Beginnings of a new strategic culture: From ‘Stunde Null’ to

In document From Guilt to Responsibility and Beyond? : Change in German Strategic Culture after the End of the Cold War (Page 93-102)


The importance of the so-called Zero Hour (Stunde Null), which marked the immediate post-war period, culminating in the collapse of the Third Reich and Wehrmacht’s unconditional surrender to the Allied troops in the ashes of Berlin in May 1945, is contested till this very day, especially the impact it has had on German society as a whole. In May 1985, German Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker gave a famous speech to commemorate the 40th an-

niversary of the end of World War II. He argued that it would be better to just talk about a ‘fresh start’ (Neubeginn) instead of Zero Hour since the German society didn’t change overnight but incrementally through the long Cold War decades.206 The same could be said about German strategic culture,

even though the importance and consequence of Zero Hour is perhaps more evident in the realm of security and defence policy than when observed through a broader societal lens. The significance of Zero Hour as a set of his- torical occurrences lies precisely in its formative power in the sense of simul- taneously accounting for the end of an ideational structure upon which the hitherto strategic thinking and practice of Nazi Germany had been based and a beginning of a new one, that had no other alternative than to be based on the abolition of the old.

In that sense, Zero Hour indeed provides us with a beginning of strategic cultural change because it represents the beginning of the process of total renouncement of the principles, ideas and values that led to the most de- structive five-year period in human history. The eschewal of the old ideation- al structure meant also that new strategic narratives had to be conjured which would not stand in conflict with Germany’s new status in Europe. Ker- ry Longhurst has argued that the so-called foundational elements of German strategic culture (beliefs, ideas on the use of military force) were forged in the period 1945-1955. These meant effectively a denunciation of Clausewitzian principles – the use of war as a tool in foreign policy, redundancy of milita-

206 Speech by Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker at the German Bundestag to commemorate

the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II, 8.5.1985. Available at: (http://webarchiv.bundestag.d

rism and statism and exhaustion of nationalism.207 Moreover, the system of

ideological indoctrination that had led to the glorification of war for tens of millions of Germans was finally at an end (only to be replaced by a totalitari- an system in the German Democratic Republic). The contours of new Ger- man strategic thinking and practice were beginning to take shape with the formation of the new Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1949, and its membership in the European &RDOand 6WHHO Community (ECSC) in 1951 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1955. Germany was forced to abandon its Prussian militarist traditions and come to terms with Hitler’s Vernichtungskrieg (war of annihilation), Holocaust and the innumerable atrocities committed by the Nazi regime (and later also, those of the Wehrmacht).208

Indeed, by linking the evolution of German strategic culture to European and transatlantic structures, the first German post-World War II govern- ments made sure that the nascent German strategic culture was devoid of any form of the old German militarism (even though many former Wehr- macht officers were re-instated in the Bundeswehr and in the Peoples’ Army in the GDR). The West German strategic culture was forged to correspond to the external realities of the Cold War and the internal requirements of mak- ing amends and taking responsibility for German actions in the past, espe- cially for the destructive period of the Third Reich, even though the idea of ordinary Germans as the ‘perpetrator people’ (Tätervolk) came to be accept- ed more broadly only since the 1970s in West-German society.209

During the formative years of the FRG, two competing lessons of history came to dominate the debate on German security policy, lessons which still today significantly shape and constitute the substance of German strategic culture. According to Anja Dalgaard-Nielsen, these two schools of German security policy were formed around two differing lessons from World War II and German defeat: ‘Nie wieder Allein’ (never again alone) and ‘Nie wieder Krieg’ (never again war). She has argued that these two schools differed in “their core beliefs about Germany’s role in international security, fundamen- tal aversions and threat perceptions and in their operational beliefs about the

207 Longhurst, Kerry 2004, Germany and the use of force, Manchester University Press, 2004, p. 46. 208 This process, often generally referred to as ‘Vergangenheitsbewältigung’, coming to terms with the

past, will be dealt with in detail in Chapter 5, since, as will be argued, it is the central cognitive process underlying continuities and changes and (re)interpretations of German strategic culture. However, the term might be misleading in the sense that the German word ‘bewältigen’ also means ‘to overcome’ and this clearly was not the original intent. In his commemoration speech, von Weizsäcker also argued that there is no such thing as ‘overcoming the past’ – the only thing what one can do as a German is to “look the past in the eye as best and as honestly as one only can”. See footnote 206.

209 For more on German ‘guilt’, see Chapter 4 and Niven, Bill 2006, Germans as Victims. Remember-

efficiency of various instruments of security policy”.210 Significantly, it can be

argued that the lessons of never again in themselves epitomized a radical shift away from Prussian militarism and the ethos of soldiery – a shift that had its origins in the formative years 1945-55 within the post-World War II German strategic culture.

The lesson of never again alone became the dominant one among the ma- jority of the German population and the political centre-right, the CDU/CSU, the FDP, the Catholic Church and the German industry after the war. Never again alone meant that Germany should never again embark on a Sonderweg (special path), which was used here in a negative sense meaning German iso- lation from the rest of Europe.211 This lesson found its early expression in the

policies of Westbindung (Western orientation) of the first German post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Westbindung signified everything that Sonderweg did not, meaning the return to the family of Western nations and transatlantic political, economic and military integration and co-operation. In the emerging Cold-War context and the bipolar world order the relevance of ‘never again alone’ was in the idea that one had to be ready to defend Western (and Germany’s) values and interests against the totalitarianism (and communism) of the USSR, a thing that was neglected both by the Ger- mans themselves and the rest of the international community when Hitler rose to power during the run-up to World War II in the 1930s.

In contrast, the lesson of never again war, popular among the German po- litical Left, the centre-left wing of the SPD, the Greens (in the Bundestag since 1983), the Lutheran clergy, trade unions and youth organizations, iden-tified the threat from coming µwithin¶, meaning that the lesson to be drawn from World War II was that war should never again emanate from German soil. Hence, Germany should concentrate on furthering civilian means and ends in international politics and show self-restraint in all things military. Yet it would be wrong to argue that these lessons had everything to do with the past and (the then) present but nothing with the future or that the lessons provided ends in themselves only. This was clear in Adenauer’s policies towards the West (never again alone) which culminated just as much in the effort to atone for German sins as in the effort to provide Germany with the means for regaining a sense of equality and political leverage in the future. In that sense, as Granieri has stated, German Westbindung was never about giving up national policies per se.212

210 Dalgaard-Nielsen, Anja 2006, Germany, Pacifism and Peace-Enforcement, Manchester University

Press 2006, p. 37.

211 There is also a positive conceptualization of German µSonderweg’. It highlights the Germans as

‘VolkGHU'LFKKWHUXQG'HQNHU¶ SHRSOHRISRHWVDQGWKLQNHUV DQGVWUHVVHVWKH*HUPDQVSHFLDOZD\ and criticism towards European Enlightenment. I will discuss ‘Sonderweg’ in detail in Chapter 5.

212 Granieri, Ronald J. 2003, The Ambivalent Alliance. Konrad Adenauer, the CDU/CSU, and the

Dyson, who has studied German strategic culture from the perspective of the Bundeswehr reform, has argued that during the Cold War, the German defence and security policy subsystem came to possess a basic structure formed around three advocacy coalitions: ‘freedom’, ‘peace’ and ‘pacifist’ coa- lition.213 This definition highlights the role of actors more than structure, yet

the freedom and peace coalitions are basically equivalent with ‘never again alone’ and ‘never again war’. The difference in Dyson’s account is that he re- fines the lesson of ‘never again war’ into two sub-advocacy coalitions, peace and pacifist. According to Dyson, the pacifist coalition comprised those who opposed the doctrine of territorial defence and conscription and shared a deep fundamental opposition to war. It was to be found on the fringes of German society and it was popular in German university towns and the radi- cal right wing of the Green Party. However, until the Greens entered the par- liament in 1983, the movement was an ‘outsider’ rather than an ‘insider’ coa- lition and its influence was rather felt in German civil society and mass peace demonstrations.214

The outbreak of the war in the Korean peninsula in 1950 had raised the stakes in the emerging nuclear race. This prompted the US to bolster the Eu- ropean defence capacity because fears regarding a possible Soviet aggression in Western Europe were growing. The de facto threat posed by the USSR meant that only a few years after the fall of the Third Reich, German armed forces would once again be established. It also meant that old enemies had to become partners and that France and the UK had to accept German rearma- ment. Increasingly, as Large has argued, a German contribution to the de- fence of Europe was seen not only as a military necessity but also as part of burden sharing and as a means of dismounting the security load of other Western countries. Additionally, burden sharing would be seen as a way of removing the advantages German economy could yield by enjoying its free- ride in the field of security.215

The rearmament of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was a heated issue especially in the first half of the 1950s, despite the Berlin blockade in 1948-9, Soviet atomic tests and the war in Korea, all of which raised the pro- spect of a re-establishment of the German armed forces as a response to the military threat posed by the USSR and the subsequent fact that a German military contribution was slowly perceived to be indispensable for the de- fence of Europe. Chancellor Adenauer had to overcome domestic opposition and win over public opinion in Germany, which did not support an extended German military role. Adenauer’s concept of Westbindung initially had to compete with that of Jakob Kaiser's ‘bridge concept’ and that of Kurt Schu-

213 Dyson, Tom 2007, The Politics of German Defence and Security, Berghahn 2007, p. 29. 214 Ibid., p. 31.

215 Large, David Clay 1996, Germans to the Front: West-German rearmament in the Adenauer era,

macher’s ‘democratic socialism’.216 The CDU/CSU won a landslide victory in

the 1953 elections and Adenauer was successful in turning the domestic op- position to German rearmament into a victory in the negotiations with the Western powers as he convinced the Western leaders that German rearma- ment was domestically implementable only in case the West accepted Ger- man sovereignty in return.217

After the plans for the European Defence Community (EDC) had failed because the French ultimately rejected the idea, the British and the Ameri- cans took the initiative and suggested that Germany should be incorporated into NATO structures as soon as possible. As the Germans agreed to join the

newly founded Western European Union (WEU) and got reassurances

that France would not stand in the way of German membership of NATO, a win-win situation emerged: French fears towards a new German ‘Sonderweg’ were alleviated and vital German interests secured.218 Germany

joined both the WEU and NATO in 1955 and this marked the formation of a new German army, the Bundeswehr, which was initially a force of 500,000 men based on general conscription. An important aspect of the German re- armament for the Western powers at the time was also that the new German army would not have a command structure of its own but was strictly tied to that of NATO and WEU. In addition, Germany accepted a number of other military restrictions, including the offensive use of German military outside of the confines of NATO and the use of force for the purpose of German unification. Germany also renounced the production of ABC-weaponry on its soil.219

The rearmament of the FRG based on general conscription also meant that the civic-military relations had to be reorganized. The core of the refor- mulation of these relations was the concept of Innere Führung (inner con- duct) which coincided with a reformulation of the responsibility of a German soldier as a Bürger in Uniform (citizen in uniform). According to Longhurst,

216 Kaiser’s (CDU) concept foresaw a united, block free Germany that could function as an ideological

and political bridge between the east and west and lead to the end of the Cold War. Schumacher’s (SPD) concept, in turn, envisaged a socialist Germany within a socialist Europe, which would clearly differentiate itself from Soviet-driven communism. Schumacher’s idea entailed a vision of Germany as a military, democratic state which could function as a buffer between the two superpowers. The Soviet military authorities removed Kaiser from office as early as 1947 and the SPD lost the Bundestag elec- tions to the CDU/CSU in 1953. As a consequence, the road for a successful advocacy of Adenauer’s Westbindung was made possible domestically. For more on Kaiser and Schumacher, see Haftendorn (2006).

217 Zangl, Martin 1995, ‘Ansatz der Zwei-Ebenen Spiele. Eine Brücke zwischen dem Neoinstitutionalis-

mus und seinen KritikerInnen?¶, Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen 2/1995, p.398.

218 Gavin, Victor 2009, µPower through Europe? The case of the European Defence Community in

France (1950-1954)’, French History, Vol. 23, Issue 1, pp. 86-87

219 Kocs Stephen A. 1995, Autonomy or Power? The Franco-German Relationship and Europe’s Stra-

“(t)he Bürger in Uniform was the ideal and the reality which Innere Führung was to create […] the Bürger in Uniform was to be a fully-fledged member of society imbued with full rights of political participation and responsibility – to be circumscribed only by law and only for the duration of military service, the aim here in the basic architecture of the Bundeswehr being to dispose of the ideological caste of the military and to initiate the flourishing of a wide array of political and social ideas.”220 This development was significant as it

testified to the fact that Germany made structural changes to the code of conduct of the Bundeswehr which were not meant to be provisional but were to be permanent changes that highlighted especially the role of the individual soldier and his responsibility towards the German people. Also, the idea of a citizen in uniform was the central idea behind the understanding of the locus of the Bundeswehr, which should find itself amidst and not outside of Ger- man society. However, as Large has argued, this new German concept was in contrast to the initial thoughts of the other Western powers regarding the incentive of German rearmament given that the view on German soldiers as the best possible conventional bulwark against the Soviet threat based on the track record of an ‘unbeatable Wehrmacht’ in World War II was widely shared and acknowledged.221

During the 1950s NATO’s strategy relied on ‘Nuclear Sword’ and ‘Conven- tional Shield’, because an effective nuclear strike was seen as the only possi- ble way to deter any Soviet aggression in Western Europe as it was deemed that Soviet Union had superior numbers in conventional armaments.222 Yet

towards the end of the decade, it was clear that the Soviet Union had reached nuclear parity with the US, if not superiority. This prompted the US to seek an arrangement with the Soviet Union based on status quo in Europe to- wards the end of the decade. European NATO countries became worried about the ability of the US to protect them from a Soviet nuclear strike as a result of a shift in the American policy towards a ‘relaxation’ in Europe. The then German defence minister Hans-Josef Strauss (1954-62) later argued that the best way to deal with the situation was to give Europeans more pow- er in deciding about nuclear policies in Europe. Strauss argued that “(t)he West will not be in a position to fulfil the tasks it has set itself – victory over physical and spiritual misery in the world – until there is an Atlantic com- munity standing securely on two legs.”223 In effect, this meant a supranation-

al European body responsible for strategic command over nuclear weapons based on a federal political union in Europe – a concept within which Ger-

220 Longhurst 2004, p. 42 221 Large 1996, p. 57.

222 North-Atlantic Military Committee Decision on M.C. 48. A Report by the Military Committee on

The Most Effective Pattern of Nato Military Strength for The Next Ten Years. NATO Strategy docu- ments 1949-1969. Available at: (

223 Strauss, Franz-Josef 1965, ‘An Alliance of Continents’, International Affairs, vol.41, no.2 (Apr.

many would not have any national control over nuclear weapons correspond- ing to Germany’s agreement in the context of its WEU and NATO- membership. As Suri has argued, American Foreign Secretary Henry Kissin- ger basically agreed with this position since he often criticized American mismanagement of its European allies, but it was Kissinger who then imple- mented President Nixon’s policy of détente that was based largely on direct negotiations with the Russians and “oversaw this period of extended Europe- an separation from substantive US strategic consultation”.224

The issue of nuclear weapons was very difficult for Germany. Firstly, Germany did not want them to be deployed on German soil since there were fears in both German states that superpowers would play out their nuclear game using Germany as a proxy playground. Secondly, having a finger on the nuclear trigger would have effectively meant giving up on achieving Ger- man unification through political means. Yet the Federal Republic did not want to lose the possibility of the threat that the nuclear weapons provided in case the West would sacrifice the prospect for German unification in negotia- tions with the Soviets. However, as Nehring has stated, nuclear tests evoked

In document From Guilt to Responsibility and Beyond? : Change in German Strategic Culture after the End of the Cold War (Page 93-102)