What role do soldiers play

German defense policy

Franz Kernic

About the author

Dr. habil. Franz Kernic has been Professor of Sociology at the Swedish Defense University (SEDU) since 2008, on leave, and since 2013 lecturer in leadership and communication at MILAK at ETH Zurich. Prof. Kernic was visiting professor at the University of Minnesota (USA) in 2009, at Carleton University (Canada) in 2005 and 2007-08 and at the Catholic University in Santiago de Chile in 2004. Habilitation at the University of Innsbruck (2001) and at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich (2004). Doctorate at the University of Vienna (1987).

The primacy of the political over the military is an essential feature of modern democracy. How a community organizes its military and what military duties it imposes on its members depends on its political and social convictions.

"Citizens in uniform" should take part in the political life of the Federal Republic: On July 2, 2014, soldiers followed a speech by Federal Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen in the German Bundestag. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

In Germany and in other European countries, the role of the military is currently being debated: What functions and tasks do armed forces have today? How are you prepared for your missions? And how should soldiers be recruited for the army? These are all questions that affect a country's defense system. Which defense or military system corresponds to the respective political-social system depends on which concept of the political and which understanding of democracy and statehood is applied to it. Because society, the state and the military are interconnected in many ways.

Defense constitution, defense system and military system

The term Military (militaire), which has only been used in German and French since the 17th century, comes from the Latin word militaris. Its meaning refers to the organization of armed forces, in which soldiers (miles) perform their service. The term emphasizes the organizational-institutional aspect of collective violence within a state-organized community. With the emergence of the international system of nation states after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the development of a new absolutist understanding of the state, the functions and the political position of the armies throughout Europe changed at the same time. While previously mainly mercenary armies were used, from the 17th century standing armies, which were closely related to the ruler and the ruling class, shaped the image of the military in Europe. At the same time, the modern understanding of the state stimulated the monopoly of the armed powers in the hands of the state or ruler. The state monopoly on the use of force was born. The political changes of the modern age moved the question of the concrete structure of the relations between the nation state and the military into the center of state theoretical considerations.

The terms Defense constitution, defense system and Military system are often used synonymously today. There are a number of different definitions and social science differentiations. In general, the term "defense" refers to all measures of a community or a state that are taken to prevent or successfully ward off violent attacks on their own existence. The term Defense constitution describes in a broad sense the "overall constitution" of a society with regard to its resistance to external and internal threats to its existence. In a narrower sense, he refers to the political and social foundations of the rule of law organized society, in particular to the constitution and basic rights and the models and norms anchored therein of a collective defense against existential threats.

The term Defense system relates to the concrete political design of the collectively organized defense. It is based on the basic rules and norms anchored in the military constitution on the organization, function and management of the armed forces (in particular provisions with regard to the authority, the mandate and deployment of the armed forces as well as regulations of the responsibilities and competencies of individual state organs). The structure of the organization (Structures) as well as procedures and processes of organizational activity (Processes). The focus is on the question of the form of recruitment.

Politicians have a great deal of room for maneuver in shaping the defense system. From a democratic political perspective, it is crucial that the respective political decisions to design or redesign the defense system are in accordance with the democratic rules of the game and constitutional provisions. This room for maneuver also explains why a comparison of the defense systems of the countries of Europe reveals such serious differences today.

When designing the defense system, both military and non-military elements (e.g. alternative and civilian services; rescue services, fire brigade, police and private security organizations; protective systems, etc.) play an important role. In the course of history, however, there has been a predominance of the military.

The Military system of a state can therefore be considered that part of the Defense system referring to the structures and processes of the organization of the military. According to this understanding, the defense and military systems only coincide if a society defends itself exclusively on one military (armed) component supported.

In addition, it must not be overlooked in this context: Every military is always able to go beyond this immediate area of ​​"defending itself" and become one Attack instrument capable of carrying out acts of war both within society and externally. It is noticeable that in everyday political life such a warlike-offensive approach is often justified as an act of defense or defense.

Politics, the state and the military

In the historical perspective, there is a close interweaving of politics and military. Western political thought has been under the spell of since ancient times War. Armed conflicts between peoples and societies appear as a kind of natural state (status naturalis); peace, on the other hand, is something that first has to be laboriously established, established and then preserved. The distinctions between friend and foe, between inside and outside, become essential categories of socio-political thought.

Two different schools of thought (ideas) developed particularly effective: The first school of thought assumes that the warlike or military and the direct experience of military violence have always shaped human societies, but this condition can be overcome, namely through the Development of actually Political. This Political is determined to the effect that within a community (e.g. the Greek city-state, the polis) A peaceful social interaction or cooperation between the individual members of society should be made possible by establishing certain procedures and basic rules of a social balance of interests. At the same time, all acts of war are banned outside the polis. The political in this sense is the attempt to detach a community from its dominant orientation towards the warlike and military.

The other mindset looks at that Martial as the very core of any political trade. The simple binary codes or distinctions such as friend / foe, own / stranger, inside / outside appear in it as the basic conditions for political success. In other words: The self-assertion of a society or political community - in a fundamentally always warlike and competitive environment - is only possible on the basis of collectively organized state-military power. Politics must therefore be structured according to the model of the military and using a strong military instrument (e.g. hierarchies, clear enemy / friend distinctions, clear chain of command). In this mindset, politics and the military form one unit (Militarism, bellicism); the army becomes the most important representative of the state. Both schools of thought have shaped Western history up to our day, and they are still present in today's political discussions.

The close interweaving of the state and the military in modern times is evident in a multitude of political and cultural circumstances, actions and speech acts. In absolutism the ruler represents both in pure form: State and army. He is thus ruler of war and peace at the same time. Politics is called the "Continuation of the war by other means"(Clausewitz) seen the military as one of several" instruments "in the hands of the ruler to achieve certain political goals. The reference to the instrumental The character of the military determines our thinking about the relationship between politics, the state and the military to this day, even if the direct connection to the person of the ruler has dissolved and the functions of the military have changed. The determination of the military as a state body, to which certain sovereign tasks are assigned, is characteristic of the political systems of the present.

Democracy, the rule of law and the civil-military relationship

The Enlightenment brought a radical criticism of absolutism and the associated system of standing armies. For example, the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) wrote in his work published in 1795 "To eternal peace"against the use of people (soldiers) as mere machines and tools in the hands of the prince or state and called for an end to the standing armies. Kant linked the idea of ​​peace with the idea of ​​a republican constitution and ideas of a militia army with a defensive character Numerous ideas for the restructuring and reform of the armies that were publicly discussed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were by no means primarily aimed at creating a more effective instrument for waging war, on the contrary, they were aimed primarily at that peace.

Even if this goal failed miserably in the course of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, new accents were set with the political models and demands raised in the course of the Enlightenment, which from then on the discussion about the structure of the relationship between society and the military. Three Lines of development, which show the permanent change in the relationship between society, the state and the military, are of particular importance for the current situation:

  1. The political strengthening of the bourgeoisie in the 19th century inspired, among other things, the ideas of Civil and militia armies and caused the Opening of the officer's profession for members of the bourgeoisie. With the gradual transition to general conscription In the European states (understood as compulsory military service) the social structure of the armies began to change radically at the same time. From here it is also understandable why so some circles in the general conscription the "legitimate child of democracy"(Theodor Heuss). Conscription appeared as a civic duty and at the same time as an opportunity to gain political weight and social prestige through access to the armed power of the state (including access to command positions within the armed forces) in connection with the idea of ​​universal suffrage) was initially primarily from a Emancipation and power perspective considered, which largely ignored the danger that the new military could become a "war machine of the masses". The belief that a "truly free people" (Kant) would hardly decide to throw themselves into war came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of war in 1914. With the Democratization of the political systems of Europe in the post-war period, there was not only the gradual opening of the military to all social classes (initially limited to the male population; the opening for women was not initiated until much later), but also a connection to the decision-making power over the use of military force to the respective democratic constitution of the states.

  2. By the modern state as constitutional state constituted, the submission of military force to the international and state legal order became an important socio-political concern. The modern democratic state is therefore making every effort to integrate the military as an institution into the existing legal systems. The basic principles relating to the military are enshrined in constitutional law (Defense constitution), all other matters are regulated by laws and ordinances. In addition, the norms of international law and international law are of particular importance for the military sphere of states (e.g. general prohibition of violence). For this reason, the question of the structure of the defense or military system in today's democracies is not only a political and social question, but also a question of law. Therefore, public discussions are part of the Legitimacy and Legality of Military Force everyday life in democratic-pluralistic societies.

  3. In modern democracies comes the design of the civil-military relationship particular importance to. The most important principle is the concept of Primacy of politics, i.e. the primacy of civil decision-making power and a clear subordination of the military to the civil executive. In this regard, both certain state institutions (e.g. parliament, courts, audit office) as well as a number of civil society Organizations (e.g. peace and civil rights movements, media, churches and religious communities) Control functions too, to watch over the adherence to the primacy of politics. The mechanisms and instruments of "civil control" of the military are often designed very differently in terms of their tasks, competencies and possible effects in the individual democratic states (e.g. parliamentary control rights; decision-making powers over declarations of war; functions of an ombudsman, military commissioner or ombudsman) and within the respective political system and legal system in different ways.

Democracy and the defense or military system

Anyone who thinks about the defense and military system of a community must first look at the basic concepts and ideas of the political system and the prevailing social convictions. The enormous range of Understanding of democracy, on which our modern societies are based, means that the answer to the question of which specific defense and military system best corresponds to a democratic understanding of politics and the state can turn out to be completely different. Different answers and different practices can be seen as expressions of a democratic-pluralistic social discourse. A general comparison of the currently established defense and military systems in the democratically pluralistic countries of the world quickly reveals serious differences. The spectrum ranges from tightly organized professional armies (e.g. USA, Great Britain), which are primarily geared towards military use anywhere in the world, to compulsory military service armies (e.g. Austria, Switzerland) that are structurally incapable of being outside their own country To conduct larger combat missions in the territory.

For the question of the connection between democracy and the defense system, the distinction between more statist and more socially liberal State conception be helpful: The role of the citizen with regard to the task of common defense can then be either as one conscript subjects or one citizen entitled to military service define. Depending on the degree of civil participation, the specific design of the defense system results. In accordance with the statist principle, the state directs and shapes society through laws (interventionism), taking the citizen into its own, as it were mandatory. On the basis of a social-liberal conception of the state, state and society appear to be functionally assigned to one another, and the citizen only becomes one Right to defense awarded.

In the public discussion in modern western democratic societies, this topic was mostly shortened to the question of whether the members of the community - in the broader sense of the male and female gender - were required to do military or military service Committed (i.e. forced) or not. The answers to this question varied greatly from one country to another. While some countries maintained conscription (e.g. Switzerland and Austria), numerous other democratically constituted societies decided to suspend or abolish traditional conscription and to convert the armed forces to voluntary recruitment (e.g. Germany, Sweden , Belgium, Netherlands and France).

Decisive for the choice of a certain defense or military system in a democracy are ultimately the social values ​​and basic political convictions and objectives of the community. The most important characteristics for the democratic constitution of the community must be the clear primacy of the political over any military and warlike and an orientation towards the principle of the peaceful balance of interests. The respective people have to decide for themselves about the specific defense system.

Limits and Challenges

However, the primacy of politics is often challenged even in democratically constituted states. For example, when different political or social interests and ideas about the functions and competencies of the military have to be negotiated. Especially the aspects of Definition of competencies as well as the functional or competency delimitation of the armed forces compared to other institutions play an essential role in this. If one considers the question of which civil authorities and instances are authorized in which specific situations to order military aid or operations, the answers in modern democracies are often very different. Even the strict separation between internal and external security, i.e. between the police and the military, is assessed completely differently in the pluralistic democratic states.

While the Federal Republic of Germany, based on past experience, maintained a strict separation between the military and the police for decades and considered deployment of the Bundeswehr internally to be fundamentally inadmissible, other states did provide for this option. Some even established special police units that were subordinate to the Ministry of Defense or the armed forces (e.g. the Italian Carabinieri).

In general, it can be observed in the recent past that a strict separation of the military and the police is being discussed in various countries, especially in the context of democratic reforms in the security sector (security sector reform). At the same time, countries like the Federal Republic are gradually softening their traditional postulate of separation - even if strict restrictions are still in place so that the military does not become a means of internal power. For example, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in 2012 that the use of armed forces and "military weapons" inside was permitted, but only in "unusual exceptional situations of catastrophic proportions" and within the narrow requirements of the Basic Law.

Also competing decision and action logics, e.g. through Interdependencies between politics, the military and the economy ("military-industrial complex"), can be problematic for the relationship between democracy and the military. The primacy of politics in the field of military armaments and procurement provides clear priority for political decision-making and decision-making processes, but political practice (lobbying) here in particular often gives rise to justified doubts. A dominance of military-industrial particular interests in society and politics would be just as problematic in terms of democratic politics as the militarization of politics, since in both cases the military would be somewhat withdrawn from the democratic decision-making and decision-making processes. A central task of politics in pluralistic-free democracies is therefore to preserve the sphere of politics and the freedom of action and decision-making of all their actors - also and especially in the relationship between modern democracies and their military.


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