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Issue 2021/02

Innere Führung and Military Ethos Under Discussion

Between aspiration and reality – Where does Innere Führung stand? Can the familiar model of the “citizen in uniform” still maintain its claim to validity, or is it in need of readjustment or even re-evaluation and change? That was the opening question in a panel discussion hosted by the German Commission for Justice and Peace and zebis on October 19, 2021, at the Katholische Akademie in Berlin.

In this latest edition of “Ethics and Armed Forces”, we aim to delve deeper into the debate. For it has become apparent, following the withdrawal from Afghanistan, that there is a considerable need for discussion not only within the Bundeswehr but also among the wider public about the role of our armed forces and their leadership principles.

Essentially, Germany can be proud of the Bundeswehr’s leadership culture, which has been firmly anchored in the organization since the Center for Leadership Development and Civic Education (Zentrum Innere Führung, ZInFü) was established 65 years ago. As an educational center, it is responsible for teaching the guiding principle of the “citizen in uniform”, which ties the decisions and actions of military personnel to the values and principles of our Basic Law: human dignity, justice, freedom, peace, solidarity and democracy. The special feature of this system, in contrast to many other armies in the world, is that soldiers are ultimately bound not by the principle of command and obedience, but by their own conscience. This means they also bear individual responsibility for their military actions. Innere Führung serves to promote the development of a soldierly self-image that can fulfill this expectation. 

Nevertheless, despite constant adjustments to the concept, which dates back to the 1950s, the question arises as to whether it is still fit for the times. After all, the Bundeswehr has undergone major changes: a territorial defense army has become an international task force; and it has transformed from a conscript army into a volunteer and professional army. Moreover, for more than twenty years now, military careers have also been open to women – a new development in the previously all-male armed forces. Yet at the same time, the Bundeswehr’s military purpose is often overlooked in the public perception. Even politicians would often rather think of female and male soldiers as “social workers in uniform” than as trained fighters who, when it comes to it, put their lives on the line for the fundamental values of our state.

In this context, Professor Dr. Sönke Neitzel’s provocative book “Deutsche Krieger” (German Warriors) has reignited the discussion surrounding Innere Führung. He argues that the degree to which soldiers identify with their respective political system is overestimated; instead, more consideration should be given to the motivation that comes from military professionalism, associated values, and “tribal cultures” in the different branches of the armed forces. No less a figure than Wolfgang Schäuble spoke at the launch of the book, calling for an “uncomfortable” and “unpopular” public debate on Germans’ relationship with the military.

We would like to respond to this call, and are very pleased that Sönke Neitzel has expanded on his thoughts here in an essay. The highly engaging contributions by the other authors in this edition also show how necessary and productive the current examination of Innere Führung is, encompassing the self-image of soldiers and their defining values. They cover key aspects such as moral courage, chivalry, masculinity and power, through to the question of what the military chaplaincy can contribute to the discourse on Innere Führung and a soldierly ethos.

The words of adult educationalist Heinrich Dickerhoff struck a chord with me: “We must not only appeal to the mind, but also reach the soul.”

I wish you an enjoyable read!

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Veronika Bock

Director of zebis

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