1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Joint military-police operations?

Nina WerkhäuserAugust 1, 2016

Germany's military and police forces want to work more closely together. But critics note that only the police have the legal authority to ensure domestic security.

Ursula von der Leyen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Hollemann

The military could help the police in the event of a major terrorist attack within Germany. At least, that's what Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) is offering. It wouldn't be unconstitutional, even though the police are solely responsible for Germany's domestic security. The police and military have never trained jointly for a terrorist attack, though they have worked together during natural catastrophes.

Training for an emergency

Recent attacks in Germany and France have brought the topic back into focus. The Defense Ministry and police departments in several states are now planning their first joint exercises. "Alarm channels need to be open in an emergency," von der Leyen said in a newspaper interview. Better to be prepared for the worst than accused after the fact of doing nothing.

Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed this sentiment during her summer press conference last week. "It's time we train for large-scale terrorist attacks, which we can do according to constitutional law that would allow the military to be brought in under the relevant police leadership."

Only in the worst case

State interior ministers want to decide at their next conference what exactly will be trained for and where. Three German states have already announced their interest in participating with the military in joint exercises.

Article 35 of the constitution grants police the right to call on military assistance and direct its units in an emergency. A state or the German government can, too, in the event of a "particularly difficult accident."

A new white paper outlining current military security policy specifies that "large terrorist attacks fall within the definition of particularly difficult accidents." The military could even take over certain responsibilities otherwise reserved for the police, but then within "narrowly defined limits."

'It's the police's responsibility'

The Social Democratic Party repeatedly voiced its opposition. Defense expert Rainer Arnold fears that the coalition partner of Merkel's conservatives wants to lower the threshold necessary for activating the military for use inside Germany. It was unnecessary to put 100 or so soldiers on alert during the shooting spree in Munich, Arnold said. He wants the topic discussed within the parliamentary defense committee.

Cem Özdemir, head of the Green party, said the police must be better supported. Leaning on the military is a "vote of no confidence" for the police. Following the attacks in Würzburg and Ansbach, the State of Bavaria announced plans to add 2,000 officers to the police force over the next few years.

The Left Party, successor to the East German communist party, has also called on von der Leyen to back off her plans. She should "end her dismantling of constitutional principles," said Ulla Jelpke, the party's spokeswoman for domestic security policy in the Bundestag. "The line set out in the constitution dividing police and military responsibilities should not be further blurred."