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Ethics and Armed Forces: Rear Admiral Stawitzki, as soon as you took over the role of Commanding Officer of the Command and Staff College, you began to restructure the training, with a particular focus on streamlining it. Does this mean that less time is spent on issues of peace ethics and military ethics now?

Rear Admiral Stawitzki: No, not at all. A purely technical military profession without an ethical foundation is inconceivable both for the Bundeswehr with its concept of Innere Führung (leadership development and civic education), and for me as a Christian. So an appropriate amount of time needs to be spent on this foundation during training – for all decisions that we take as military leaders. If you talk about ethics, it means you want to lead. And if you want to lead, you have to set objectives, be able to explain the purpose, and you take a moral position – one way or another. There are numerous unresolved questions in current developments in the international law of armed conflict, which involve legal and political but also ethical and military aspects. This calls for much greater discussion between decision-makers and leaders in various fields than has taken place in the past.

How do you teach these topics, and in what con­text are they discussed?

We currently teach them both in classes and in seminars and colloquia, as well as in character guidance training (Lebenskundlicher Unterricht) and at meetings of the military chaplaincy. This also applies to military exercises, where ethical debates need to occupy an established place. But in the future I want to include these topics in research and development in the broadest possible partnership, particularly with the Helmut Schmidt University, the university of the German Armed Forces, as part of our think-tank approach. Our need for critical discourse is greater than ever.

One key aspect of ethical education is character formation, especially in regard to leadership competence. Here you want to teach core skills instead of checklist-style instructions. But course participants don’t come to the Führungsakademie until their 15th year of service, at the earliest. To what extent can character still be influenced at this point?

Well, we’re not talking about early moral education or some kind of military communion or confirmation classes. We’re not talking about the personal formation of conscience either, which of course accompanies everyone throughout their whole lifetime. We are talking about forms and content of ethical responsibility across the entire spectrum of military professionalism. Especially in Germany, a country whose military past has seen more disruption and less continuity, we are still working to give military advice an appropriate place in civil and political society. The Command and Staff College can play an important role here by strengthening officers’ professional self-confidence and their ability to contribute to moral and ethical debates.

For nearly 20 years, the self-image of military personnel has been influenced by experience of deployment and combat. It is occasionally said that training in the German Armed Forces should place a greater emphasis on or even be confined to combat. What do you say to course participants who come to the college with such thoughts?

The men and women who attend the Command and Staff College do not come here to learn basic soldier skills. The college is not a military training ground. We are concerned with the military leadership process, though ultimately that always comes down to the ability to maintain the monopoly on the use of force, governed by the rule of law, in the heat of battle. In the international law of armed conflict, the essence of being a soldier is the authorization to participate in military combat. Nobody except for the regular soldiers of a member state of the United Nations is allowed to take part in combat operations. In this way, the profession of soldier holds a special position – as do other professions in their own fields. So when we place military combat at the center of officer training, we are bound to examine the moral context. After all, combat is not an end in itself. It serves to attain military objectives in the context of an interlinked approach to achieving peace.

Deployment of the German Armed Forces in­side the country is frequently discussed in light of the threat from international terrorism. March of this year saw GETEX, the first joint exercise ­involving the police and the Bundeswehr. What role does counterterrorism cooperation between the German Armed Forces, police and other civilian institutions play in training at the Command and Staff College?

Hybrid scenarios – i.e. the perfidious idea of systematically organized destabilization of a community like ours through cyberattacks, disinformation, instrumentalization of sections of the population, etc., which is deliberately below the threshold of a state of war under international law – as well as the dangers of terrorist attacks must play a part in training at our college if we are to fulfill our responsibility. Essentially we shouldn’t rule out any ideas prematurely – especially at an academy whose coat of arms bears the motto “Mens agitat molem” (“Mind moves matter”). This year, for example, on our senior General Staff / Admiral Staff Officer course which has just finished, we conducted a strategic analysis to examine Germany’s role in territorial and Alliance defense, and tried to think in new ways.

Counterterrorism always involves tensions be­tween freedom and security. How do your course participants learn to deal with these tensions – both personally and as officers?

Today more than ever, course participants at our college are usually experienced leaders in military operations. We have young soldiers who have proven themselves in battle situations in Afghanistan and Mali, for example. So these women and men are familiar with dealing with such tensions. Through our work here at the college, we try to provide a framework for their continued personal development.

How do you deal yourself with these tensions?

My personal view is that freedom and security are not contradictory. In this world and in this life there will never be one without the other. On this point I am a real-world pacifist.

Thank you, Rear Admiral Carsten Stawitzki, for the candid interview.

Questions by Jan Peter Gülden