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Ethical Education in the German Armed Forces: Embraced Values and Moral Judgement

Germany’s Federal Ministry of Defence is soon to issue a Zentrale Dienstvorschrift (joint service regulation; ZDv) on “Ethical Training in the German Armed Forces”. This regulation, which is aimed at everyone who belongs to the Bundeswehr as well as military and civilian executives, aims not only to describe the general objectives of ethical training in the German armed forces, but also to lay down standards for the provision of training.

The military, of course, is known for its organizational principle of orders and obedience. Military superiors can give subordinates written, verbal, and other kinds of instructions to behave in a certain way, and are entitled to expect obedience (cf. § 2 (2) WStG (Wehrstrafgesetz – Military Penal Law)). However, the right to issue orders in the German armed forces does not imply blind obedience. A soldier may not carry out criminal orders or commit atrocities just because “orders are orders” – as was the case in the Wehrmacht at the time of National Socialism.1 In military law, the authority to issue orders has clear limits set upon it (§ 10 (4) SG (Soldatengesetz – Law on the Legal Status of Soldiers)), and misconduct is deemed punishable (§ 32 WStG). Orders are not binding if they violate human dignity, if they are issued for reasons other than official ones, or if they are unreasonable. Subordinates do not have to follow them (§ 11 (1) SG). In fact, soldiers are obliged not to obey any order which would entail a criminal act. They become criminally culpable if they are aware that the ordered action constitutes a criminal offence, or even if they should have been aware (§ 11 (2) SG in conjunction with § 5 WStG).

In light of this legal situation and the fact that over fifty civilian legal instructors teach these limits on the authority to issue orders at academies, officer training colleges, and military schools – and given that, at a divisional level and higher, over a hundred legal consultants advise commanders and leadership groups in the Bundeswehr – one might well ask why a dedicated service regulation governing ethical training in the German armed forces is needed in the first place, especially since one has never before been deemed necessary in the sixty years of the Bundeswehr’s existence. Such doubts are accentuated when one considers that the ZDv on “Political Education in the German armed forces” (A-2620/1) already formulates objectives of an ethical nature. That set of instructions aims “to enable soldiers to consciously advocate and defend the basic and human rights formulated in Germany’s Basic Law (Grundgesetz)” (No. 203 Par. 6), and “to develop and encourage a willingness and ability to reflect upon the fundamental questions of a military career – especially its ethical and moral dimensions” (Par. 3).

Furthermore, ever since it was founded, the Bundeswehr has provided Lebenskundlicher Unter­richt, or ethical life skills training, which is generally given by military chaplains, in which soldiers are encouraged to think about their own life orientation, and whose curriculum includes a variety of ethical themes (ZDv A-2620/3). Why, despite all this, do we need dedicated ethical training in the armed forces, and what content does it intend to impart?

Value orientation

Ethical training in the German armed forces is primarily about teaching values. First and foremost of these are “human dignity, freedom, peace, justice, equality, solidarity, and democracy”, which are also declared to be “the guiding values of our state” (A-2600/1, No. 106). Elsewhere in the current ZDv entitled Innere Führung. Selbstverständnis und Führungskultur der Bundeswehr (Leadership development and civic education. Identity and leadership culture in the German armed forces), it states that it is only the “value system of the Basic Law” that guarantees “human dignity, freedom, peace, justice, equality, solidarity, and democracy” (No. 304). It is “Innere Führung (literally ‘inner leadership’; more generally: leadership development and civic education)” which “puts into effect the values and standards of the Basic Law in the German armed forces” (No. 301), and from whose basic principles a dedicated “canon of soldierly values” can be derived, which helps soldiers become “brave, loyal, and conscientious, comradely and considerate, disciplined, competent, and willing to learn in their particular field, truthful to themselves and others, just, tolerant, open to other cultures, and able to form moral judgements” (No. 507). “Political education” aims to impart and deepen the values and standards of the Basic Law (cf. No. 625), and the “Lebenskundlicher Unterricht taught by military chaplains is designed to play a pivotal role” in ensuring that soldiers “always advocate and defend the values and standards of the free, democratic constitutional order” (cf. No. 508f).

The concept of values is not always used consistently, especially when it is hastily linked with the concept of standards; this indicates inadequate understanding. Standards and values are certainly related, but they do not mean the same thing. Human actions and state institutions are standardized and evaluated, yet standards obey a “logic of obligation”, whereas values follow the “logic of preferential choice”2. Standards have compelling and limiting characteristics, whereas values possess an attracting, motivating quality. They both relate to different experiences: that something should be a certain way, or that we are enthusiastic about something, that we sense and recognize a duty, or that something provides us with orientation.

This brief sketch and delineation of what the concept means has implications for the way values come about and, therefore, how they are imparted. To begin with, values always relate to the evaluating person – to the subjective verdict that something is important to us. They are less likely to arise by our allowing ourselves to be led to something rationally; it is more likely that we will be emotionally attracted or even captured by something. Or, more often, that we are repelled or disgusted by its opposite. Rational appraisal often only happens retrospectively, as a kind of epilogue to values already embraced. Values do not only justify personal convictions, they can be shared collectively. For instance, “freedom, equality, fraternity (solidarity)” have been considered the foundational values of an equitable society since the French Revolution. Because values are embraced primarily through experience and demonstrate a heartfelt yet by no means irrational personal certainty, any ethical training which claims to impart values cannot resort to lectures and presentations that seek to logically demonstrate their legitimacy, as is the case in the teaching of standards. It must instead facilitate an arena in which values can be experienced personally. The experience of attraction to values is perhaps most expressively conveyed through narration. (Maybe that is why Jesus himself chose narrative as a means of imparting his values: the value of compassion in the parable of the Good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37] and the value of reconciliation in the parable of the Prodigal Son [Luke 15:11-32].)

The concept of value is very closely interlinked with the way we see ourselves, in the sense that “strong evaluations” (Charles Taylor) always articulate that which matters most in people’s lives – who they want to be – so questions of value are always closely linked to the question of what constitutes a good life. And because, in the modern world, a good life can no longer be separated from that which people with a free will consider to be a good life (there are, in other words, many very different and equally good ways of living), these themes have to be treated in a pluralistic way, without hierarchy, in an open atmosphere, and non-judgementally. And the best way to do this is through Lebenskundlicher Unterricht, which, in its own particular way, encourages character-building and personal development among soldiers, and, beyond the narrow context of professional ethics, aims to guide people towards a conscious way of life and a spiritual existence.

The same cannot be said about the formation of moral judgements and the application of standards to situational contexts. This is where soldiers are required to decide and justify which of those standards already accepted as valid is appropriate to a particular situation, in light of all of its relevant characteristics, which will hopefully have been appraised as fully as possible. Must soldiers have their own ability to form moral judgements for this, or is it enough to know the law that applies?

Knowledge of the law and moral judgement

Military deployments are governed by the terms of international humanitarian law. Soldiers of the German armed forces are also governed by the particular rules of engagement (RoE) that legally regulate the use of military force in national and multinational missions according to operative, political, and legal directives. The national pocket card is a clear and concise version of the RoE containing the most important basic rules on self-preservation, self-defense, and emergency relief, setting up protective areas, using military force without using firearms, and the use of firearms and weaponry with and without verbal warning procedures – and the rules of mission enforcement; but even all this, while it certainly safeguards behaviour, can by no means replace moral judgement. That is because the moral judgement of soldiers will be tested whenever conflicting rules and standards demand the personal interpretation of situations and the resolution of conflict.

A rule of engagement, for example, might permit military action that clashes with moral conviction. For instance, a military contingent from Zambia operating as part of a peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) fell into an ambush laid by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The RoE allowed the Zambian soldiers to use proportionate force to defend themselves from attack. But by then, the rebels had moved in among civilians and were using them as human shields. Because of this, asserting the right to self-defense would have meant the death of numerous innocent women, men, and children for whose protection the soldiers had been ordered into the area of conflict. Were the soldiers to assert their right to defend themselves and instigate an inevitable bloodbath in the civilian population, or were they to forgo that right, surrender to the rebels, and exposing themselves to violence?3

Knowledge of a rule of engagement cannot replace its appropriate application. For instance, the amended rules of engagement issued in 2009 by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Defence permitted soldiers in Afghanistan not only to exercise proportionate force to defend against an attack in progress, but also for pre-emptive purposes – in other words, to anticipate an imminent attack using military force (as opposed to prevention, which counters a potential attack as a precaution). Assessing a situation as an open, present, and serious risk remains, even after all the necessary checks, a subjective act on the part of a military leader. Demanding absolute objectivity reveals a technicistic misunderstanding of the way people reach verdicts. No definition of an imminent attack, however detailed, can replace the judgement of those involved, as is made clear by the following example. Two vehicles were stopped at a control point south-east of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan which was manned by German soldiers and Afghan policemen. Suddenly one of the cars, which contained five passengers, including a woman and two children, started its engine and raced towards the control point. Should the soldiers open fire on the car and risk killing innocent people, or forgo the use of force and risk a bomb attack which could kill some of their own?4

Finally, soldiers can find themselves in situations that are not described by any rules of engagement. On their peacekeeping mission to Sierra Leone, the aforementioned soldiers from Zambia were confronted with children bearing arms. On the one hand, these children enjoyed the general protection of minors formulated in the international Convention on the Rights of the Child (20.11.1989), but on the other hand they were classed as combatants. They were, from one point of view, unfortunate victims – often violently abducted, drugged, and exploited as compliant instruments by whoever was wielding power; from another point of view they are often particularly cruel offenders, as demonstrated by their unimaginable atrocities on women and children. Should soldiers use force against child soldiers in self-defense and situations of emergency assistance? Back then, there were no rules of engagement to standardize the way unpredictable child soldiers should be treated.5

These three types of conflict and the examples used to illustrate them show in no uncertain terms that soldiers of the German armed forces need to possess moral judgement, especially but not only in the line of duty. It is needed to justify the trust vested in the Bundeswehr’s soldiers by its leadership philosophy. This is because “the principles of Innere Führung demand that the requirements of military missions are reconciled with the cognitive and moral responsibilities of the citizen” (ZDv A-2600/1: Innere Führung, Guiding Principles for Leaders. Preliminary Comment).

Moral judgement

But what does moral judgement mean? In the classical, ethical discourse, there are four levels. Metaethical reflection concerns the basal question of whether morals can be rationally substantiated at all. In this discussion, emotivistic and decisionistic approaches compete with cognitivist theories insofar as the former reject an ultimate moral justification of standards or principles, since these can be traced back either to a moral feeling or an arbitrary decision, while the latter assert that moral claims to validity are demonstrable by reason. To be found at the second level – assuming the rational substantiation of morals – are those foundational moral principles such as Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative (“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”) and the Biblical command to neighbourly love (“Love your neighbour as you love yourself” [Mark 12:31]). These must then be considered the source of the moral standards and rules of limited reach which exist on the third level, such as “Do not lie” and “Do not endanger the life of your comrade”. On the final level – which can be viewed as the top or bottom stage – are those singular moral verdicts that apply a rule or standard to an actual situation, such as judging as indiscriminate the use of cluster bombs in a concrete military situation. And this especially is where one requires that inherent moral judgement upon which soldiers must rely, especially in military operations. 

Teaching a skill like this should not be underestimated; it is “no subordinate business” (Klaus Ebeling). That is because moral judgement cannot always simply be derived from a rule and it does not merely mean subordinating a set of circumstances beneath the factual elements of a moral standard. Judgement also includes empirical cognition of the situative context to which standards are supposed to apply. Somebody making a moral judgement must be able to demonstrate which of those standards already assumed to be valid is appropriate to a given situation, in light of all of its relevant characteristics, which will hopefully have been appraised as fully as possible.6

Moral judgements have to be able to be justified by soldiers, which means, in principle, being able to advocate them with good reasons to everyone concerned. But this can only be done by adopting an impartial point of view. An impartial point of view, in turn, can only be acquired by means of a demanding “stretching exercise” (Günter Anders), by placing oneself in the position of everyone affected by the consequences of an action, which may be a morally problematic one. This requires empathy as well as the cognitive ability to understand those involved, and also an emotional willingness to sympathize with the feelings of the people concerned. The more soldiers are able to empathize with the thoughts and feelings of others, the more likely it is that their judgement will be morally compliant. 

Forming a moral judgement, however, involves not only knowledge of the situation and the faculty of empathy required for a change of perspective, it also demands knowledge of the various categories of standards and duties, the ability to recognize potential priorities when standards and duties collide, and to evaluate these priorities according to the rules. 

In the fourth century, the church father Ambrose was already teaching the difference between obligatory regulations (such as the prohibitions from the Decalogue in Exodus 20:2-17) and mere counsels (such as Jesus’ instructions in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7). In the philosophy of the modern era, “perfect duties”, which are “enforceable” upon people, are distinguished from “imperfect duties”, which remain open to voluntary fulfilment (Samuel Pufendorf), and duties of law are separated from duties of virtue, which are subject to the strong law of obligation and the weak law of goodness (Immanuel Kant). Today it is more common to speak of permissions – which apply to things like acts of compassion which can, although morally highly significant, be done or left undone at a person’s discretion – and duties relating to actions that are morally necessary (e.g. John Rawls).

We also have to differentiate between “natural” duties, which people owe to one another as equal moral subjects (such as “do not steal”) and obligations which result from things like written agreements that have been voluntarily entered into (such as the obligation to pay the negotiated purchase price when buying an apartment) and verbal promises (such as helping someone to move house), which normally only exist towards particular people. And finally, we differentiate between positive duties to do good, such as helping others in distress or danger, and negative duties to refrain from bad, such as not harming others and not doing them injustice. 

And these duties can clash: the negative duty to refrain from stealing medicines can contradict the positive duty to heal a sick person, and the obligation to hold to an agreed meeting can contradict the “natural” duty to help the victim of an accident; and the duty to help a mother in an emergency can contradict the “permission” to help a friend move house. It is then a case of identifying, amid the general but not invariably applicable “prima facie duties”7, the “actual duty” in a situation precisely recognised, by assessing tested rules of preference such as urgency, likelihood, and quantity. 

Two slightly irregular examples from the reality of service in the Bundeswehr illustrate the conflict between “natural duties” and obligations. An Afghan warlord who was well-disposed towards the ISAF mission arrived at a German armed forces camp with his seriously ill wife. The doctor on duty examined the woman and diagnosed acute appendicitis with bowel perforation, which required immediate operation. Shortly after this diagnosis, the hospital company received an emergency call telling them that a helicopter would soon land with a seriously injured German soldier whose 4x4 had driven over a land mine. Again, immediate operation would be required to save the soldier’s life. But only one operation could be performed at the base hospital at any given time. So the surgeon had to decide whether to operate on the seriously injured soldier or the woman with a life-threatening illness. Rules of priority did not help, since neither case was more urgent and neither could be said to be more likely to succeed. All that was left was to distinguish between “natural” duty and obligation. In this respect, the German military doctor was bound only by the general duty to provide life-saving help to the Afghan woman, whereas he had an obligation to the German soldier, because the soldier had a legal right to the life-saving operation. Unlike a general hospital, the camp hospital had been set up to provide medical help to soldiers. Emergency medical aid could only be extended to other people if it had the capacity to do so. All other things being the same (ceteris paribus), obligation – pacta sunt servanda – has priority over “natural” duty. So, from a moral point of view, the doctor had to operate on the soldier. 

Things were somewhat different in the case of a German support unit in Somalia during the UNOSOM II mission.8 A rescue helicopter was stationed at a German camp so that, in an emergency, it could come to the assistance of the camp’s own soldiers who were travelling back and forth in convoys between Beled Weyne and Mogadishu to retrieve personnel and materials. One day, locals appeared with a pregnant woman in intense pain. The emergency doctor realised that the only chance of saving the mother and child was to relocate them immediately to a hospital. But the only means of transport that could be used was the rescue helicopter, and this would make it unavailable to provide emergency medical aid to injured soldiers for around two hours. The doctor decided to use the rescue helicopter, and he justified this on the basis of extreme urgency in the case of the pregnant woman, and the extremely low likelihood of an emergency medical situation for injured soldiers, since there was no convoy outside the camp at the time. When obligation and “natural” duty are no longer on the same level, because urgency (degree of injury or illness) and likelihood (death) are ascertained differently, it can be justifiable to give natural duty priority over obligation. 

Educating moral judgement

Weighing up contradictory duties requires trained powers of judgement as well as knowledge of the situation, the ability to empathize, and imagination. An important part in this can be played by seminars on professional ethics at the various schools, universities, and the Military Academy of the German Armed Forces – and these can certainly count towards assessment. They can impart knowledge of the elementary theories and fundamental concepts of philosophical ethics, strengthen students’ ability to argue coherently, and promote a willingness for critical self-assessment. There are various ethical didactic methods that can be used, just two of which I will now introduce: ethical debating9 and the Gedankenexperiment or thought experiment.10

The method of debating is based on the conditions of a moral discourse (Jürgen Habermas) as an unconstrained form of communication in which one’s own particular interests are relinquished in favour of impartial appraisal, and the better argument is recognised. Consensus is reached once everyone is in a position to want a particular thing. Unlike discussion, in which people spontaneously exchange their controversial opinions, debate follows formal rules and is often applied to contentious, polarizing moral issues that can be supported and opposed. Seminar participants are told how the debate will proceed and what the rules are, informed adequately about the moral issue, and then divided into different groups (pro, contra, jury). In the first, consultative phase, the two opposing groups draw up coherent justifications of their points of view, while the jury draws up a catalogue of observations containing assessment criteria and their weighting. Speakers from both groups are given limited time to present their various arguments one after the other, and alternating between the groups. In the second, subsequent consultative phase, the two groups attempt to pick up on and refute the arguments of those who have espoused the opposing point of view, and then present them once again. To conclude, the jury issues its verdict, which is based on the criteria previously drawn up and which evaluates the performance of the various speakers and their teamwork. This method promotes a discursive form of examination and, by encouraging participants to place themselves in the position of the others – promotes the cognitive aspect of empathy. But its particular strength lies in the development of argumentative faculties and speaking skills, which enable soldiers to appropriately justify their moral positions, including in public. 

Another method is the Gedankenexperiment or thought experiment. For soldiers it is better to employ the kind of experiment that bears a genuine relationship to their everyday professional lives – experiments, in other words, that relate to military duty scenarios whose assumptions lie within the realm of what is actually possible. Participants in a seminar can be divided into different groups and confronted with the assumption that they have to take safety precautions for a military camp in a country whose religion is Islam. Special attention must be paid to a fuel depot inside the camp, which could become the target for intruders from the neighbouring civilian population, who seek to improve their extremely austere livelihoods by stealing petrol, or of terrorists operating in the area who wish to destroy the camp by exploding the depot. In this scenario, participants – always bearing in mind the moral perspective of minimum force – can clarify their own ideas and discuss common options such as equipping security guards with efficient and accurate firearms, but they can also develop their own creativity and imagination to propose measures that are, as it were, outside the box, and which make it unlikely that anyone will even try to break in – such as using dogs, which are considered impure by the Muslim population. The foremost strength of this method is that it enhances the imagination.11

And what about the ­conscience?

So where does conscience fit into this concept of ethical education? One might quite rightly raise this objection. The conscience, after all, forms the centre of personal existence in which an individual experiences themselves, directly and without proxy, as somebody subject to the imperative of goodness; it is what destines them to a moral existence and what casts a “watchful eye” over the integrity of their life. Furthermore, the Soldatengesetz demands that a subordinate carries out orders not only fully and immediately, but also conscientiously (cf. §11 (1) SG), and that this conscientious carrying out of orders that is required must be interpreted not just as diligent, but as “an obedience which ‘considers’ the ethical ‘boundary markers’ of one’s own conscience”12. And finally, Article 4 (1) of the Basic Law also protects the freedom of conscience of soldiers who refuse to obey a particular military order or an actual military operation. That is because orders do not need to be followed if carrying them out is something a subordinate cannot answer to their conscience (cf. BVerwGE (Bundesverwaltungs­gericht, Federal Administrative Court) 127,302).13

Ethical education is always an education of the conscience. This is because an act of conscience is not an infallible oracle in terms of certainty about what the act entails. People can delude themselves in the verdicts they reach (the so-called “errant conscience”). This means that every individual must always subject themselves to critical introspection and lifelong moral learning. People are responsible for their own conscience. Ethical training in the armed forces is an education of the conscience in the sense that, as we have described, it encourages empathy among soldiers, enhances their ability to imagine alternative courses of action, and trains their moral judgement.

The law protects soldiers’ acts of conscience if, for instance, a watchful conscience “issues a warning” to refrain from a certain military action before undertaking it. The law guarantees freedom of conscience to enable soldiers to fulfil their existential responsibility towards their own conscience. Strengthening this responsibility is another aspect of ethical training, since in the end it aims to produce soldiers who are guided by their conscience and strengthened in their personality. If we are to appreciate a thoughtful understanding of obedience, then it will require the cultivation of the kind of internal culture in which judgements of conscience find widespread acceptance in practice as well as theory.


Ethical education should strengthen moral competence. This certainly includes moral judgement – deciding what is justified in an actual situation of conflict. Honing this involves refining the perception, enhancing the imagination, and training the capacity of judgement itself. Yet the right judgement does not automatically lead to the right action. The Socratic conviction that insight necessarily entails a motivating force is not tenable. Moral judgement and moral motivation remain independent variables. A constituent of the decision-making process is one’s own commitment to values and convictions which, kept stable by virtue as dispositions of the will, are placed on what could be described as permanent duty. But these matters reach deeply into a soldier’s personal way of life and address background convictions about life itself and about one’s view of the world, and about the spiritual dimension of human existence. Imparting these things often requires different formats of teaching and places of learning, but above all, it needs a space that is free of hierarchies in which one can speak openly and in confidence. Lebenskundlicher Unterricht, which is non-assessed, and professional ethical studies, which are assessed, can, if reciprocally related, and if made to concentrate each on its own focus, synthesize to assist in the holistic ethical education of soldiers.

1 Article 8 of the Statute of the International Military Tribunal dated 8 August 1945 does not consider action based on orders a reason to exonerate from punishment; merely, under certain circumstances, as a reason to mitigate it.

2 Refer to the instructive elucidations of Wright, Georg Henrik von (1994): Normen, Werte und Handlungen. Frankfurt am Main, p. 9 ff.

3 An exact description of this military conflict situation can be found in Eisele, Manfred (2000): Die Vereinten Nationen und das internationale Krisen-Management. Ein Insiderbericht. Frankfurt am Main, p. 35 ff.

4 This information is from an article printed in Die Welt on 1.11.2019. See (accessed 4.11.2019).

5 This description of a situation of moral conflict is also from Eisele (2000), p. 48 ff.

6 Extremely instructive on the problems of applying standards and the problems of particular situations: Ebeling, Klaus (2000): “Der Krieg im ehemaligen Jugo­slawien. Friedensethische Kriterien zur Beurteilung des Konflikts.” In: Militärseelsorge 28 (2000), July edition,
p. 78 ff.

7 The concept of prima facie duty was devised by the Scottish philosopher William D. Ross. Translated into German: Ein Katalog von Prima-facie Pflichten. In: Birnbacher, Dieter/Hoerster, Detlef (eds.) (1976): Texte zur Ethik. Munich, p. 253–268. As an introduction see also Wolf, Jean-Claude (1996): “Ein Pluralismus von prima-facie Pflichten als Alternative zu monistischen Theorien der Ethik.” In: Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 50 (1996), H. 4, p. 601–610.

8 This information is from a working paper published by the Zentrum Innere Führung and entitled Entscheiden und Verantworten. Konfliktsituationen in Auslandseinsätzen. Koblenz-Strausberg, 2003, p. 13.

9 A more comprehensive description of this method can be found in resources such as Montag, Bärbel: Debatten im Ethik- und Philosophieunterricht. In: Nida-Rümelin, Julian et al. (2015): Handbuch Philosophie und Ethik. Band 1: Didaktik und Methodik. Paderborn, p. 196–205.

10 This method is described in detail in documents such as Engels, Helmut: Gedankenexperimente. loc. cit., p. 187–196.

11 This example is derived from a real incident at Beled Weyne camp in Somalia on 21 January 1994, which was part of the UN’s UNOSOM II mission. A German guard, after firing several fruitless warning shots, and in compliance with the rules of engagement, shot a Somali who had broken into the camp near a fuel depot. See Deutscher Bundestag. 12th parliamentary term. Issue 12/6989: Zwischenfälle beim Einsatz deutscher Soldaten im Rahmen der VN-Mission in Somalia (UNOSOM II), 8 March 1994.
The Norwegian forces had also secured their camp using guard dogs, for the reasons aforementioned, so no such incident occurred there.

12 For an exact interpretation of the wording of this paragraph of the Soldatengesetz, refer to the authoritative judgement of the Bundesverwaltungsgericht on 25 June 2005: BVerwGE 127,302 (322).

13 There is an exact analysis and interpretation of this verdict in: Gillner, Matthias (2008): Gewissensfreiheit unter den Bedingungen von Befehl und Gehorsam. Das Urteil des Bundesverwaltungsgerichts vom 21. Juni 2005 zur Gewissensfreiheit des Soldaten und die katholische Lehre von der Kriegsdienst- und Gehorsamsverweigerung aus Gewissensgründen. Bonn.


Matthias Gillner

Dr. Matthias Gillner studied Catholic theology, philosophy, and religious education in Frankfurt am Main, Munich, and Petrópolis (Brazil). He was a research associate with the Department of Catholic Social Ethics at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Hamburg from 1990 to 1995. After earning a doctorate in Catholic Theology, he became a research consultant at the Institute for Theology and Peace in Hamburg from 1996 to 1999. He has been the Academic Director for Catholic Social Ethics in the Faculty of Politics, Strategy and Social Sciences at the Military Academy of the German Armed Forces since December 1999, and has lectured since April 2016 on Theological Ethics at the University of Hamburg’s Institute of Catholic Theology.

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All articles in this issue

The Relationship between Peace Ethics, Military Ethics and Security Policy
Bernhard Koch
Values and Norms: Don’t "Teach", Encourage Independent Acquisition!
Gerhard Kruip
Ethical Education – A Central Component of Training and ­Development in the ­German Armed Forces
Friedrich Lohmann
Ethical Education in the German Armed Forces: Embraced Values and Moral Judgement
Matthias Gillner
Military Practice Between Ethics and Tragedy: Moral Dilemmas in the Context of Peace Education for Armed Forces
Fred van Iersel
Innere Führung – Normative Basis of Personality Development in the German Armed Forces
Angelika Dörfler-Dierken, Markus Thurau
Medical Ethics in the Military Context – a Challenge for Research and Teaching
Rupert Dirk Fischer
The Military Chaplaincy as a Discussion and Cooperation Partner in Personality Development Training for Military Personnel
Dirck Ackermann


Martin Jürgens Bernward Mezger Jens Pröve