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Leadership ethics under deployment conditions

When seen alongside the main lines of discussion concerning “New Wars” and “post-heroic societies” which are increasingly loss-averse and, at the same time, concerned with avoiding losses on the enemy’s side, the discussion about Innere Führung (leadership development and civic education) and its reception in other organizational cultures initially appears to be of rather marginal importance. On closer examination, however, it can be seen that with the emergence of “hybrid threats” in Europe, the blurring of the boundaries between internal and external security, especially in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, as well as the threat of terrorist attacks in Germany, a discussion, about leadership philosophies – including those of the authorities and the non-police emergency response organizations – is in order. In this discussion there are certain considerations which call into question the deployment of armed forces overseas in accordance with the population-centered approach in the fight against irregular forces as part of the Networked Security Approach or Comprehensive Approach. At the core of these considerations is the same problem with which members of the non-police emergency response services are also increasingly confronted when they are, in some cases, specifically targeted for attack while carrying out their emergency response missions. They must deliberate, in terms of leadership ethics, what can reasonably be expected of one’s own forces and what is justifiable with regard to the individual on the opposing side. In other words, under what security-threat circumstances is the required deployment of one’s own forces (still) appropriate? For armed forces on overseas deployments, this specifically concerns the question of the extent to which soldiers should have to open themselves up to attack without being able to effectively fight the enemy themselves, so that the population-­centered approach and the winning of “hearts and minds” can still succeed. This is an ethical question which highlights the tension between leadership responsibility and the duty of care of military leaders towards those they lead, on the one hand, and responsibility with regards to the militarily justifiable deployment of weapons, on the other. At the same time, the problem goes beyond the essential question at the core of military service: the giving and taking of life. It is also about more than just the usual balancing of military considerations of mission fulfillment and the risks to one’s own deployed forces. Especially in the United States, in connection with current manifestations of armed conflicts and increased exposure, the associated dangers which the population-centered approach necessarily entails are being questioned and the approach as such is up for renogotiation.1 On the part of the military, one cause for such criticism is the perception that, in case of doubt, the supposedly safe kinetic implementation of the mission through the offensive use of deadly force has to take a back seat. This could be the case even if, as a result, directly or indirectly, one’s own forces could be placed in danger if a kinetic operation clashes with the principles of the population-centered approach. Kinetic operations are military combat operations to secure or stabilize an area. This increased danger finds expression firstly in the rules of engagement (ROE) but also in counterinsurgency principles with special consideration of “hearts and minds” as set out in doctrines and rules for counterinsurgency such as FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency for the US Army and US Marine Corps. However, in the criticism expressed here, the extent to which it has been correctly understood whether tactical action can have a strategic impact especially in counterinsurgency missions and the extent to which strategic intentions may also lead to failure could be brought into question.2 This tension could be resolved with the aid of mission-type tactics. If the leaders on the tactical level pose themselves precisely this problem and, with this in mind, bring about an outcome in their decision-making which takes into account the reciprocal relationship between the purpose on the political level and the military intention on the tactical level. Mission-type tactics should lead them to decisions which correspond to the task at hand and the intentions of the higher-­level leadership and which make the purpose and associated risks comprehensible and transparent to the subordinate forces. It is notable that the American leadership regulations both for counterinsurgency operations and for deployments against hybrid threats also take “mission-type tactics” into account.

Mission-type tactics as the core of German leadership thinking

For the original civil protection organizations in Germany, i.e. fire services, aid organizations, disaster relief organizations, and the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (BundesanstaltTechnisches Hilfswerk, THW), there is no codification that equals the concept of Innere Führung in the German armed forces (Bundes­wehr). The same is true for the federal and state police forces. The reason for this can be found in the history of the Bundeswehr and its establishment in a democracy emerging from the tradition of the German armed forces after the Second World War. Nevertheless, in the other police and non-police emergency response orga­nizations, there are organizational cultures, and in each case an inner structure, in which problems and core issues of Innere Führung – which is the proven Bundeswehr leadership concept – are of current relevance. Moreover, there is strong interest in this concept in other countries, specifically in its core area which also particularly includes what are known as “mission-type tactics” (Auftrags­taktik), that is, “leading by mission” (Führen mit Auftrag).3 In principle, leadership thinking in the German emergency response authorities at the operational/tactical level is the same. Thus, in these actors’ organizational cultures, factors such as independence, initiative, ability, and trust have their respective importance. For the Bundes­wehr, especially for the ground troops, leading by mission is regarded as the highest principle. This also applies to deployment abroad.4 This principle is not undisputed – at least as far as everyday leadership practice is concerned. In reality, its application and expression is always the product of an individual leadership style and leadership behavior. In contrast, as well as “mission-type tactics,” the police forces also recognize the principle of “detailed-order tactics” (Befehlstaktik), which is a rigid form of command that leaves subordinates no room for maneuver when carrying out their orders. The civil protection organizations have also adopted “mission-type tactics” in their service regulations. In modern deployment scenarios, all actors in the national security architecture face similar questions – albeit in different contexts and different dimensions – which concern the respective leadership philosophies and are therefore also of ethical relevance.

Leadership ethics of civilian task forces under hybrid threat conditions

The case of a hybrid threat or an asymmetric attack, possibly even carried out in the form of several or multiple follow-up attacks, could indeed have consequences for the organizational cultures of actors in the non-military, non-police emergency response services in the context of the five pillars of national security architecture. The concept of hybrid threats is based on the increased complexity, illimitability, and diversity of threats. The main characteristic underlying the concept of hybrid threats is the combined and orchestrated – and often covert – use of military and non-military means by state and non-state actors to achieve political objectives.5 The repertoire of actors who operate in such a way ranges from conventional and unconventional warfare to organized crime, propaganda, disinformation, operations in cyberspace, the instrumentalization of the protest potential of minority groups in society, and terrorist attacks.5 Scenarios previously only experienced in remote crisis and war zones may become a reality locally and may occur with hitherto unknown patterns of injury and destroyed infrastructure. Today, members of fire services, emergency medical services, disaster relief organizations, and aid organizations – on the margins or at the center of “demonstrations” – are increasingly finding themselves confronted with actors who are either violent or prepared to use violence. For these actors, the deployed police forces are no longer the sole object of their propensity to violence, as they also often identify members of the non-police emergency response services as representatives of the state and therefore meet them with hostility. This culminates in having a massive effect on their lives, health, and operating resources. Thus, civilian task forces are no longer regarded by perpetrators as neutral institutions with a humanitarian mission. Instead they stand for the state and are attacked as representatives of the “system.” At the same time, it can be assumed that the perpetrators have recognized the importance of a functioning assistance and emergency response system – as well as the psychological importance of its existence and the necessity of it in times of crisis. This makes members of these organizations significant as a target; no distinctions are made and no consideration is shown. Events of this kind have considerable impact on the self-image of the task forces, who (for the most part) joined these organizations as volunteers and see themselves as “neutral helpers” but who are now treated with hostility as they carry out their aid and rescue work. That task forces are no longer necessarily viewed as helpers and instead may experience hostile treatment to the point of being physically harmed is a fact that stands in diametric opposition to the basic helping attitude of the emergency responders who expect recognition, not rejection. Thus, ethical and moral issues are raised which have a fundamental impact on the inner structure of emergency response organizations. This paradigm shift affects the core of the inner mindset, self-confidence, and professional self-image of emergency responders – “profession” here being used in the sense not of a main occupation but of a calling or vocation, which is closer to the original meaning of the word. It is particularly unreasonable to expect emergency responders – especially volunteers – to expose themselves to additional intentional threats beyond the imminent dangers of their ordinary emergency response missions.

Consequences for the mission and the inner structure

In light of this, the leaders and personnel of civilian relief and emergency services are confronted with an issue that opens up a new dimension and should be recognized in the leadership and decision-making process. In the future, it will be necessary in some circumstances to take hybrid threat situations and direct attacks on civilian task forces into account in operational planning and tactical deployment. Furthermore, there should be a response to these new challenges during the training phase. At the same time, this means that there is a need for a fundamental analysis of these “tough” deployment situations, and individual self-perceptions as well as attitudes to deployment should be able to adapt to such scenarios. Under such deployment conditions, the assistance and rescue mission now also involves acting in an insecure environment, ensuring personal safety and protection against third parties. This again means that, in some circumstances, fulfilling the original mission may have to take second place. In concrete terms, this means that in the future, in the event of an explosion, it can no longer necessarily be assumed that it is an accident which can be dealt with according to the principles of the civilian emergency services. Instead, it may now be the case that the event and damage are the result of an attack. Hence it is questionable whether and when (if at all) emergency responders can gain access to the incident site and the injured persons if it is not clear whether or not it is a multiple attack. It may be necessary to decide whether emergency responders should swiftly advance to the incident site and to the injured, and, ignoring the injuries and condition of the victims, rescue them from the danger zone so that necessary emergency medical treatment can be given in a secure environment. That this course of action is not ideal for the patients and may even be harmful to them is just as obvious as the fact that emergency responders are exposed to very high threat in such a scenario. As a result, the burden of responsibility on leaders increases. Under these conditions, leaders are required to a greater extent than previously to weigh up whether and under what conditions and with what stipulations they deploy personnel to rescue other people. The task forces under their command, in turn, need to be able to trust these decisions. These changes inevitably have impact on the inner structure of these organizations, as they concern the key elements of mission-type tactics: independence, initiative, ability, and trust. These are all  also key elements of Innere Führung. Thus, when it comes to shaping the inner structure of civilian emergency response organizations, the Innere Führung of the German armed forces may provide helpful and constructive guidance.

1 Suares, Luis A. (2014): Winning Hearts and Minds: The Injustice of Humanizing War, Leipzig.

2 Freudenberg, Dirk (2016): Counterinsurgency als Phase zur Überwindung schwacher Staatlichkeit und zur Etablierung einer stabilen Nachkriegsordnung, Berlin.

3 Freudenberg, Dirk (2005): Militärische Führungsphilosophien und Führungskonzeptionen ausgewählter NATO- und WEU-Staaten im Vergleich, Wiesbaden.

4 Freudenberg, Dirk (2014): Auftragstaktik und Innere Führung. Feststellungen und Anmerkungen zur Frage nach Bedeutung und Verhältnis des inneren Gefüges und der Auftragstaktik unter den Bedingungen des Einsatzes der Deutschen Bundeswehr, Berlin.

5 Tamminga, Oliver (2015): “Zum Umgang mit hybriden Bedrohungen,” in: SWP-Aktuell 92, Berlin, p. 1.