Why should the army be apolitical?


Klaus Naumann

To person

is a PhD historian, until 2017 at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, member of the 15th advisory board for internal management issues of the Ministry of Defense. [email protected]

Is the Bundeswehr "lost", as Friedrich Merz (CDU) suggested in "Bild am Sonntag"? Is there a "shadow army" ("Focus" / "Taz") lurking in the camouflaged backdrops to strike on "Day X"? Does the troop succumb to the right-wing populist temptation of the AfD, which tries to distinguish itself as the "soldiers' party" ("Bild")? In the past two years there has indeed been an increase in so-called suspected cases of right-wing extremism in the troops. The current number of 592 right-wing extremist suspected cases (out of a total of 743 in 2019) exceeds, in military terms, the strength of the battalion. There is still no mention of unreported numbers and sympathizers. The cases are increasing at the Special Forces Command (KSK), which the Military Counter-Intelligence Service (MAD) has therefore "focused on as a processing focus". [1]

The question arises: Isn't the Bundeswehr very close on the right edge? The authorities now want to take a closer look. A coordination office for suspected extremism has been set up in the Ministry of Defense and publishes annual reports. "The aim," said MAD President Christof Gramm, "is to remove not only extremists from the Bundeswehr, but also people who lack constitutional loyalty." [2] Soldiers have to be "constitutional patriots by profession," he emphasizes. However, the Bundeswehr is currently in the dark when it comes to attitude patterns in the troops and their changes. [3] There are no relevant empirical studies on developments after the suspension of compulsory military service in 2011. In addition, the interplay between the armed forces, the defense ministry and the media does little to shed light on the picture. Certainly the media carefully document offenses, scandals and assaults that have to be reported by the armed forces. But their access is often short of breath and alarmist. Politicians, on the other hand, have been content for years with rejecting any "general suspicion", downgrading the total number of occasions to "individual cases" and pointing out that the Bundeswehr is a "mirror of society". These pronouncements escaped the discrepancy that the Spiegel thesis could, under certain circumstances, indicate an alarming trend, while the individual case thesis denies precisely this in the same breath.

A current and unconditional analysis of the situation that goes beyond the listing of "incidents" is currently missing. This includes the question of the structural affinities between the military and the far right, the self-reinforcing mechanisms of military-political socialization and the importance of subcultural milieus for the development of political attitudes and their radicalization. Empirical studies on these problems are rare and mostly more than ten years old. [4] In this respect, every inventory currently operates in the dark. What remains for the time being is an indirect approximation of the political profile of today's Bundeswehr soldiers.

The exploration of some peculiarities of the military field [5] carried out here discusses five questions: FirstWhat is the significance of the Wehrmacht's past in today's Bundeswehr? SecondlyWhat role does military conservatism play among the Bundeswehr soldiers? ThirdWhat conflicts does the coexistence of the emergency services and the training army create in the armed forces? FourthIs there a right-wing populist soldiers' representation in the house with the AfD? And, fifthWhich gray areas exist between military-conservative, right-wing populist and right-wing extremist attitudes?

The military legacy - a question of the job description

The repeated press reports about the questionable handling of soldiers with Wehrmacht symbols are certainly irritating, but they do not allow any further conclusions to be drawn about attitudes in the Bundeswehr. The demarcation from the Wehrmacht as an institution and in its structures was emphatically affirmed in the most recent guidelines for maintaining tradition of March 2018. [6] The problem lies elsewhere. The search of the barracks for Wehrmacht devotional items, which was ordered by the then Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen in 2017 in response to the case of Lieutenant Franco A., who was suspected of being a right-wing terrorist, gave the armed forces another reason for the widespread loss of confidence in the political and in part also military leadership. The distance to politics has (not only) increased as a result.

In relation to politics and not to devotional objects, there is an indirect presence of the Wehrmacht myth. In the post-war period he found expression in the formula of the "apolitical soldier" who fought in good faith, oath-keeping and bravely, but was "abused" by the Nazi regime. This formula had more to do with the debt reduction and integration course of the early Federal Republic than with the historical reality of the Wehrmacht, but it was suitable for establishing a community of legitimacy between the old and the new soldiers. [7] In the efforts of the defense reform of the 1950s to create a modern type of soldier who should be "free person, good citizen and fully-fledged soldier at the same time" with the model of the "citizen in uniform", [8] this drove a contradiction. Because the new soldier should neither be apolitical, nor should he base his professional understanding solely on military craftsmanship and eternal virtues.

However, the desired more is always controversial. [9] Often it appears as an additional service that has to take a back seat when the "sharp side" of the job is in demand. It was characteristic when Bundeswehr officers, at the beginning of their foreign missions in the 1990s, raved about the fact that they had now "finally" returned to "normality". [10] From these remarks spoke the expectation that with commitment and combat, the core tasks of the soldier's profession would "return" to the center of attention. The later formulation of an army inspector that "archaic fighters" were needed [11] was not suitable to counteract such impulses. The Bundeswehr Center for Internal Leadership reported dissent: The ministry's decision to measure the soldier's image and professional profile too narrow, "robust and close to war" would have led to the development of an "apolitical type of soldier". [12]

From the attitudes and attitudes described here, there is no direct route to the far right. But if they condense into a syndrome of military-historical myths, non-political models and political ignorance, bridges can be built into this world of ideas.

The military conservatism of the citizen in uniform

All political attitudes and party-political preferences are represented in the Bundeswehr, but the overall spectrum shows a clearly conservative list. Empirical studies of the offspring of officers in the 1990s went so far as to establish "a direct connection between conservative worldview, choice of officer career and soldier-male world". [13] The image of the Bundeswehr, which is shown here in part, was not a "mirror of society". However, this was also true in other respects, for the political interest and willingness to take responsibility of young officers were above average; only a minority clashed with the norms and values ​​of parliamentary democracy. What did this right margin look like?

It makes a big difference whether a conservative outlook conceals structurally conservative attitudes of preserving law and order, decency and integrity, or activist views of the New Right, which strives for a cultural-political hegemony of inequality thinking or ethnopolitics. The differentiation of the "conservative socio-political attitude pattern", which was to be found in about 61 percent of the junior officers in 1997, revealed a whole spectrum of moderate, Christian and liberal orientations. A total of around 17 percent of those questioned did not just locate themselves right of center, but clearly to the right of the Christian or liberal-conservative majority groups ("national" and "right-conservative"). But here, too, it depends on the ratios, because another study showed that in 2007 the approval values ​​for new law ideas among students at civil universities were twice as high as among officer students at German armed forces universities, at 26 percent. [14] The military affinity for conservative worldviews evidently by no means automatically led to a top position on the right-wing fringe - neither in society nor among students.

Of course, it should be emphasized that these data come from the times of conscription. With the transition to the professional and volunteer army, the context has changed. The empirical finding [15] that professional soldiers are "more right" than regular soldiers is given a different weight. If the right-wing extremist "incidents" were previously rated as a threshold phenomenon among young conscripts, the problem could now shift to the middle of a force with predominantly longer periods of service and to the reservists. The critical point, however, is likely to lie in the concerns that preoccupied the right-wing military conservatives of the 1990s: They were skeptical about the restructuring and change in orders for the Bundeswehr. While they considered their profession to be exceptional, they also feared that social recognition would be withheld from them. The "uncertainty" on the right wing of the junior officers at the time was "unmistakable". [16] It seems that a feeling of discomfort has been generalized and politicized in the years that follow. Even if very different motives were involved, it was noticeable that in 2007 half of the officer students reported criticism of the "political system" and the state of parliamentarism. This gave a clear signal of the weak legitimacy of politics and established a possible bridging narrative that could be served by the far right as well as from the center. [17]

The conflict between two federal armed forces - "hot" and "cold"

The Bundeswehr is not a "total institution" (Erving Goffman) and not an isolated instance. However, in order to track down a possible change in attitudes among military personnel, the internal areas of conflict must be considered. In military sociology, a distinction is made between the normal state of a peace army ("cold") and the dynamic of an operational army ("hot"). [18] If one state of aggregation is characterized - ideally - by bureaucracy, management, fragmentation and declining cohesion, the "hot organization" is structured flexibly, demands outstanding leadership qualities, strengthens collective action, but also delimits itself more sharply from the outside and favors subcultural patterns. This structural description has current relevance with the current coexistence of the training army and the operational army; [19] it has become an organizational permanent state, which is characterized by waves of reforms and restructuring and a constant tension between orders, forces and resources. In the troop, these problem situations also come up against highly differentiated milieus, which have produced a colorful and by no means free of contradictions organizational culture. Those groups of professional soldiers, who with a total of 36 percent belong to the traditional and the conservatively established milieu, have a considerable influence on the internal climate. [20] It is noteworthy that among the young officer students in 2014 a group ("Army on the move") publicly articulated itself for the first time and in some cases put radical conservative positions up for discussion. [21]

There is no telling who will be able to achieve opinion leadership in this situation. [22] Uniformed service providers with home offices and part-time arrangements encounter soldiers who see the regulations of the soldiers' working time ordinance as a mockery; gutted units stand next to fully equipped emergency services; Superiors are confronted with bureaucratic chaos and over-centralization, so that they do not have the time to look after their people personally; Newcomers wait for training, community and commitment, but are sent on interim assignments and live in single rooms in barracks that are not supervised after 5 p.m., but also have no leisure activities. These and similar experiences carry the sting of politicization: when soldiers not only lack public recognition, but also complain about the disappearance of the troops from the area; if the appraisal of operations remains hollow because there is a lack of security-political legitimation and evaluation; if everyone complains about the lack of equipment in the armed forces, but year after year it is a long time before operational delivery; if the announced "trend reversals" in personnel, material, finances and training "hardly take effect or take effect too slowly"; [23] if the impression arises that the military leadership is too compliant to the guidelines of politics - or if politics takes the expected care and misses responsibility.

The rollercoaster between "hot" and "cold" can lead to the limits of patience and loyalty. The soldiers' "disenchantment with politics", which has been noted for years, only needs the occasions and offers to translate the pent-up displeasure into attitude and action. In hallway conversations with soldiers it cannot be ignored that a preference for the people's parties, including the Union, is no longer automatically given.

The offer of right-wing populism: To the defense program of the AfD

Will the AfD become the "new soldiers' party" and with its program closes a gap in representation that is felt in the armed forces? It is estimated that 2100 soldiers are among the 35,000 party members; There are eleven former professional and temporary soldiers in the parliamentary group, and the workforce extends deep into the right-wing extremist camp. In the meantime, the party has presented a defense program that could count on the benevolent response of a former colonel: "Not everything the AfD says is wrong." [24]

The party's defense policy is presented as a conservative program, but its substance goes far beyond the existing defense and constitutional order and the consensus on security policy. In order to stabilize the fluctuating defense budget, the defense budget is to be withdrawn from the annual approval of parliament (Art. 86a GG), armaments, procurement and export quotas are to be given a guarantee of existence and the constitutional separation of civil administration and the military (Art. 87b GG) is to be abolished. A general staff is to bundle the fragmented military planning and command functions. The much-discussed separation of external and internal security would be dropped according to the will of the AfD and the Bundeswehr would henceforth be "authorized for internal operations". An expanded reservist corps is to be deployed in "homeland security", the declared focus of which is the protection of the German external borders. In the event of terrorist threats, the German special forces are to be empowered "anywhere on earth (...) to avert danger and support criminal prosecution abroad". The AfD is committed to NATO and sees Germany in a "European leadership role", while rejecting further EU-European ambitions.

The "intellectual and moral reform" that the AfD wants to prescribe to the Bundeswehr aims at an "army of the Germans" whose soldiers are trained for "relentless combat in combat", based on "German values" and soldierly virtues and on "will to fight." "should be borne by the population. The academic training of officers is declared to be an exception, the formation of tradition is left to the troops to shape themselves.

With the accusation that German politics is committing an acute "constitutional breach" by neglecting its "readiness for military service", the AfD defense program receives a dynamic surplus in which the right-wing populist dual character of the party as a conventional ("bourgeois") organization and as a radical ( "fermenting") movement clearly depicts. The program appeals to the resentment of the reader: If there is talk of a "breach of the constitution" and "state crisis", should the step towards "resistance" be illegitimate? The delegitimization of the constitutional state promotes a climate of self-empowerment in which you do what needs to be done on your own if necessary - or tolerate the actions of others. Should the southpaw of military conservatism follow this trail, the Rubicon would be crossed to extremism.

In the gray area - tendencies towards self-empowerment

Precisely because extremist attitudes and worldviews are not closed and monolithic, but rather form diffuse clusters and patterns, radicalization processes are often fluid. [25] A striking feature of acute extremist attitudes, on both sides of criminal and disciplinary law, seems to be individual or group-related self-empowerment.It is not enough that right-wing extremist attitudes such as a racially motivated inequality thinking are consolidated, ethnic homogeneity ideals are represented, the primacy of the ethnic community over the individual is emphasized or the pluralism of values ​​of liberal democracy is rejected. These are all bridging narratives that become explosive when crises intensify. [26]

The interplay of activist affects and perceptions of crisis can currently be observed in the so-called prepper scene, which is preparing for "Day X", on which, as is assumed, the state fails, the infrastructure collapses, crime takes over or the borders are open stand. When "it happens" everything is "at stake", the "measure is full" and "the situation is there"; then one has to be "willing to do bad things". [27] These are quotes from small chat groups and informal communities, but the networks do extend into the security authorities. The tracks lead to the combat troops; There are contacts in the reservist scene. The case of Lieutenant Franco A., who led a double existence as a "refugee" and as a soldier until 2017, had armed himself and in whose vicinity there were plans for attacks and proscription lists, caused a sensation. [28]

A diffuse white-collar dissidence in the form of criticism of the elite, an inherited "casino extremism" (Elmar Wiesendahl), the widespread uneasiness of the "post-heroic" society and a disenchantment with politics and the state are influential but little analyzed which the studies from the 1990s had already pointed out. Even if the starting points may be quite different, there are links to extremist attitudes and extremist activism can possibly count on a sounding board. With the refugee crisis from 2015, when a "state failure" was diagnosed right down to the Union parties and there was talk of a "rule of injustice", and since the consolidation of the AfD, this stance is likely to have gained popularity. To what extent the networks of "old gentlemen" from the higher officer corps fulfill a braking or reinforcing function is difficult to determine empirically. [29]

The tendency towards self-empowerment found in these gray areas makes use of a reversal of the burden of proof: once trust has been withdrawn from politics and parliament, employer or chancellor, the prosecutor gains legitimacy - he determines what is required by the state, what the soldier should do has what the people want and what the nation needs to survive. This problem requires different instruments and bodies than the observation, reporting and punishment of "incidents". This calls for the Inner Leadership, which urgently needs revitalization. [30] On her agenda is the concern for an open working atmosphere, committed internal organizational communication, an effective, low-threshold error culture, good management with little bureaucracy, functioning and appealing educational work, realistic professional and mission statements and overcoming those that have existed since the Weizsäcker Commission on the future of the Bundeswehr (2000) diagnosed the notorious "organized irresponsibility" which (all too often) paralyzes the ministry and the troops. [31]

Balance sheet

The Bundeswehr is not very close to the right edge. Whether it is closer to it than civil society is an empirically open question at the moment. In any case, extremist tendencies in an armed power organ of the democratic state are intolerable and dangerous. Structural factors within the armed forces favor the development of a gray area between the - dominant - military conservatism, right-wing populist distortions and the right-wing extremist fringe. This includes an apolitical job description, the countless areas of conflict of long-term deficiency management, bureaucratisation and centralization, the widespread impression of low social esteem and the rampant loss of confidence in "politics" and the ruling parties. The AfD operates in this gray area as a "carer party", but also with meaningful offers that can encourage radicalization. In the form of Innereführung, which declares responsible and at the same time professional citizen soldiers to be the model, the Bundeswehr has a bridging narrative that points in the opposite direction. For this to take effect, however, joint efforts by the military, politics and society are necessary.