The modern day battlefield has changed significantly since the early 20th century. No longer is norm conventional warfare fought between state actors; instead, unconventional warfare fought between state actors and non-state actors has become the current day trend. This has seen Australia and indeed a large portion of the western world dedicate significant military contributions towards attempting to combat these non state actors (most notably, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and most recently, Daesh). These violent non state actors however are not held, nor do they hold themselves accountable to, international law. This in turn generates a dilemma for both commanders and those engaging in direct hostilities against these forces; with two sides both playing the same ‘game’, but both under different rules.
Australia, being a signatory to the Geneva Conventions (and other global legal conventions/protocols) is required to that it complies with the rules as set out by the conventions whilst conducting operations. As such, Australia holds its service men and women to account for breaches of these conventions, and it is crucial that they be upheld. Should ADF members on deployment act in a way that is not ethical and in accordance with these conventions then the reputation of not only the ADF but the Australian Government is at risk of disrepute. If the ADF and the Australian Government were to fall in to disrepute whilst fighting an unethical, unconventional enemy, such actions could possibly provide that enemy force with increased legitimacy, regardless of their own abhorrence of ethical conduct on the battlefield.
It is always essential that when conducting ourselves overseas on deployments (and exercises), irrespective of how unethical enemy forces may be in both their employment of weapon systems and tactics, that we do not lower our ethical standards in order to try and level the playing field. This is further reason for why the ADF must continue to develop professional mastery in the profession of arms to ensure that we are prepared to and able to find alternative solutions to combat ever evolving situations.
For those individuals directly involved in hostilities against an unethical enemy, it generates a number of issues; both in the way that they may engage, or in the way that they are being engaged by enemy forces. Those deploying overseas on either operations or to conduct exercises with countries whose ethical frameworks differ from ours need to undertake awareness training – both to prepare those deploying as to what tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that they may be confronted with (which the Australian Government and ADF deem unethical) but also more importantly, the expectation for how it is they must go about conducting themselves when these TTPs arise. It must also be reinforced that our soldiers ethical conduct is the correct way, even if sometimes through the fog of war it may seem uncertain which is the best course of action.
In summary, it will always be difficult for countries like Australia to engage other state or non state actors in conflict when the enemy force refuses to abide by the same legal, moral and ethical frameworks. There will never be a solution to this; therefore it will remain, as always, imperative we continue to conduct ourselves abroad on operations to the very highest of standards.