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Sea Rescue in the Mediterranean and Hybrid Warfare

For weeks, refugees from Syria, Iraq, and North Africa have been making the news and shaping political discussions in Europe. The intensity of these discussions has risen along with the challenges that countries of the European Union face in dealing with the extent of the humanitarian catastrophe and its immense cost.

Islamic terrorists are operating in the crisis regions of Western Asia and North Africa, from which people are fleeing in their thousands. Despite having considerably different motives in some cases, these terrorist groups are united by a concept of the “West” as the enemy, including its secularity.

From a humanitarian viewpoint, the refugees are without a doubt victims of the armed conflicts which are ultimately driving them to flee into the unknown. Unintentionally, however, they also become part of the Islamists’ hybrid warfare, which, in addition to using military means, quite deliberately aims to destabilize the “Western enemy” both economically and politically.

Moreover, in light of the Ukraine crisis, is it a coincidence that so many refugees from Syria are trying to find their way to Europe right now? Or is it not also in the interests of the Russian president and Assad supporter Putin to break apart European unity?

Thus, the current flow of refugees are apt to open deep cracks in the facade of the much-vaunted European community of values. This lack of political cohesion in Europe reveals a vulnerability that the protagonists of hybrid warfare are using to their advantage. But even within the EU member states, the increasing plurality with respect to the refugees offers an open flank for hybrid attacks on their social integrity and defensive potential. The intensifying debate over refugees in Germany clearly demonstrates the potential for political destabilization and a socially explosive situation.

In the face of these vulnerabilities, during my deployment as commander of the 1st German Sea Rescue Contingent (1. Deutsche Einsatzkontingent Seenotrettung) from May to June 2015, a number of rather probing questions arose: What happens after the initial – in my opinion – abundantly naive media enthusiasm about the “good deed” when the reality of the refugee influx hits home? Are we soldiers, nolens volens, becoming part of the chain of human traffickers and, at worst, even becoming a ferryman for IS terrorists on the route across the Mediterranean? And how are these risks consistent with our oath?

The soldier’s basic duty “loyally to serve the Federal Republic of Germany and courageously to defend the rights and freedoms of the German people” lies at the heart of the armed forces’ military task, and, at the same time, through the commitment to the values of the German Constitution, it provides firm guidance for individual soldiers.

How am I to reconcile these values with the reality of sea rescue?

The values of the federal constitution also provided me with a firm standard when, as a result of the sea rescue, firstly the rights and the values of the German people embodied therein were defended, but secondly the prosperity and the social integrity of the German people, in particular, appeared to be put at risk by the mass influx of rescued refugees.

There was definitely a dilemma here, but powerlessness in the face of hybrid wars? No! Powerlessness means helplessness or at least a sense of not being able to do that which is necessary with the available options. I felt neither.

I had a clearly defined task. To carry it out did not constitute a crime, nor did it violate human dignity. Therefore, it had to be carried out. Our federal constitution also provided me with a deeper answer: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”

The soldiers of the 1st German Sea Rescue Contingent stood up for this basic right with firm will and immense skills in improvisation.Our basic rights are the cement that can hold our – intentionally or unintentionally – “more colorful” society together, not only today but tomorrow as well. These rights are the guidelines that we can offer refugees starting a new life, but which we should also demand that they respect, in order to maintain a united society despite its increasing pluralization. They are ultimately the guarantors of unity, justice, and freedom, and hence of the existence of our country in its current constitutional form.

With powerful ships, well-trained crews, and legitimacy given, even in full awareness of the potentially explosive force of a mass influx of refugees from other cultures, the deployed troops were not powerless – they were called to duty in the name of these values.

Nothing must be allowed to change the soldier’s commitment to values, even in an age of hybrid warfare, and not even if the enemy exploits the openness of our free democratic basic order. Were we to give this up, the enemy would have defeated us in the innermost core of our being.

Captain Andreas-Martin Seidl

Captain Andreas-Martin Seidl was deployed as commander of the operational and training flotilla (Einsatz- und Ausbildungsverband, EAV) from January to June 2015. With its mobilization for the refugee rescue operation, he became commander of the 1st German Sea Rescue Contingent (1. Deutsche Einsatzkontingent Seenotrettung). He has been head of department in the Planning Office of the German Armed Forces (Planungsamt der Bundeswehr) since October 1, 2015. He was captain of a minesweeper and operations officer on board the frigate “Köln.” After serving as first officer on the frigate “Niedersachsen” and working as an adviser in the German Federal Ministry of Defense (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, BMVg), Seidl was captain of the frigate “Schleswig-Holstein” from 2007 to 2009. Subsequently, he was engaged as an adviser to Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Kossendey, and as head of department for the development of the Intervention Forces Operational Command Headquarters (Kommando Operative Führung Eingreifkräfte) before taking over command the 2nd Frigate Squadron (2. Fregattengeschwader) in June 2012. He joined the German armed forces in July 1984. After studying economics and organizational science, he began his military career on Lindau-class minesweepers.

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All articles in this issue

Hybrid Attacks Demand Comprehensive Defense
Bastian Giegerich
Hybrid Wars. The Dissolution of the Binary Order of War and Peace, and Its Consequences
Herfried Münkler
"Hybrid Warfare" – A Possible Trigger for Advances in the Comprehensive Approach?
Fouzieh Melanie Alamir
From Hybrid Threats to Hybrid Security Policy
Christian Mölling
Just Peacemaking and Hybrid Wars
Drew Christiansen SJ
Old Wars, New Rules – The Impacts of Hybrid Warfare on Women
Karin Nordmeyer
Myths of Hybrid Warfare
Mary Ellen O’Connell
"Hybrid Warfare" and the Continuing Relevance of the Just War Tradition in the 21st Century
David Whetham
Media Battlefields: Hybrid Wars and Their Communicative Declarations of War
Bernd Zywietz


Michael Gmelch Jan Heymann
Andreas-Martin Seidl
Elke Tießler-Marenda Jürgen Weigt