Research unit targets ethics and law in modern warfare

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The University of Adelaide is launching a new Research Unit on Military Law and Ethics to examine in greater detail the legal and policy issues, with a focus on ethical aspects of the use of force, associated with modern warfare.

The first of its kind in South Australia, the new research unit is based in the University's School of Law and is headed by Associate Professor Dale Stephens, CSM. Associate Professor Stephens has 23 years' experience working in law in the Australian Defence Force (ADF); a former Captain in the Royal Australian Navy, he was Director of Navy Legal Services and Director of Operations and International Law for the ADF.

The new unit also involves University of Adelaide legal experts in digital technology, international law, law of armed conflict, human rights, discipline law, national security, legal ethics and maritime law.

"There are more legal and ethical issues facing the military and security forces – and the broader community – today than in any other time in history," Associate Professor Stephens says.

"The ever-changing nature of technology is a major challenge, with the advent of cyber warfare, developments in nanotechnology, autonomous and unmanned weapons just to name a few.

"Counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations also pose unique legal and ethical considerations. For example, just because it may be lawful to kill an enemy doesn't necessarily mean that is the best strategy for a long-term outcome in a conflict. Such issues might appear contrary to traditional forms of military operations but they are becoming increasingly more important as the nature of conflict changes," he says.

Other issues being considered by the new research unit include: the military uses of space (working in conjunction with McGill University in Montreal, Canada); maritime disputes, especially those involving Chinese actions in the Indian and Pacific oceans (in conjunction with the China Maritime Studies Institute, US Naval War College); and the use of surveillance and metadata for security purposes, and the human rights concerns that they may pose.

"Our unit has already hit the ground running, having recently conducted a postgraduate course on Maritime Law and Geo-Politics in the Asian Region with representatives of the US Naval War College, a Winter School course in Strategic Space Law, and running a highly successful massive open online course (MOOC), Cyberwar, Surveillance and Security, which attracted 16,000 students from around the world," Associate Professor Stephens says.

The new Research Unit on Military Law and Ethics will be launched tonight by His Excellency The Honourable Hieu Van Le, AO, Governor of South Australia.


Contact Details

Professor Dale Stephens
Director, Research Unit on Military Law and Ethics
Adelaide Law School
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5937
Mobile: +61 (0)407 803 534

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762