Moral Disengagement and the Support for Military Force: A Review

Brett Reichert


Rapid technological advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are introducing new military applications that will revolutionize warfare. The growing automatization of weapons allows warfare to be conducted at unprecedented distances — both physically and morally. We possess the capability to systematically destroy targets from thousands of miles away and make it home in time for dinner. The more morally distant we become from the atrocities of war, the more likely we are to support the use of lethal force. To what extent does moral disengagement impact the support of force? If moral disengagement influences public support for the use of force, then it is plausible that policies focused on resisting disengagement may reduce the degree to which violence is supported, and therefore promote peace.
This paper reviews literature that explores the relationship between the mechanisms of moral disengagement and support for lethal force. It summarizes the theory of moral disengagement, synthesizes current evidence-based research regarding the relationship between the mechanisms of moral disengagement and individuals’ support for force, and summarizes the current state of knowledge while offering criticism and suggestions for future research.

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