Security Debate Germany Mulls Deploying Soldiers On Domestic Soil

In France and Belgium, soldiers are patrolling the streets to protect civilians from terror threats. In Germany, some lawmakers are arguing that the country should rethink its constitutional ban on deploying the military at home.
A debate has started over whether German soldiers should hit the streets.

With Europe on high alert following the Paris terrorist attacks and a foiled terror plot in Belgium, many countries are relying on their military forces to provide security.

But not Germany.

While there have been raids and arrests of suspected jihadists over the past two weeks, the army has not been involved in any security measures.

The German constitution bans the deployment of the German soldiers on domestic soil, except in very limited circumstances.

Now, however, some German lawmakers are arguing that the Islamist threat is sufficient to merit a military presence on German streets.

The ban goes back to the rules imposed by the occupying Allied forces after the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, which were then incorporated into the constitution of the Federal German Republic, known as the Basic Law.

This blanket ban was eased somewhat in 2012, allowing for troops to be deployed only in the most extreme of circumstances.

In France, the military has been out in force since attacks two weeks ago on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket left 17 people dead.  The Paris government has mobilized 100,000 troops to protect threatened locations. In Belgium, following a counter-terrorism raid which saw two men killed, soldiers are guarding the Jewish Museum, Jewish schools and European Union buildings in Brussels such as the Berlaymont, where the European Commission has its offices.

In Germany, meanwhile, the reaction has been more muted. The government announced plans to beef up anti-terror legislation, including confiscating ID cards of suspected jihadists to prevent them traveling abroad. A new law making it easier to prosecute those who finance terrorism is also on the cards. However, apart from police vans stationed outside some media outlets, there is little indication of the heighted security situation on the streets.

It is understandable that the state would use all the permissable means at its disposal to protect its citizens from these threats. Stephan Mayer, Interior Affairs spokesman, CSU

Now, however, voices within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats are emerging that favor deploying the military against the Islamist threat.

“It is understandable that the state would use all the permissable means at its disposal to protect its citizens from these threats,” Stephan Mayer, interior affairs spokesman for the Christian Social Union, Bavarian sister party to the CDU, told Handelsblatt. “Whether this also includes deploying the armed forces domestically, can only be decided in concrete cases.”

Mr. Mayer said that he believed that a terrorist threat could allow for the deployment of the Bundeswehr.

However, Thomas Strobl, deputy floor leader for the CDU, said that using German soldiers for counter-terrorism was not a priority.

“We should not limit the necessary discussion about more internal security to the Bundeswehr,” he told Handelsblatt. “Our security forces are well organized but we have to give our police the ability to comprehensively protect Germany's citizens.”

He said, however, that nothing should be ruled out. “Taboos are as stupid as panic and action for action’s sake.”

“We have to find out who the Islamists and their supporters are,” he said.  “That means we need an intensive surveillance of these milieus, and the retention of these people's communications data can help.”

The role of Germany’s army has evolved since reunification in 1990.  It was only over the past two decades that the German army became actively involved in foreign military missions, sending troops to the Balkans and Afghanistan.  Furthermore, in 2011 the army was professionalized with the ditching of compulsory conscription.

Yet the use of the army within Germany’s borders is the last taboo.

 

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Hans-Peter Uhl, a domestic affairs expert for the CSU argued that, according to the constitution, armed forces could "pretty much never" be deployed on home soil, “certainly not to fight terror at the current threat level."

In 2012, in a watershed ruling, Germany’s constitutional court said that armed soldiers could be deployed in “exceptional cases to prevent threats to the state” and never against demonstrators.

The constitution allows for the deployment of German soldiers in those narrow circumstances in order to help “protect civilian objects and to fight organized and militarily armed insurgents.” According to Mr. Uhl, Germany does not currently find itself in such a situation.

Security experts have voiced skepticism about using German soldiers for counter-terrorism purposes but have not categorically ruled it out.

“At the moment, I don’t see the need to consider this,” said Joachim Krause, director of the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel. “That would arise if the federal and regional police resources were exhausted.”

Mr. Krause pointed out that in Germany, unlike France and Belgium, such a mission would require a two-thirds majority of the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, to agree that there was a defense emergency.

Carlo Masala, professor of international politics, at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, said: “The only exceptions  -- apart from a major disaster such as the detonation of a nuclear bomb  -- would be aerial surveillance for objects or demonstrations in the case of specific indications that they could come under aerial attack.”

Mr. Masala pointed out that the police's elite special forces, known as GS9, could deal with extreme situations, such as hostage takings.

On Tuesday morning 200 police officers, including members of these elite forces, were involved in raids in Berlin and Thuringia.  The authorities said they had searched 13 apartments in the operation which was connected to the arrest of two men in Berlin last Friday, on suspicion of having ties to Islamic State.

The police said there's no evidence the group was planning attacks inside Germany, but that it was procuring funding to help send fighters to Syria.

An estimated 600 young men are thought to have travelled from Germany to Syria and Iraq to fight with the radical Islamist group. Authorities worry that some might come back and plan attacks within Germany, such as those perperated in Paris two weeks ago.

 

Dietmar Neuerer writes about German politics for Handelsblatt, Siobhán Dowling has been covering politics in Germany for more than a decade. To contact the authors: neuerer@handelsblatt.com, dowling@handelsblatt.com

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