Security policy behind cloister walls

The „Himmerod Expose“ of 1950 as the birth certificate of the German Bundeswehr

Frank Heinz Bauer

In October 1950, in strict secrecy, 15 former high-ranking officers of the Wehrmacht met in the Himmerod cloister in the Eifel. Tasked by the first federal chancellor, and authorised by the western occupying powers, this team of experts, with the former colonel-general Heinrich von Vietinghoff in charge, was to develop prerequisites and implementation options for a military contribution by the Federal Republic just founded, which could be foreseen in the course of the Cold War.The chosen approach was holistic. Whereas the operational plannings concerning the number, formation and distribution of detachments were developed in the framework of already existing exposes, this group of experts developed the junction of military contribution and of political equality in the course of West-integration. In addition, they also began to consider the conception of intrinsic management. The idea of the citizen in uniform as well as the considerations concerning the role of armed forces in a pluralistic state were new. This first-time discussion in Himmerod did certainly not determine the arrangement of intrinsic management. Ten of the members of the conference, however, rose into the highest assignments of both the Bundeswehr and NATO, which consequentially verifies the importance of the conference. The committee’s illusions in terms of time, who counted on the deployment of the first West-German detachments already six months after the conference, as well as the obvious undervaluation of the wide domestic and foreign political hostility against a military contribution of the Federal Republic, point out the limitations of the expose. Nevertheless, after a synoptic overall appreciation from a present point of view, this essayist agrees with Hans-Jürgen Rautenberg who considered the document, which had been developped in the mid-1970ies behind cloister walls, to be the „Magna Charta“ of the German Bundeswehr. Innovative elements, such as including the trade unions as well as the opposition, plus establishing publicness in the run-up of troop deployment, indicate a new view on the role of armed forces in the pluralistically constituted democracy. This was supposed to be understood as a counter-image to the role of the Wehrmacht in the „Third Reich“ and ist enmeshment into the National Socialist crimes. How strong the breach with the past was really to be remained open in the expose and contested between traditionalists and reformers. Pioneering in the long term, however, as well as modern, appears the multinational organisational framework which was developped in the course of this conference, and which was supposed to be applicable for both the airforce as well as the ground controlled air defence. The intrinsic management conception and the incorporated overall concept of the citizen in uniform actually represented breaking fresh ground. It became a foundation which – even after more than six decades, and with basically changed security-political parameters – is still dynamic and developable. In the German armed forces, the concept of Innere Führung is the guiding principle for leadership and for dealing with one another. The goal of applying Innere Führung is to reconcile the functional conditions of operational armed forces with the liberal principles of a democratic constitutional state. It is notable that as long ago as 1947, one of the fathers of Innere Führung, the future Lieutenant General Wolf Graf von Baudissin, wrote that the potential new German armed forces should present themselves as an organization that „serves humanity, recognizes its primacy, and grants it opportunities for development.”In addition, many important documents were produced as a result of this debate about the content of Innere Führung. These included the endorsement in the 1970 White Paper for the German armed forces, the guidelines for Innere Führung in 1972, and the regulation for civic education in 1973, to name but a few. Then, in the 1980s, the debate flared up again. Human chains and Easter marches during the arms race debate and hostile criticism such as „soldiers are murderers“ once again triggered a discussion about the role and meaning of the German armed forces and their anchoring in society. The Bundeswehr withstood all of this – not least because of the concepts on which it is founded. The meaningfulness of soldiers’ own actions and the conviction that they were faithfully serving their country made this possible. With German reunification in 1990 and the „Army of Unity“, the Bundeswehr proved again in the 1990s that the basic idea of Innere Führung bears up. Standards, values, a conception of statehood, human dignity, and a clear vision of what it means to be a soldier of the Federal Republic of Germany – together this paved the way for the “all-German” armed forces. And because the Bundeswehr was a conscript army at the time, this became the driving force of German unity.