The Austrian Armed Forces Torn Between Security-Political Necessities,
Societal Perceptions and Underfunding

Robert Brieger

The text, penned by the Chief of Defence Staff of the Austrian Armed Forces, deals with the integration of the Austrian Armed Forces (AAF) in state and society. Its underlying thesis is that the societal awareness of threats is not very keen, which would in turn necessitate improvements in the field of Austria's defence and security-political fundamentals. It can, however, be stated that not least the many initiatives and efforts of the recent past have contributed to bringing issues of security and the AAF to the attention of society’s attention.

Starting from Comprehensive National Defence, the nature of hybrid attacks and the exercise of hard and soft power are discussed. An essential component of these attacks is that hybrid attackers use various (state) means to carry out the attacks in a subliminal manner. Attacks are thus not perceived as such.

In Austria, the term safety seems to be generally acceptable, while security seems to play an inferior role. The reasons for this collective perception are manifold and are cited. The societal mindset can therefore be described as inward-looking and as suggestive of a passively-oriented Austrian strategic culture. This explains plausibly the phenomenon of Austrian society’s not feeling threatened, which contributes to the periodically occurring public discussions regarding the purpose of armed forces.

States differ in geographical, geopolitical, historical and societal characteristics, but there is nevertheless a basic consensus in almost all European states on fundamental questions of external security. There is a congruence regarding the assessment of global trends, such as the transformation from a unipolar to a multipolar, competitive world order in which there is a competition of the strategic interests of states and communities of states. Relying on likelihood of occurrence concerning risks and threats is hardly conducive to armed forces development, as strategic developments cannot be explained by the linear extrapolation of past events.

Proceeding from this global trend, the role of armed forces can be defined clearly. There is a need (in the context of a multitude of different risks and threats) for diversified armed forces which do not exclusively serve military niche capabilities. It is obvious that also in future the core functionality of armed forces will continue to be in demand. Only armed forces are able to provide services which cannot be substituted by any other governmental organisation. Mission accomplishment in dangerous environments, against various threats, must remain the lodestar of military capability development.

In conclusion, greater dispassion can be ascertained in the topic’s societal perception, whether as the result of the topic’s active promotion in public discourse or of the security-political developments of the recent past, which caused the abstract threat scenario to materialise. This interest offers the chance for a gradual improvement of the fundamentals of defence and security policy.