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Tribal cultures and Innere Führung – a contradiction?

By Sönke Neitzel

In view of Germany's military history, there can be no doubt that the core ideas of Innere Führung make sense − just as there can be no doubt about their concrete implementation, for example in the complaints system or in the parliamentary reservation. Critical, however, is its overloading as a theoretical edifice. The thesis is put forward here that the concept, which has been controversial from the outset, is of less importance for the motivation of many Bundeswehr soldiers − as well as for the development of democratic consciousness and sense of justice in the armed forces − than many of its advocates would like to admit.

Military sociological findings on factors for motivation and cohesion cannot be ignored for the Bundeswehr either. The article focuses primarily on the concept of tribes. It was coined in analogy to warlike tribal cultures for powerful cultural entities in the armed forces. In the Bundeswehr, it can be applied to the service branches, which are distinguished by their colors and − especially in the combat troops − specific characteristics and behaviors that are shaped by their respective missions and ideally link horizontal and vertical cohesion.

Such tribal cultures, which are also characterized by a fighter's Habitus, are unjustly suspected in parts of the political and military leadership of promoting and consolidating a special ethos that is remote from the state and the constitution. The fact that, together with other factors, they can lead to increasing dissociation from society and the Bundeswehr as a superordinate higher-level institution − even to a retreat into pre-democratic or even right-wing extremist attitudes, as has happened in parts of the KSK, for example − must of course be taken seriously. In order to counter this danger, a more honest discussion of widespread tradition and role models, among other things, would be required.

Those tribal cultures may be difficult to reconcile with the idea of a “model military” that rather acts as a mediator. However, anyone who demonizes them across the board as a counter-image to the ideals of Innere Führung fails to recognize their overall stabilizing and bonding effect.

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