For the first time ever, the Bundeswehr is preparing joint exercises with the police to face terrorist scenarios in Germany. But despite conservative pressure, this decision will not require a constitutional amendment.
Point four of the nine-point plan that Angela Merkel presented on Thursday to deal with potential terrorism suggested that Germany had crossed a significant psychological threshold. From now on, the chancellor said, the German military would operate on German soil in the event of a major terrorist attack - in cooperation with the police.
As if to back up the promise, the Defense Ministry confirmed on Friday morning that preparation for joint army and police anti-terror exercises would begin in August. The DPA news agency reported that Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is to meet with Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and three state interior ministers to hash out the details of the new cooperation.
A Defense Ministry spokeswoman confirmed to DW that the meeting was being planned for the end of next month, but made clear that the scale or nature of the exercises were yet to be agreed. "The idea is to confirm the details and the scenarios of what such exercises could be like," she said. "But there are no details yet. The aim is to hold such an exercise before the end of the year."
The purpose of the ministers' meeting was to sort out how the different security forces would link up: "That's the big challenge, to bring the different players together and thus to enable efficient and coordinated action," the spokeswoman said.
There have been joint police and military exercises before - the LÜKEX mission, for instance, was put in place to react to flooding on Germany's northern coast - but this will be the first preparation for a terrorist scenario. "The focus is a Bundeswehr operation against the background of a terrorist attack: how the different forces - under the command of the police, which is very important - could cooperate," the Defense Ministry spokeswoman said.
New team, same as the old team
In fact, like much of Merkel's nine-point plan, this idea had already been hatched before the new spate of violent incidents. "The intention to carry out these exercises hasn't just emerged since Ansbach and Munich, but events like Ansbach and Munich of course make clear how important it could be to practice something like this," the spokeswoman said.
The argument about whether or not the Bundeswehr should be deployed inside Germany is an old one. The Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian cousin - and more conservative wing - of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has long insisted that Germany's constitution, or "Basic Law," needs to be changed in order to give the military greater powers to intervene domestically. Bavarian politicians duly reiterated the demands this week as a direct response to the latest incidents.
This was vehemently resisted by the center-left wing of the German government, the Social Democratic Party, in the shape of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He told the "Passauer Neue Presse" newspaper on Friday: "The incident at the weekend showed the speed and the great degree of professionalism of the police forces. There were no gaps that could or needed to have been filled by the Bundeswehr."
The debate is sometimes a little overheated, occasionally overlooking the fact that the ban on military deployment inside the country is not at all absolute: The Basic Law allows it under a number of circumstances, including natural disasters, imminent external threat, or "to fight organized and military-armed insurgents" - which could easily be interpreted as a terrorist attack, as indeed the constitutional court made clear in a ruling in 2012. Though in all cases, the military is subject to police command.
Earlier in July, the Defense Ministry confirmed the legal situation in its "White Paper," mapping out Germany's military strategy.
Nor was the Bundeswehr idle during the latest incidents - military police officers and paramedics were prepared to deploy last Friday as the Munich shooting unfolded. "At the beginning of the shooting spree in Munich the situation was still completely unclear, and we didn't know what scale it was - it wasn't clear whether we had a major terrorist situation or not," the Defense Ministry spokeswoman said. "We were prepared, but after it emerged what was happening and that the police didn't need any support - luckily they weren't needed."