A Sight on European Defence

As the German government has decided to review largely its defence organization, even stating that some more communality of capacities should be looked for with its European partners, let us have a look at what German Defence forces could look like in a near future. As a consequence of the planned reform, the future structure of Bundeswehr, its size and recruitment system, will lead to a careful review of some of its founding principles, which are, among others, the defence of home country, the citizen in uniform, and the code of conduct or ethic rules, the latest being a concept impossible to translate, named in German “innere Führung”.

As the results of the study order by the Minister of Defence, Mr von Guttenberg will be made available to the public in autumn we still have time ahead of us to scrutinize some points of this reform. The official documents are rather scarce. But the German press broadcasts interesting news, which give a good insight of the fierce debate between the different political parties.

To sum up, what I consider as the founding principles of the modern German Defence Forces are:


-Home Defence,

-Innere Führung, or code of conduct. As this concept is almost impossible to translate with accuracy, I will keep it in German.

-Strong parliamentary control

Those principles have been established from the very beginning of Bundeswehr, in the 50s, in order to build up armed forces which guarantee that they could never be used against democracy and peace, as a reaction to the former Prussian militarism accused of being at the origin of the previous world wars. They are completely intricate: German Defence forces would recur to conscription in order to focus on Home Defence and to make out of the soldiers “citizens in uniform”, support by educational programs based on Innere Führung.

As from the legal point of view, Bundeswehr has been built up from scratch, the whole legal body and all manuals are conceived in that direction, included the different paragraphs of the German Constitution. The paragraph 87a deals with the Defence forces; the civilian part of the ministry being dealt with in para 87b. I will outline one sentence, one at the top of para 87a: “the Federation sets up Armed forces for defence”.

Furthermore on 12th July 1994, the Constitutional Court authorized the Federal Government to commit troops abroad, but with a major restriction: the Bundestag should approve any commitment of troops abroad prior to the operation. The only exception being the emergency case, when life of German citizens is directly threatened. In such a situation, the Government is entitled first to act and subsequently inform the Parliament.

Both points are the expression of an intrinsic rejection of the expeditionary warfare, which is the privilege of nations having a strong executive power, like the USA, the UK or France. In the current articles on the future reform of Bundeswehr, politicians from all sides reject a professional army, arguing that this would create a force in the hands of the government, thus weakening the parliament and developing temptation to make use of for Bundeswehr for other purpose than defence of the country, or support to the alliances to which Germany is part. This approach is far from representing only a minority of the population, included in the Defence forces. A few years ago, Germany refused firmly to support France in the operation EUFOR in Chad and Central Africa. The main reason for that refusal to support an ally is linked to both German constitution and Constitutional Court decision.

Some pragmatic people would suggest changing the German constitution. I sincerely do not think this to be possible. Historically, Germany has been authorized to build up its forces at the prerequisite that they are maintained under strict democratic control. Control by the parliament is the way hence chosen. This model is so anchored in German political cultural that a support neither by the population nor by the military can be reached for the time being.

Then, the discrepancy between the German rigid constitutional framework and the expeditionary culture of its neighbours will make extremely difficult for this country to find major partners ready to mutualise capacities. The only countries ready to go forward with them would be countries for which the army is firstly used for national defence and not overseas adventures. France and the UK would not take the risk to bind their hands to please German savings plan. May be they would accept to share secondary assets, but in any case, would they renounce to those who create the conditions for contingency planning.

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