Why don't more people join the army?


Contribution to the national conscription conference on May 25, 2004 in Berlin

The Bundeswehr is facing difficult restructuring processes. In his lecture on the occasion of the National Conscription Conference on May 25, 2004 in Berlin, bpb President Thomas Krüger takes stock of the debate about the future of general conscription.

There are many indications that the Bundeswehr is currently facing the most difficult restructuring processes since it was founded. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the change of system in the former Warsaw Pact countries, the first talk was about the peace dividend, which could now be credited, but it soon became apparent that new security-political uncertainties and globally inflamed trouble spots would determine future developments. If structures and enemy images dissolve on the one hand, other, new areas of conflict arise and solidify with even greater complexity and with global political, political-psychological, socio-cultural and system-structural demands on politics and societies.

The Bundeswehr finds itself embedded in these questions. Hardly any other state-institutional area has had to think and shape the system and social change so fundamentally. One of the key questions that characterize and define this restructuring process is the question of general conscription or the voluntary, i.e. professional army.

The historical-political discourse on this question is quite the opposite in Germany: here conscription as "the legitimate child of democracy" as Theodor Heuss said in 1949, and there conscription as a structural danger that is not suitable for protecting democracy, as activists do from the peace and conscientious objection movement as Christian Herz thinks.

For Theo Sommer, the deputy chairman of the "Weizsackerkommission" "Common Security and Future of the Bundeswehr", Heuss is both right and wrong. Wrong insofar as it was Adolf Hitler who introduced general conscription. Right, however, with regard to the history of the Federal Republic after the Second World War. The introduction of conscription, namely defense as the task of the whole people, firstly avoided the army as a "state within the state" and, secondly, called up enough soldiers against the threat from the East.

It must be added, however, that the introduction of compulsory military service was also associated with an elitist, popular educational and intervening approach to social control, which a majority of the 1950s society wanted. With compulsory military service as a valuable "education for life", as it was called in a brochure by the federal government in 1956, the army was associated with an educational mandate and became an "educational authority" itself, as Ute Frevert put it in 2001.

But that was by no means what Wolf Graf von Baudissin, the head of the "Internal Structure" department in the "Blank Office", had imagined. Its mission statement for a future soldier stated that the nation and the state would become the school of the armed forces and not the other way around that the army was a "school of the nation".

The model of the "citizen in uniform", that is, the idea of ​​a non-autonomous military education, initially met with considerable resistance in the Bundeswehr and in political conservatism. In his government declaration of 1969, Willy Brandt felt called upon to reaffirm this principle. I quote: "The aim is to educate a critical, discerning citizen who is able to recognize the conditions of his social existence through a permanent learning process and to behave accordingly. The school of the nation is the school."

And Fritz Erler emphasized that "democracy should not stop at the barracks gate" and said: "The army will only be able to and must develop what is already in the foundations of the people through their previous upbringing". It cannot replace what has been neglected at home and at school. But it must not destroy either, but must develop what was previously achieved.

On the other hand, probably not least from his historical experience with National Socialism, the same Fritz Erler described the complicated relationship between the army and the democratic state in an essay in 1955. "Every army", so Erler, "has its domestic political questionable nature, is based on the principles of command and obedience and is therefore from the outset an opposition to democracy, which is based on discussion and voting (...)."

It is therefore important "to find the right position for the military in politics. Depoliticization is of no use. It does not lead to the military authorities becoming aware of their serving role in parliamentary democracy. Rather, it makes the military feel superior to the" Political lows. In truth, this is also a political stance, namely an stance outside of and against democracy. "

Conclusions from these statements can only be that: 1. the army must not become the school of the nation, because otherwise what Manfred Messerschmidt calls the "social militarization of society" for a society with a conscript army actually occurs 2. pluralistic democracy may not follow the military-immanent principles of command and obedience, but on the basis of a value-oriented argumentative pros and cons to a recognized decision by majority vote, even if it takes longer than orders to pass through. 3. the military must recognize the primacy of democratic politics; Therefore, the self-image of the "depoliticized" military must not arise because it would be highly political, that is to say, anti-democratic, and therefore special and civic and socio-political obligations are incurred by those responsible.

Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, the current debate about the pros and cons of general conscription is more than a security and alliance policy, constitutional and financial issue. This is about the democratic self-image of the community.

It is about the political culture underlying democracy in the Federal Republic in its political-normative and institutional constitution.

The question of the form of defense therefore requires a broad social discussion, because it is linked to socio-integrative and political-programmatic issues. It can only be useful for this discussion that the level of sympathy and acceptance of the Bundeswehr in German society are gratifyingly high, as the SOWI 2004 report shows.

The predominantly generally positive attitude towards the Bundeswehr, however, is mainly explained by the considerations of usefulness ascribed to it.

It is interesting that this ascription of usefulness primarily relates to (over) life support in disaster situations. We are evidently dealing with something like the socially integrative civil society of the Bundeswehr. According to this study, it is interesting that the constitutionally and militarily genuine mission, namely the defense of one's own country, is not mentioned in the first place. And if so, then only for domestic use.

In other words: The non-military and Germany-oriented Federal Armed Forces deployment is preferred.

This leads to a question:

Doesn't the requirement and competence profile, as formulated for the Bundeswehr from German society, have to define more precisely and unambiguously a civil professionalization on the task side?

So should something like "socializing or socializing" be added to the traditional tasks of self-defense and deterrence?

A completely different question arises from the recent bursts of modernization of transnational structures, as diagnosed by Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens:

Is therefore the expected, perhaps also hoped for, "denationalization and communitarization of traditional military tasks", as Karl W. Staltiner puts it, or the noted decrease in affective ties to the nation state, as Tzvetan Todorov explained in his brilliant essay "The prevented world power" already so widespread and solidified social consciousness overarching the nation-state?

Or to put it another way: How realistic is an assertive European army that can resolve its internal conflicts on its own and that acts internationally together with its democratic partners?

Both questions are part of the restructuring issue. The current starting situation for the Bundeswehr can be clearly stated. On the one hand, there will continue to be external imponderables that will result in new security policy requirements.

The restructuring debate on the conscription or voluntary army always refers to the Bundeswehr as a whole. What is required of her is self-reflection and a change of perspective within the system. Because on the agenda are the culture of remembrance, the political culture and the understanding of values ​​of this republic as well as new military-strategic contextualities overarching the nation-state.

I would like to clarify what this is all about using five questions:

1) Is the Bundeswehr still a reflection of society?

The thesis of the Bundeswehr as a reflection of society has not been true for many years. So this argument only uses an identity myth and has nothing to do with the real situation for more than three decades.

Whether it is the gender ratio, formal educational qualifications, political attitudes or regional peculiarities, the Bundeswehr is different in terms of its heterogeneity than society as a whole, both among conscripts and among professional and contract soldiers. As much as one can welcome this development as a process of democratization and differentiation in society as a whole, one must, however, ask how much the internal structure and understanding of the Bundeswehr and the ways of communication and perception between it and civil society have changed. Responses to this would also have to affect decisions for the volunteer army, because their recruiting patterns are likely to be far more selective.

In any case, it must seem paradoxical when one relates the causes and possible consequences of this development to one another. On the one hand, this is where the constitutional core of the current dispute can be found: The lack of military justice due to the inadequate implementation of general conscription.

On the other hand, if the result of these controversial positions came to the volunteer army, this could lead, for example, to more women in military service than under the current circumstances. At least that is what comparative studies on the shape of the military show. In other words: a professional army would then be more feminine and partially "equal" in legal and gender-specific terms.

But how great would the degree of "deformation professional" be if the permanent change between the army and civil society no longer took place? Todorov rightly says that being a civilian before and after being a soldier helps to ask the question whether it makes sense to distinguish between civilian and military victims, a question that Herfried Münkler also asked with regard to the character of the new ones Wars.

2) Does the general population also accept the Bundeswehr as a result of compulsory military service?

Possibly it is a result of a lack of socio-structural and consciousness-related mirror image between the armed forces and society if it is less or only very focused in the public consciousness.

If, however, conscription becomes a “conditio sine qua non” for acceptance and perception, for “community-based armed forces”, models of reformed conscription must be considered not only for constitutional reasons, but also for socio-political considerations. This could and should take place in the context of an overall social justice discourse.

At the same time, however, a constitutional and socio-political dilemma lurks here. On the one hand, a clear majority of the population has a positive attitude towards conscription, on the other hand almost 50 percent can imagine its abolition and just over 50 percent can imagine general service with optional service obligations.

Depending on age, level of education and party political preference, there are definitely different positions here (SOWI population survey, 2004). In this way, the issue of conscription also becomes an issue of inclusion for a society based on solidarity and could gain additional relevance through its socially integrative function.

It is therefore daring to sum up at this point that the question of the form of military service needs to be clarified, but that general conscription has so far been of little use to highlight the political and normative legitimacy deficits of the Federal German community.

3) Does the structure of the Bundeswehr have an impact on political decisions to send the army on international missions?

The structure of the form of defense undoubtedly also determines the political actors in their deployment decisions. In the case of a conscript army, it can be assumed that the pressure of responsibility on politics to see the military as the "ultima ratio" increases. It is not the uncritical acceptance of the collective obligation and the understanding that everyone is affected, but the justifiability towards a society that wants to see inalienable rights and protection from state attacks assured to the individual, should constitute the area of ​​tension between responsible, democratically legitimized politics and the citizens . Of course, this structure can lead to a burden for the Bundeswehr in the future, both institutionally and in terms of personnel. Because it contributes to the formation of a two-class army.

On the other hand, the civilian competencies of the conscript soldiers could be of great value in the future, especially for the stabilization forces, because it would create additional political and moral acceptance, because mutual understanding and networking with NGOs would be promoted and because this could facilitate the development of civil structures.

4) Is there a connection between conscription and future professionalism of the Bundeswehr missions?

If, as is unanimously assumed by the proponents of a volunteer army, it will lead to an increase in professionalism, then the question must be allowed, what kind of professionalism is we talking about here?

Does she mean the "martial ability" as the "craft of the soldier" or the idea of ​​the "soldier as a fighter"? General military service could better counteract such an understanding of training and such an attitude. Because structurally and intentionally, it creates a high degree of publicity.

And with such an understanding, the public would be all the more important because it would not be at all compatible with the current image of the Bundeswehr in society. In this respect, conscription is the institutional agora for communication between society and the army.

5) Is general conscription part of citizenship law in the self-understanding discourse on pluralistic democracy and civil society in Germany?

Security policy issues, which as value issues also belong in the context of the establishment of legitimacy in society as a whole, are also implicit components of the determination of the relationship between the individual, civil society and the state. With the question of conscription, the problem of the autonomy and responsibility of the individual, of commitment and relocation of decisions to civil society and of the responsibility of democratic statehood, which can be found in this triad, is made an issue.

A closer look is required in order not to instrumentalise the issue of conscription for interest politics and ideology production. In my opinion, one thing is the case if there is a plea for the retention of compulsory military service in order to want to save the community service as a supporting pillar of the welfare state. The conscription debate should remain as free as possible from such considerations.

On the other hand, compulsory military service as an optional community obligation (military service or alternative service) can be used to promote the tolerant and pluralistic, but self-binding democracy of the Federal Republic of Germany. However, other optional integration models could undoubtedly also stand for this.

The question that remains, however, is whether the volunteer army in its self-image and its internal structure still retains the relationship to society as a whole and - more importantly - would receive the corresponding critical-affirmative attention from there.

Let me take stock:

If you take a closer look, the pro and contra conscription debate is one that has accompanied the Bundeswehr and its relationship with civil society since it was founded. Of course, the respective dispute was always in a security and socio-political context.So for this society and the army it supports and wants, it is not only a situation-related discussion, but an indispensable one for the self-image and the integration mechanisms of this liberal, pluralistic democracy.

So far, it has absolutely not harmed the reputation of this republic, internally or externally, to appear with a conscript army. This has a lot to do with the permanent transfer of knowledge and acceptance on both sides and is in this respect an expression of a political culture of integrative pluralism. You will therefore not be surprised that, when weighing up all the arguments, I speak out in favor of compulsory selection, but always keep an eye on the socio-political and global political challenges.