Germany Debates Using Soldiers as Police | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.02.2006
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Germany Debates Using Soldiers as Police

Will Germany alter its constitution to use its armed forces for internal security? Some say a new high-court decision makes it less likely.


Does Germany need to change its constitution regarding the use of soldiers?

With World Cup crowds coming to Germany this summer, the country will be facing a security challenge. And once again, long-simmering question about the uses of Germany's army as an internal security force are being raised.

According to the German constitution, the police are responsible for the country's internal security and order, and the army (Germany requires young men to do a year of compulsory military service) protects the country outside its borders.

Historical legacy

The division, part of the country's separation of powers, is seen as especially important in Germany since Hitler used the army as his means of gaining power.

"This division makes sure that the power of the army cannot be used to endanger internal freedom, or endanger that balance that a free nation needs," said Josef Isensee, a law professor at the University of Bonn.

Bundeswehrsoldaten schieben Schnee - Katastrophenarlam wegen Schneemassen

Soldiers were put to work scraping snow off overloaded rooftops in Bavaria

"The idea is that this keeps the army out of internal conflicts and internal dangers."

Now, the Bavarian CSU, which has two ministers in Germany's governing coalition, is pressing for a change in the constitution that would allow more freedom to use the army, or Bundeswehr, inside the country.

CSU pleads for change

Speaking Wednesday in Munich, CSU leader Edmund Stoiber called on the government's coalition partner, the SPD, to get active on the issue. "We are ready to talk, to get the necessary two-thirds majority in the Bundestag and Bundesrat," Germany's two lawmaking bodies, Stoiber said.

Castor Transport

Police, and sometimes soldiers, guard transports of nuclear waste

Proponents of altering the constitution argue that the country needs to free up Bundeswehr soldiers for security at the World Cup, just three months away.

"We cannot just continue having fruitless discussions for months," said Bavarian Interior Minister Günther Beckstein.

Yet after a high-court decision Wednesday said the mílitary could not shoot down planes thought to pose terrorist threats, Social Democratic parliamentary group leader Peter Struck made it clear that the SPD will not try and change the constitution.

Federal system endangered?

"For me, the subject is closed," Struck told journalists in Berlin. The high-court decision now needs to be examined more closely to see which regulations can be changed, if at all, Struck said. But the court "set very narrow limits" on interpretation, he said.

According to law professor Isensee, the issue is made more difficult by the fact that the police are the responsibility of the states while the army belongs to the national government.

Fußball-WM 2006 Spielort Leipzig Zentralstadion

Will World Cup soccer stretch the police force too far?

Any major change in this division of responsibilities would have an effect on the country's principle of federalism, Isensee said. In addition, it raises financial questions -- the states pay for police, while the army is financed on a national level.

Nonetheless, Isensee pointed out, there are cases where the German army is deployed at home. "The exceptions are rather narrow. The constitution provides for cases where armed forces can be used, outside instances of defense, to protect civilian targets and control traffic. The army can also be used in borderline situations, like when there aren't enough police and state troopers to protect civilians and defend against armed insurrectionists."

Examples of this are guarding atomic transports, or protecting a town's drinking supply from criminal contamination, Isensee said. Whatever the case, the police nearly always retain the rights of law and decision-making, while the army serves as their helpers.

Division of authority

The same goes for technical assistance from the army or the police. Soldiers help the police during natural catastrophes and bad accidents, when it is a question of public safety. For example, German soldiers helped scrape off rooftops in Bavaria, after several buildings collapsed under the weight of exceptional amounts of accumulated snow.

Another example is the aforementioned use of soldiers during the World Cup football matches this summer. Organizing committees have discussed using soldiers for transportation, sanitation, logistics and even defense.

Bundeswehr in Deutschland

Young German men face compulsory military service

Further clouding the issue is the fact that policemen have sovereign authority, which gives them the right to carry out investigations and to use force. They can ask someone to show an identity card, and can arrest someone who refuses -- a useful ability when it comes to, say, preventing an unwanted person from entering a building or a soccer stadium. But a soldier doesn't have that right.

Isensee warned that Germany should avoid going too far in mixing the rights and functions of soldier and policeman.

"It is a legal tradition, that the army should not be allowed to exercise its potential power within society. The army was educated to fill other functions," he said.

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