Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Political Science

Content Description

1 online resource (iv, 298 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Victor Asal

Committee Members

David Rousseau, Moron Schoolman


Counterinsurgency, Ethics, Military, Theory, War, Military ethics, Ethical problems

Subject Categories

Ethics and Political Philosophy | Military and Veterans Studies | Political Science


The goal of this dissertation is to analyze the kinds of ethical challenges soldiers encounter during counterinsurgency operations, what decision making processes or values they use to resolve these challenges, and how military institutions and culture influence soldiers' ethical reasoning. The first part of the dissertation is an assessment of various theories of applied ethics and how these can be used by soldiers during counterinsurgency operations. The second part discusses the institutions and cultures of the American Army, British Army, and Israeli Ground Forces. In the third part, I take up the problem of how soldiers from each of these armed forces actually make ethical decisions. This analysis is based on interviews conducted with current and former soldiers from each of the militaries. The project discovered many surprising results. Among the most important findings were: First, ethical attitudes and decision-making processes vary a great deal across countries and were heavily influenced by each country's security situation. Second, despite their strong national differences, soldiers tend to make decisions about ethical dilemmas that are addressed in international law in very similar ways. This suggests that international law is effective in establishing uniform ethical standards across countries. Third, many of the most challenging ethical dilemmas soldiers faced did not occur in combat. Rather, they occurred when interacting with the local civilian population and especially when attempting to distinguish enemy insurgents from noncombatants. This shows that ethics training and counterinsurgency tactics need to be redesigned to give more weight to civil-military affairs and to minimize uncertainty about potential threats.