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Dr David Whetham is Professor of Ethics and the Military Profession, in the Defence Studies Department (DSD) of King's College London, based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College at the UK Defence Academy. DSD provides academic support for, amongst others, the Intermediate, Advanced and Higher Staff Courses for British and international officers, across all the services, from the rank of Major up to full Colonel or equivalent. Before joining King’s as a permanent member of staff in 2003, David worked as a BBC researcher and with the OSCE in Kosovo, supporting the 2001 and 2002 elections. David’s main research interests are focused on the ethical dimensions of warfare, the development of the laws of war and how these ideas are best communicated within professional military education.
He is Director of the King's Centre for Military Ethics, established in 2015 with the aim of conducting research into military ethics in order to develop and promote best practice in its education and application. The Centre is producing blended learning packages to support military ethics education at both the individual and institutional level for global defence and security forces, free at the point of delivery, in order to ensure that this public good is taught and disseminated as widely as possible. In order to pursue this goal, David was awarded a British Academy Mid-career Fellowship (£100,862.00) in Sep 2017.
In 2009, David was a Visiting Fellow with the Centre for Defence Leadership and Ethics at the Australian Defence College in Canberra. In Spring 2011, David was Resident Fellow at the Vice Admiral James B Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis. From November 2014-16, David was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Glasgow, conducting ESRC-funded research into ‘Moral Victories: Ethics, Exit Strategies and the Ending of Wars’. As the regular visiting lecturer in military ethics at both the Baltic Defence College in Tartu, Estonia, and the Royal Brunei Armed Forces Command and Staff Course, David has been given considerable latitude to design and implement the ethics curricula for these institutions. In 2010 he was invited to co-lead a ‘train the trainer’ workshop in Bucharest organised by the Partnership for Peace Consortium and the Marshall Center aimed at the senior military commanders who ‘own’ military ethics education in the states surrounding the Black Sea. Between 2012 and 2016, David did similar work with the senior military leadership in Serbia, helping to get military ethics introduced as a core subject into the Serbian Military Academy. In 2014, David was commissioned by the UK MoD to support the British Military Advisory and Training Team in Nigeria to produce a report on the current provision of military ethics in the different officer training and education institutions in Kaduna and Abuja, and to engage in capacity building in this area. From 2012 onwards, David has contributed to an international team of military ethicists assisting the Colombian War College introduce military ethics into the core officer curriculum. In 2016 this involved working with senior leadership on the implementation of the peace agreement. With the help of PLuS Alliance partners at the University of New South Wales, a bespoke blended learning military ethics curriculum went live for the Colombian War College in January 2019 and has since expanded to cover the whole Army. He has also worked with DCAF (the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance) to provide professional ethics education for the Georgian Ministry of Defence.
David’s principal research efforts over the past decade have been focused towards understanding and improving the provision of military ethics education and training. In 2008 he received a British Academy Research Grant (£2,364.00) to carry out a compare and contrast study of the ethics and legal education and training provided by the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and US Military Academy West Point. This work continued with a European audit of Professional Military Ethics Education supported by a Nuffield Foundation award (£11,593.00) to cover Spring 2011-2013. He joined the editorial advisory board of the Journal of Military Ethics in 2011.
Prompted by a worrying lack of engagement between theoreticians and practitioners in the area of military ethics, in 2007 David organised the first of a series of annual Defence Ethics Conferences at the UK Defence Academy which successfully established an international network of military practitioners, academics, politicians, government officials and representatives of NGOs and charities who all have an interest in the normative dimension of defence. These early efforts were supported by the British Academy (£1,370.00 in 2008). By 2011, through hard work, focused vision and fostering extensive collaboration with colleagues in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland (and with the support of the US-based military ethics community), this initiative had transformed into the European Chapter of the International Society for Military Ethics (Euro ISME), with the high-profile inaugural event being held in Paris at the Ecole Militaire. The equally successful 2012 conference was held at the UK Defence Academy, Amsterdam hosted in 2013 and Germany in 2014. As a founding member of Euro ISME, David was elected Vice President at the first General Assembly following the establishment of Euro ISME as an institution in French law (General Benoît Royal was elected President). As well as securing the institutional affiliation and support of a number of important organisations (including the Zentrum Innere Führung and the UK Defence Academy), David has secured substantial ongoing support from the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation of well over €50,000 pa, to support the organization, its administration and governance, as well as outreach activities. David has been at the forefront of establishing ISME chapters for South America and the Asia Pacific regions, the latter involving ground-breaking and high level interaction with military academics in the People's Republic of China from 2014 onwards.
In 2020, David was appointed as an Assistant Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force in order to contribute to the Afghanistan Inquiry into allegations of war crimes committed by Special Forces personnel. His contribution was published as an annex to the Brereton Report in November 2020, with all of the recommendations being accepted by the Chief of the General Staff and Prime Minister. He joined the Australian Defence Force's International Standing Panel of Experts in Ethics in 2021, and in 2023 became the Jeffrey Grey Chair Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Australian Defence College.
In the UK, David is a member of the MoD’s AI Ethics Panel, advises 77 Brigade, and the RAF’s Future Air and Space Study, and sits on the UK Defence Medical Services Ethics Committee. He has led research projects on the public perception of drones (£50,099 Technology Strategy Board 2020) and was working with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (£112,190) testing a bioethics framework for Human Augmentation in Defence (2021-22). In 2022, David was appointed to NATO’s Human Factors and Medical Research Committee to advise on military ethics.
In addition to an extensive administrative and governance portfolio within the Department, from 2011 to 2015, David was Chair of the cross-School Research Ethics Committee charged with scrutinising all staff and student research from the King’s College London Schools of Humanities, Social Science and Public Policy, and Law - this represented a substantial amount of the non-medical research done at King’s. Much of this time was spent refining the applications process and ensuring that the level of scrutiny was made proportional to potential risk. David was then appointed to the College Research Ethics Committee where College-wide policies are determined and enacted, finally standing down in 2018. In 2016 he was asked by the Vice Principal to sit on the College’s Socially Responsible Investment Review Committee as it expands its remit to look at issues beyond purely financial matters.
David is married with two children, and in his spare time, plays the trombone and fences with the medieval longsword and epée. He has been a Magistrate on the Wiltshire bench since 2007.
In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):
Doctor of Philosophy, Unorthodox Warfare in the Age of Chivalry: Surprise and Deception in the Hundred Years War. , King's College London
Award Date: 1 Jan 2005
Master of Arts, War Studies, King's College London
Award Date: 1 Jan 1996
Bachelor of Arts, Philosophy, LSE London School of Economics & Political Science
Award Date: 1 Jan 1995
Jeffrey Grey Chair Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Australian Defence College
1 Jan 2023 → 31 Dec 2023
Visiting Professorial Fellow, University of New South Wales at Australian Defence Force Academy
31 Dec 2022 → 31 Dec 2025
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Research output: Other contribution
Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding › Chapter › peer-review
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review
Research output: Contribution to specialist publication › Article
1/09/2017 → 31/08/2018
1/03/2017 → 28/02/2018
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis › Doctor of Philosophy