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Be Able to Fight So You Won't Have to Fight – Does this Motto Still Hold True?

By Eberhard Zorn

The Russian attack on Ukraine, with its devastating local and global consequences, has rightly been described as a turning point, or Zeitenwende. In military terms, this amounts to a fundamental change in the situation: whereas the past twenty years were characterized by deployments abroad, national and collective defence as the core mission of the Bundeswehr now requires an immediate return to full operational readiness in all areas – with special attention to combat effectiveness, including supposedly soft factors.

Even during the Cold War era, the “inner compass” and morale were crucial to the credibility of deterrence. Innere Führung was based on the insight that maximum military effectiveness is achieved precisely by subordinating the armed forces to the free and democratic constitutional order, and aligning their moral compass with the rule of law and the respect for human rights enshrined in the Basic Law.

In the context of Russian warfare and Ukraine’s successful defense campaign, the value of this organizational and leadership philosophy – oriented toward the purpose of service – becomes abundantly clear. At the same time, its evolution also involves reflecting on core criteria such as practicability and comprehensibility, leading by trust and example, and the importance of military education.

A credible offensive and defensive capability depends among other things on a conscious acceptance of the hardships of service, a comprehensive personal development approach to increase confidence and resilience, appropriate medical and pastoral care, and strong social support. “Be able and willing to fight so you won’t have to fight”: this modified maxim from the Cold War expresses preservation of what has proven to be useful, while also readjusting.

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