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Innere Führung as an attempt to answer the question of (military) force: Theological and ethical remarks on the current debate

By Markus Patenge

Innere Führung ties soldierly decisions and actions indissolubly to the values of Germany’s Basic Law, holds soldiers accountable as moral beings, and embeds purely military thinking within a human rights-based peace logic that guides their internal organization and external conduct.

The restrained use of force by the German armed forces during its mission in Afghanistan testifies to this “ethical success story”. At the same time, however, the experiences of real combat operations have brought home the existential seriousness of the soldier’s profession and revived criticism of Innere Führung and the debate about an adequate military ethos (with the ideal types “Athens” and “Sparta”).

For victims, observers and perpetrators, violence always entails the risk of perpetuating itself in endless spirals in which past violence instils new violence. Values such as peace and human dignity should be understood as a response to this universal human experience. Committing the military to these values also means taking a fundamentally critical approach to military force – which can be legitimized from the standpoint of theological ethics – and containing it accordingly.

It would therefore make a mockery of Innere Führung and its ethical substance to completely deny their suitability for (combat) missions. In order to prevent alienation and disengagement, however, the Bundeswehr and society should address, on as broad a basis as possible, the extent to which aspects of a “Spartan” ethos can be integrated into the concept.

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