Constructing an analytical framework for the study of strategic

In document From Guilt to Responsibility and Beyond? : Change in German Strategic Culture after the End of the Cold War (Page 78-84)


So far in this chapter, I have portrayed the few existing accounts which have addressed the issue of strategic cultural change in more detail. Taken as a whole, these accounts bring added value to the study of strategic cultural change because they all approach the aspect of change from different episte- mological angles. Based on the above analysis of these accounts, a couple of key points stand out: 1) change often takes place as an incremental process, to be understood primarily as ideational and normative adaptation or fine- tuning of existing strategic practices, observable mainly but not only when it becomes institutionalized pattern of behaviour; 2) change can also be fun- damental in case the existing ideational/normative structure is challenged by external shocks to the degree that it no longer provides clarity in terms of the issues of peace and war and the use of military force which also implies dys- functionality in the link between strategic thinking and strategic behaviour; 3) external shocks related to the experience of warfare are the most im- portant, ‘first order’ mechanisms of strategic cultural change because they are capable of triggering fundamental change that goes beyond the notion of change understood in terms of observable shifts in policy practices. These primary mechanisms are supplemented by other, ‘second order’ mechanisms such as generational change, peer persuasion or mediatized crisis-learning which are, from an explanatory perspective, secondary to the experience of warfare.

Empirically, if we talk about Bundeswehr out-of-area operations as ‘sin- gle’ case studies, the case of Afghanistan and German participation as part of the ISAF operation (2002-2014) is arguably the best-case scenario since here we have a longer time frame and hence more data to make arguments about how these operations are capable of changing strategic culture at the level of strategic practices. However, the question that is often left unanswered is that if fundamental or major change is such a rare occurrence, how do the changes and shifts at the level of strategic and policy practices, which argua- bly take place more frequently, affect the overall evolution of strategic cul- ture? If the case of Afghanistan is used as an example, it might be too early to draw any far-reaching conclusions on the matter. However, as Zapfe has not- ed in an important recent article, German strategic culture plays a pivotal role in the current Bundeswehr reform that is supposed to be in full effect in 2017. This reform largely relies on the experiences gathered during the OEF/ISAF mission in Afghanistan. The key document in the reform is the so-

called ‘Conception of the Bundeswehr¶ (Konzeption der Bundeswehr or

KdB), published in 2013. As a central element, the KdB introduces the con-

cept of Bundeswehrgemeinsamkeit, meaning a dimension of ‘jointness¶ be- yond the military sphere: the KdB, and its subordinate documents, shall bind uniformed and civilian pillars of the Ministry of Defence. As Zapfe states, “(o)n the operational side, the year 2016 may well see a historical first. The Ministry of Defence is well into a process of publishing a document that is internally titled ‘Operational Guideline¶ (Einsatzleitlinie) and supposed to serve as the central document guiding German operational doctrine. It is supposed to serve as a capstone document on joint operations – on how to use the structure and equipment lined out in the KdB.”181

Hilpert, who has studied the case of Afghanistan in depth, does not at- tempt an answer to this question. However, she makes an interesting obser- vation that “discourse is not an absolute necessity for a change in practices. If the nature of the external challenge, coupled with internal factors – primarily agency – is large enough, there can be change regardless of the political- strategic rhetoric. In such cases, most agents of change do not come from the highest political levels; they need not even be politicians.”182 She particularly

mentions German reluctance to adjust to the NATO COIN (Counterinsurgen- cy) doctrine as well as the changes in German Rules of Engagement (RoE), which were forced upon Germany by external events and challenges and championed by agents other than the Federal government (rank and file of Bundeswehr in the case of the former and Bundestag MPs in the case of the latter).183 However, while it is impossible to prove the opposite of Hilpert’s

above claim, it would seem plausible to assume counterfactually that had the German government decided to take a firm stance on the issue of COIN for instance, the discourse surrounding that stance would have made a differ- ence in how Germany would have acted upon it. In other words, as the Ger- man government did not take a firm stance on the issue, it provided windows of opportunity for other actors to function as policy entrepreneurs in this re- gard. Moreover, both the adoption of the NATO COIN doctrine as well as the changes in the German RoE were initially made possible by specific forms of strategic thinking, even though these changes were not initiated by the Ger- man government.

Indeed, the answer to the question posed above regarding the way chang- es in policy practices affect the overall evolution of strategic culture rests mainly with how one defines strategic culture. If, on one hand, we take Hilpert’s claims regarding the primacy of strategic practice as granted, then we need not think any further. This is because change in strategic practices – if it establishes an institutionalized pattern of behaviour – affects the way

181 See Zapfe, Martin 2016 µStrategic Culture Shaping Allied Integration: The Bundeswehr and the


182 Hilpert 2014, p. 195. 183 Ibid., pp. 193-194.

strategic culture is shaped. However, on the other hand, if we apply the defi- nition of strategic culture I offered above, it could be argued that if changes in strategic practices fundamentally alter the fashion in which the ideation- al/normative structure is able to establish clarity in terms of potential out- comes to the questions and choices regarding the use of military force, these practices might significantly shape the way strategic culture unfolds. To give an example, it can be argued that the strategic practice of Bundeswehr out- of-area operations since the mid-1990s has had a considerable impact on how German strategic culture has evolved, not only because it represents an institutionalized pattern of behaviour but perhaps more importantly since it has provided new ways of addressing the issue of the use of military force – the core of any strategic culture.

Aside from the assessment of change in strategic culture studies, there ex- ists a broad literature on foreign policy change in terms of so-called ‘critical junctures’. These studies are informed by historical institutionalist perspec- tive which posits that historical development is characterized by long periods of stability which are punctuated by ‘critical junctures’ during which more dramatic change becomes possible. For instance, Capoccia & Kelemen define critical junctures as “relatively short periods of time during which there is a substantially heightened probability that agents’ choices will affect the out- come of interest.”184 This definition also suggests that actors’ choices have

more impact on the outcomes of policy during the critical juncture than after this period has come to an end. This is because their choices during the criti- cal juncture are assumed to trigger a path-dependent process that constrains future choices.185

However, there is no a priori reason to assume that actors’ choices would be necessarily freer during phases of change and more constrained during times of institutional equilibrium. What may appear as windows of oppor- tunity for some actors may mean something entirely different for other ac- tors. Hence the very opposite may very well be the case. Realists could argue for instance that militarily more powerful states possess more options than weaker ones regardless whether the institutional situation is characterized as equilibrium or as a ‘critical juncture’. Indeed, what would count as a ‘critical juncture’ in terms of strategic culture is unclear; the notion of ‘critical junc- ture’ seems to rather point to a set of structural, contextual circumstances than to highlight specific factors for change.

Sociologist Ann Swidler, who already in the 1980s developed a theory of cultural influence on action in terms of practices, argued that culture has in- dependent causal power because it shapes the capacities from which strate- gies of action are constructed. During ‘settled periods’ culture “independently influences action but only by providing resources from which people can con-

184 Capoccia, Giovanni & Kelemen, Daniel R. 2007, ‘The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative,

and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism’, World Politics, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Apr., 2007), p. 348

struct diverse lines of action”, while during ‘unsettled periods’, “explicit ideo- logies directly govern action, but structural opportunities for action deter- mine which among competing ideologies survives in the long run.”186 The

problem with these notions is not so much that they seem to equate structur- al uncertainty with increased possibility for change, but that the logic of his- torical evolution rests on circular trajectory, i.e. ‘stability-critical juncture- stability’ or ‘settled-unsettled-settled’. Hence, the notions of ‘stability-critical juncture’ and ‘settled-unsettled period’ refer to a state in which a culture finds itself at any given point in time. This is defined either as a de facto pe- riod of continuity or a period of change, because structural uncertainty is taken to explain either a) the increased probability that actors’ choices influ- ence action by affecting the outcome of interest or b) the prominence of a certain ideology over another in terms of affecting the way how strategies of action are constructed on a general level (irrespective of given value assess- ments).

First, this is misleading in the sense that it not only overdetermines the structural vis-à-vis contingent factors in bringing about change187 , but it also

neglects the idea that there is more to strategic cultural change than to focus solely on observable outcomes in terms of practices (e.g. institutionalized patterns of behaviour). Second, the problem with a fixed understanding that cultural change is primarily driven by structural determinants risks the dan- ger of tautological reasoning, since culture is often understood via the notion of ‘social structure’. Without a clearly articulated framework that differenti- ates culture as a social structure from other structural factors it is difficult to avoid the impression of structural determinism, because unless one makes an ontological distinction between ‘culture’ and ‘action’, culture either explains everything or it explains nothing. This relates to the problems that were de- tectable in Gray’s account regarding culture understood broadly as ‘the con- text’ but it also highlights the problem in the opposite argument in the sec- ond generation scholarship of strategic culture, namely, that culture exists as a resource that can be harnessed by cultural actors in an instrumental fash- ion.

In the following, based on the analysis of the existing accounts of strategic cultural change discussed above and the discussion of critical realist meta- theory regarding causality from the beginning of Chapter 2, I present an analytical framework of strategic cultural change which understands change both in terms of processes and outcomes:

186 Swidler, Ann 1986, ‘Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies’, American Sosiological Review, Vol.

51, No.2 (Apr., 1986), pp.273-286.

Table 2. Analytical Framework of Strategic Cultural Change

A few clarifications and specifications regarding the above analytical catego- rization are necessary. First and importantly, as an analytical framework, the above illustration of the process of strategic cultural change is not intended to be understood as corresponding to empirical reality as it is presented, but to simulate the likely constellations of sources, mechanisms and outcomes of




external shocks primary fundamental

threat images, security challenges, crises, conflicts, wars, systemic

shifts the experience of warfare

major changes in the ideational/normative

structure of strategic culture and introduction

of new strategic practices (institutionalized patterns of behaviour)

other external factors secondary fine-tuned

alliance patterns, level of technology, status of


peer pressure, persuasion, benchmarking, imitation, socialization

ideational/normative adaptation, shifts in the

security policy preferences, changes in

procurement practices

internal factors secondary/tertiary fine-tuned

level of ambition in security and defence policy, status of economy, the role of the executive vs.

legislative powers in matters of security and

defence, civil-military relations, specific traditions in strategic


generational change, mediatized crisis learning, public opinion

ideational/normative adaptation, introduction of symbolic practices

change on a general level. Subsequently, when conducting an empirical anal- ysis or a case-study on strategic culture, we cannot hope to cover every aspect of this process in detail, because the different mechanisms of change operate on a multitude of epistemological levels. In this study, I will mainly focus on the mechanism of the experience of warfare specifically from the viewpoint of coming to terms with the German past.

Second, the difference between external and internal factors as sources of change cannot necessarily be so readily conceptually distinguished, because these factors sometimes overlap in the same fashion that external and inter- nal factors constituting ‘security’ overlap (for example). However, I believe these distinctions are necessary in terms of analytical clarity. The sources of change can be regarded as either necessary or sufficient conditions for stra- tegic cultural change to take place, i.e. for it to be ‘actualized’ in the fashion of the proposed categories.

Third, regarding the mechanisms of change, the order from primary to tertiary is meant as a general distinction because unanimous scholarly agreement exists that strategic cultures are prone to maintaining the status- quo and this is why internal factors alone are insufficient in explaining change.188 This also highlights the traditional prevalence of the aspect of con-

tinuity in the study of strategic culture, and speaks volumes in favour of a ‘status-quo’ view of strategic culture. In other words, what this framework is not trying to argue is that socialization or mediatized crisis-learning (for ex- ample) can never lead to fundamental changes in strategic cultures, but ra- ther that it is less likely than when initiated by external shocks filtered through different forms of experiences of warfare.

Fourth, as I argued when discussing Hilpert’s account, observable out- comes e.g. institutionalized patterns of behaviour are not the only or neces- sarily a sufficient indication of change in strategic culture because strategic cultures operate on a socio-cognitive level which goes beyond the notion of observable policy practices.

Fifth, it needs to be stressed here that while this thesis has made no spe- cific arguments or claims regarding the role of agency within strategic cultur- al change beyond the notion that it is hardly possible without some form of it, it goes without saying that almost all the mechanisms of strategic cultural change necessitate political agency in some way, shape or form. Perhaps the reason why I haven’t touched upon the issue of agency in more detail lies in my principal criticism of the second generation scholarship, who argued for an instrumental understanding of strategic culture. I believe this to be a crude simplification of the subject matter of strategic culture, but it is also

188 This is reflected in practically every piece of scholarly work on strategic culture that has elaborated

on the question of change at some depth. See e.g. Lantis, Jeffrey 2002, ‘The Moral Imperative of Force: The Evolution of German Strategic Culture in Kosovo’, Comparative Strategy, 21:1, pp. 21-46.; Longhurst 2004; Meyer 2006; Wilke 2007; Hilpert 2014.

necessary to note that the role of political agency, and that of individual ac- tors, may vary in the different phases of the process of change.

Indeed, while political agency in the form of political leadership may be critical in the phase when external shocks are filtered through (e.g. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer’s role in the debate concerning the ‘never again’ – framework in the 1990s, to be discussed in Chapter 3) or when it comes to the pace of the change in terms of strategic practices (e.g. German defence ministers’ role in Bundeswehr reforms, to be discussed in Chapter 5)189 it is

also important not to overstate the role of political agency regarding the na- ture of change, not to mention that of individual actors, at least if we follow Gray in this respect (and while we do, we need not follow him all the way).

Finally, it needs to be noted in the spirit of reflective analysis that the above framework is limited in that the workings of the systemic/macro level (i.e. international or global relations) are more or less reduced to the func- tion of the theory of strategic culture. However, as discussed in the next sub- chapter, system-level analysis includes several logics of interaction apart from wars or warfare. One way to highlight the potential diverse effects that the system level has on national strategic cultures is to contemplate on Wendt’s account regarding the different logics of anarchy, because it can be argued that while rather generic in posture, these logics cover different and relevant types of interaction on the international/global level. This is where the thesis turns next.


In document From Guilt to Responsibility and Beyond? : Change in German Strategic Culture after the End of the Cold War (Page 78-84)