describing how an overlapping consensus works within a liberal democracy is to consider the plurality of comprehensive belief systems to be in a general equilibrium within the background culture of society. The strength of the general equilibrium, and of the overlapping consensus of ethical values, is indicated by the degree of inner stability that is possessed by a democratic society when there is a change in the distribution of power amongst the different comprehensive belief systems. (Rawls, 1993) Thus, although individual Canadians may identify themselves as Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Humanist, the idea of an overlapping consensus helps explain that this fact does not prevent them from going beyond the differences inherent in these identities to deal with difficult and complex societal and political issues within the accepted constraints of our democratic traditions.

5. Characteristically, Canadians declare a preference for the types of constraints that a free and democratic society imposes on its citizens to determine how they will live and work together. We observe regularly how they live out that choice, both dynamically and within tolerable limits of stability. That choice is revealed in the way they accept a way of life that practises a shared respect for a set of fundamental democratic values. As a liberal democracy, Canada exhibits a way of life that includes ethical principles and obligations necessary for its health. For example, the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms has formalized basic democratic principles and obligations that were practised in Canadian society, a long time before they were enacted into law by the Charter. However, these principles and obligations were considered so important that they warranted being safeguarded by law. Although the application of the Charter has been controversial and the scope of the Charter itself is legally limited to the dealings of individuals with any level of government, the background principles and obligations themselves have a wider application in Canadian society. These ethical principles and obligations influence our belief of how we should be treated and of how we should treat each other. They also serve as criteria for Canadians to assess how responsibly government carries out its obligations towards Canada and its citizens. Thus, when we speak of an overlapping consensus, we are referring to basic principles and obligations, such as the background principles and obligations formalized by the Charter, that constitute the public domain of a democracy.

6. The third assumption deals with a set of principles and values that defines what constitutes Defence in a liberal democracy. It is reasonable to assume that a democracy will give value to the defence of the nation, it is also reasonable to assume that within our system of democratic values, considered as an overlapping consensus of values, there exists a set of principles and values that applies specifically to the defence of the nation. It is for that reason that, although the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence are two separate legal entities, they necessarily share a common ground as institutions constituted for the defence of a democratic nation. This common ground can be found in the Statement of Defence Ethics, a document that contains a set of core ethical principles and obligations that are meant to guide the behaviour of the Canadian Forces and its members and of the Department of National Defence and its employees.

7. To summarize, the Defence Ethics Program is a value-based program that has been guided in its development by considering the democratic nature of Canada. Although a plurality of comprehensive belief systems co-exist in Canada’s modern democratic society, they exhibit a strong overlapping consensus of values and principles. In fact, this overlapping consensus is a defining characteristic of democracy. The overlapping consensus contains a set of principles and values that define both the nature and the ethics of defence for a liberal democracy. For that reason, the Defence Ethics Program contains a Statement of Defence Ethics based on the idea of an overlapping consensus of values. Similarly, it establishes an Ethical Framework for Defence as an institution of democracy.

Approaches to Programs in Defence Ethics

8. The primary purpose of any defence ethics program in a democratic society is to ensure that the military as an institution of democratic government fulfils the defence needs of its society in a manner consistent with the society’s fundamental values. There are three general approaches to developing a defence ethics program: a compliance-based approach, a preventive-based approach, and a value-based approach. In all three cases, the objective is ultimately the same: to foster high levels of ethical behaviour and standards for defence personnel and institutions. It is noteworthy that each of these approaches has been used in recent years by the national governments of liberal democracies.Footnote 1Thus, for example, the United States government and its military exhibits a strongly compliance-based approach. Australia’s Defence Department has stressed a mainly preventive-based approach. In Canada, we have chosen a more general value-based approach.

9. Each approach has its own challenges. Let’s take a closer look at what is involved in each approach. A compliance-based approach has to deal with the strengths and weaknesses of pure rule-based ethics. For instance, this approach tends to develop elaborate codes emphasizing compliance with rules, thus acquiring a strong legalistic tendency. As a consequence, it can easily foster a minimalist attitude to morality. This occurs when people tend to think that if something is not explicitly prohibited then it is not wrong. Another weakness of these codes is their inability to ever become comprehensive enough to foresee or address the multiplicity of contingencies that arise over time. Their development proceeds on a case-by-case basis and by trial and error, with the result that rules multiply to the point that sooner or later the entire regulatory framework erected becomes too ponderous and unmanageable, even with a very large enforcement workforce. Finally, although compliance codes might help eliminate and prevent the most serious trespasses, they do not go far in promoting positive ethical attitudes and behaviour in organizations. As a consequence, organizations that rely on them are vulnerable to a dramatic increase in unethical behaviour as soon as members of the organization perceive the enforcement levels to be dropping.

10. One way to counterbalance the weaknesses of a pure rule-based ethics program is exemplified in the United States. The constitutional nature of the social and political reality within the United States provides a meaningful context for the compliance-based approach that the U.S. government and its military have adopted in their ethics programs. The Americans have a long history of working through difficult ethical issues from the point of view of the spirit of their constitution. Thus, when the U.S. government responded to the public outcry for a renewed and increased stress on ethics in government in the 1970s, it enacted the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. It created the Office of Government Ethics and at the same time codified and supplemented all the rules previously contained in executive orders or other laws. It follows that the Act significantly influenced the approach that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) subsequently took in developing its own ethics programs. However, the U.S. Department of Defense was also keenly aware of potential weaknesses of a rule-based approach and of the challenge involved in finding meaningful and effective ways to deal with the large grey zone between the strictly legal and the ethical. It has done this by developing an ethics program that places emphasis on developing a strong character and the civic virtues necessary for military life.

11. The preventive-based approach overcomes some of the weaknesses of a pure rule-based ethics program. This approach identifies areas of organizational behaviour that are considered to be exposed to high risks of non-compliance and focuses its efforts on these areas. The Australian Department of Defence provides a good example of this approach. Their program is called the Defence Ethics and Fraud Awareness Campaign (DEFAC). The Australian DOD has singled out resource management as a high priority and has focused its ethics program on improving ethical behaviour in this area. Consistent with a preventive-based approach, it emphasizes the values that underlie the rules made by government for the management of public resources. The ethical values involved speak not only to the letter of the rules and the law, but to their spirit and to what could motivate personnel to comply with them. In this way, it goes beyond a pure rule-based approach. However, although a preventive-based approach stresses the values that will promote specific positive ethical behaviour, its remains tied to specific functional areas of the organization. Paradoxically, its strength is also its limitation. By concentrating on certain sets of organizational behaviour that are considered to have higher risks of non-compliance, this approach suffers from the potential inability to fully integrate ethics into all functions of the organization. In addition, personnel are susceptible to perceiving the ethical initiatives of this type of approach as applying only to whatever organizational functional areas are targeted. As a result, there is a risk of not dealing adequately with either similar or different ethical issues from other organizational functional areas. Given that these ethical issues will somehow be dealt with, there is no guarantee of consistency throughout the organization in the application of ethical values. The challenge for Australia’s Department of Defence has been to find innovative ways of integrating the various efforts related to ethical behaviour in the different functional areas of Defence.

12. A basic feature of a value-based approach is that it states in general terms what is desirable, rather than specifying in detail what should or should not be done. There are two different ways to develop a value-based ethical framework: one is bottom-up and the other is top-down. Although the U.S. Army has adopted a compliance-based approach that is top-down, it provides an interesting illustration of what would be involved in a bottom-up approach. In 1986, the U.S. Army produced a large-scale survey of the importance attributed to some 50 social values by Army members. What is most noteworthy about the results of the survey is that the ordering of the social values by army personnel scored personal priorities in the reverse order that one would have expected the Army's leadership to endorse in an institutional values system. (Wenek, March 1996) If a pure bottom-up approach were adopted to develop an ethics program for defence, the values of the survey and their ranking would have served as the primary basis for the program.

13. The Defence Ethics Program for the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence is a top-down normative value-based program. Through this program, the senior leadership of the organization fulfils an important part of its organizational responsibilities by publicly stating the manner in which the organization and its members should carry out their obligations to Canada. Although a top-down approach has been used to develop the program, steps have been taken to know what personnel think on ethics for defence and to incorporate these insights, to the extent possible, in the development of the program. The program aspires to being comprehensive and is meant to deal with all ethical issues in Defence. A value-based approach to ethics provides a sound basis for this undertaking. The Statement of Defence Ethics developed for the Defence Ethics Program contains a set of core ethical principles and obligations considered to be defining elements of the Canadian defence culture. These ethical principles and obligations should be considered not only guides for personal and institutional conduct but also criteria by which that conduct should be judged. The Defence Ethics Program is build on the Statement of Defence Ethics as its foundation.

Scope of the Defence Ethics Program

14. Ethical values are grounded in human beings and in relationships. The Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence have a special relationship with Canada and the people of Canada. This relationship is based on a societal trust that grants Defence the responsibility for the defence of the nation. The scope of this responsibility becomes greatly enlarged through international agreements and co-operative defence arrangements that include other members of the global community. In certain circumstances, Canadian defence obligations may extend to include a structure of lawful authority that is trans-national or international in its composition. Thus, the Defence Ethics Program must be broad enough to deal with both domestic and international ethical situations.

15. It is a fundamental assumption of the Defence Ethics Program that any decision or action that could affect people has an ethical dimension. It entails a duty to consider and protect the rights and interests of people when making decisions and taking action. This is consistent with accepted views on ethics, since ethics is generally concerned with principles and obligations that govern all actions and practices. In a liberal democracy, justifiable standards of conduct are rooted in ethical principles and obligations that necessarily refer to the very nature of democracy. Defence gains from erecting its ethics program based on what democracy means to us. Defence ethics should play a significant role in determining how the defence of the nation ought to be carried out. It should also specify the criteria for assessing whether actions and practices are right or wrong in the public domain. The Defence Ethics Program represents an integration of all of these considerations.

16. The role and mandate of the Defence Ethics Program is multi-dimensional. First, it provides an ethical framework for the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence. It is used as a guide in carrying out their organizational responsibilities and puts forward criteria by which the organization may be assessed. Second, it promotes individual awareness of the presence and the importance of what is ethical in all human situations. Third, it commits itself to the improvement of individual decision-making abilities concerning the ethics of any issue that affects the defence of the nation. Finally, it integrates into a programmed approach the many processes that are needed to implement ethics in a complex organization. Foundations for Defence Ethics and the Paradigm of a Profession

Foundations for Defence Ethics and the Paradigm of a Profession

17. Defence personnel incur significant obligations to the nation, as the primary beneficiary of defence services, to the Government, as the lawful agents of the public, and to human beings in other countries who are affected by their action. The responsibility for the defence of the nation is fulfilled through a commitment by the Canadian Forces and its members and the Department of National Defence and its employees to serve the nation's security interests. That commitment, however, will only be as strong as the ethical integrity of the organizations and the people that constitute Defence. It is obvious that all of this depends on maintaining the ethical integrity of the chain of command. To preserve their ethical integrity, the Canadian Forces and its members and the Department of National Defence and its employees need a set of basic ethical principles and obligations that can guide every decision and action.

18. The ethical culture of defence is complex and can sometimes appear to be paradoxical. In order to understand the ethical imperatives governing defence, many authors have applied the paradigm of the professions to Defence. Michael Bayles, in his book Professional Ethics (1989), explains the ethical imperatives of professionals in a public domain by placing ethics in the context of the professional-client relationship. In reference to this context, Bayles distinguishes between universal norms and role-related norms. Universal norms - concerning injury, lying, stealing, and promise-keeping, for example - apply to all people. However, professionals may be uniquely affected by some universal norms because of special features that are present and recurring in many situations created by the professional-client relationship. As a result, it is necessary to develop specifications of universal norms for professionals. For example, the requirement that relations of a sexual nature require the free consent of both parties can be considered a universal norm. However, it is obvious that in a psychiatrist-client relationship, the dominant position of the professional raises severe doubts about the possibility of the client to exercise freedom of consent. The same imbalance generally holds true in various ways between most medical professionals and their clients. This explains, in part, the specific prohibition of sexual activity between the medical professional and the client. Hence, in many instances, breach of the specification of a universal norm for professionals will often result in professional censure or other disciplinary action.

19. In contrast, role-related norms apply only to people designated or licensed to perform a particular social role. Each profession is considered to serve some “higher” social value, like for example, public health, safety, or security. In the performance of their role, professionals may be allowed or even required to take actions that would normally be considered wrong by universal norms. Role-related conduct concerns justifiable exceptions to universal norms that find their justification in the "higher" social worth ascribed to the profession itself. Role-related norms are to be distinguished from the specification of universal norms. Role-related norms refer to actions specifically required to perform the professional activity, while specifications to universal norms are reasonable constraints imposed on universal norms as a result of situations created by the relationship of the professional to a client.

20. The distinction made by Bayles between universal and role-related norms corresponds in many ways to a similar distinction made by M. Walzer (1989) between role-specific obligations and general obligations. Walzer applies the paradigm of a “profession” to the military. For Walzer, the military professional has hierarchical responsibilities upward and downward in the chain of command and non-hierarchical responsibilities outward to all those people whose lives are affected by his or her activities. Hierarchical responsibilities involve role-specific obligations that refer directly to the performance of the military function, while non-hierarchical responsibilities involve general obligations that refer to the possible effects of military action on other people, in particular non-combatants. The chain-of-command responsibilities are spelled out, for example, in the Canadian Forces Officer General Specification (OGS), which identifies the major relational duties and responsibilities of officers as those which pertain to country, to the Canadian Forces, to other members of the profession, and to subordinates. The general obligations to non-combatants take the form of universal duties towards civilians and other people subject to special protection (e.g., prisoners of war, military personnel incapacitated by injury or disease, medical personnel). As pointed out by Wenek (1996), Walzer’s concepts map well onto Bayles’ professional-client model except that Bayles does not include Walzer’s downward obligations to subordinates in the professional-client obligations but rather in third-party obligations.

21. Bayles’ professional-client model can usefully be applied to Defence, in as much as Defence represents a professional exercise of an activity in the public domain. Walzer is just one of many who have written insightfully on the military using the paradigm of a “profession”. It can assist our understanding of what is involved in the special ethical obligations of defence personnel by explaining them in terms of universal and role-related norms or in terms of general and role-specific obligations or, again, in terms of hierarchical and non-hierarchical obligations. However, the professional-client model and, more generally, the paradigm of a “profession” is not sufficient to provide a firm foundation for a value-based approach to Defence ethics.

22. The Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence are first and foremost institutions of a liberal democracy. This basic fact dictates that both of these institutions must reflect and practice the democratic values that have given birth to the nation itself, while being allowed justifiable exceptions for the controlled use of military force. Thus, for those who serve within a public institution like defence, it is not the larger context that must be reinterpreted in terms of the paradigm of a “profession” placed at its centre, but rather, it is the paradigm of a “profession” itself that must be reinterpreted in the light of the broader and more fundamental context. For example, within that broader context, Canada’s modern democratic society is characterised by a multiplicity of comprehensive belief systems. The ethical values and principles for Defence should be derived from an overlapping consensus on values exhibited in a democratic and free society. Although the Statement of Defence Ethics contains values, principles, and obligations that are consistent with the professional obligations of the military and the public service, these values and their application also reflect the organizational responsibilities of Defence as an institution of democracy. Thus, while the paradigm of a “profession” provides valuable insights into the nature of the ethical behaviour of personnel in defence, it is only the broader context of defence as an institution of a democratic and free society that can ultimately justify defence ethics. Reference to this broader context will inevitably affect which ethical values should have primacy in defence and the relative weights assigned to these values in decision-making.

23. The Statement of Defence Ethics is the heart of the Defence Ethics Program. It is a public statement of commitment to ethical principles and obligations. It is expected that the Canadian Forces and its members and the Department of National Defence and its employees will use the Statement of Defence Ethics in the fulfilment of their individual and organizational responsibilities for the defence of Canada. The Statement is intended for use as a normative guide to professional conduct, as an aid to working through ethical issues encountered during day-to-day work, and as criteria for developing ethically sound policies and programs. The Statement of Defence Ethics also has the role of an foundational document for developing particular statements of ethics or codes of conduct that are more consistent with the various organizational cultures within defence, for example the recognisable organizational cultures of the army, the navy and the air force. However, we can speak similarly of Defence Materiel and Procurement and of Defence Human Resources organisations as possessing distinct organizational cultures.

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