Joint Air & Space Power Conference 2016
A Quick Glance from the German Macro-Political Perspective
By Mr Christian Motzer, DEU
Mr Christian Motzer is a senior staffer with the Christian Democrat party group in the Bundestag working as personal aide to its chairman, Volker Kauder MP. He has previously worked for a large international public affairs network. His master thesis concentrated on public opinion and the overseas deployment of the German Federal Defence Forces.
In US or British discussions on military strategy, the scenario of a cyber war may play a certain bigger role – ‘strategic novels‘ like Singer’s and Cole’s Ghost Fleet even make it into airport book stores. In German everyday politics, however, as well as in the consciousness of the general public, the subject generally plays a smaller role. Connoisseurs of the German security policy landscape will hardly be surprised by that: Military debates are normally conducted by experts over here, with little intensity among the general public. If they reach the public at all, it is through the media in a mostly-scandalized form.
The guidelines for the German security policy are laid down by the so-called ‘White Books’ drafted by the Federal Ministry of Defence, which normally have very long publication cycles. As this is being written, a new White Book is approaching completion. Its predecessor dates from the year 2006. However, the attention paid to this significant document of Germany’s security policy is rather minor outside expert circles. Even more specialized publications in the field – like the overall airborne strategy dating from December 2015 – are regularly ignored outside the apparatus.1
A cursory analysis of joint air operations in a degraded environment from the perspective of German politics can be logically separated into two aspects:
1. The negative perspective: The political consequences of military operations in a degraded scenario.
Should it become necessary to conduct military operations in a degraded environment – which consequences would this have for the German public and for German politics? Are such operations with their potentially far-reaching public consequences at all controllable? Can such a conflict even be conducted anymore?
2. Danger prevention as the means of choice Better safe than sorry: Is the problem of degradation an integral part of German political discourse? With what means do they choose to prevent degradation or alleviate its effects? What advice can be given to military leaders?
Regarding 1: The political consequences of military operations in a degraded scenario.
To be frank: The perspectives for the German Federal Republic in the case of a conflict in a degraded environment are rather sobering.
‘Parliamentary Forces’ and Security 4.02
To start with, the German armed forces are controlled by the Bundestag (‘parliamentary forces’) – parliament needs to legalize every single armed operation by German forces. In the case of a cross-party consensus, this procedure can happen swiftly. However, in a possibly less-obvious strategic situation, such as a cyber attack on navigation systems, a harsh political debate in parliament is conceivable. What also has to be kept in mind is that in cyber conflicts foreign and domestic security may be hard to separate. In cases where the critical civilian infrastructure also experiences failures – energy systems, the internet, mobile phone services, the civilian traffic infrastructure on rails and in the air, civil GPS, the financial system – the political system would have to operate under much less favourable conditions both technically and politically and with a much heightened demand on civil-military coordination.
Exercises (called LÜKEX) by the German Interior Ministry, which is predominantly responsible for cyber security, have in the past also simulated cyber attacks. These exercises made the magnitude of the challenge posed by such scenarios to a society and its preparation in this area very clear. Indeed, many measures have been adopted in the Federal Republic of Germany to strengthen defence capabilities in this field in recent years. Still, the challenges that cyber security poses to integrated and highly developed national economies like the Federal Republic are manifest.
’Post Heroic Age’
Even more specific to Germany is the great degree of skepticism towards the use of military force resulting from the country’s history in the 20th century. It is by no means inconceivable that this skepticism might have an impact even where a degraded scenario is comparatively contained: it is well possible that the German public would react with particular vigor to rising numbers of casualties amongst German personnel due to degradation effects. In addition, the perspective of killing non-combatants caused, for example, by a navigation failure, would further reduce the apparent legitimacy of operations in a decisive manner. The Kunduz air strike that took place in September 2009 and the political debate that followed may serve as a prime example of this effect. On the whole, debates regarding security policy tend to cause fear regarding the misuse of military means. This fear sometimes prevents the necessary differentiation in strategic debates. Another highly important debate connected with the future of German military aviation – the purchase of unmanned aerial systems – is much affected by these reflexes.
It can thus be concluded that from a political point of view the sum total of their negative effects makes conflicts in degraded environments particularly hard for the Federal Republic to conduct. This would presumably apply especially in the hypothetical case where a non-contained scenario starts affecting the civilian infrastructure at home. All the more the emphasis must be put on controlling cyber threats and/or alleviating the effects of degradation.
Regarding 2: Prevention as the means of choice. On April 26th, 2016 the president of the United States, Mr Barack Obama, once more reminded the Federal Republic in his speech at the opening of the Hannover trade fair that the country should raise its defence budget from the current 1.2 percent of GDP to the 2.0 percent that NATO requests. This already characterizes the situation most clearly: As with other countries a number of various possible conflict scenarios compete for limited budgetary means. The German armaments concept dubbed ’width before depth’ (’Breite vor Tiefe’) tries to account for this task.
Defence Against Cyber Threats
With regard to equipping and financing the German armed forces, there has been a recent reversal of the formerly negative trend towards the positive.3 This also applies to the long-term financing perspective – the GDP share of defence spending is likely to increase further – especially for the cyber security sector. In the debate surrounding key military capabilities, Germany has come to recognize the importance of countering cyber threats, of strengthening cryptology, and of gaining information. The coalition agreement of the current federal government dating from November 2013 has already highlighted this. The aforementioned Military Aerial Strategy 2016 by the Defence Ministry is calling cyber attacks ’a trend among risk evaluation’ stating that: ‘The rising dependence of weapons systems on IT systems as well as heightened dangers in cyberspace mean that it is of fundamental importance that weapons and other systems are robust and safe from an IT point of view. […] In order to facilitate this effectively we must make sure that the necessary bandwidth is provided for open and encrypted data traffic.’4 The White Book which is to be published in summer 2016 is also going to put a focus on cyber security. It follows that cyber threats and the problem of degradation are well recognized politically. Expert politicians and the federal government are deliberating strategies and their realization. The Federal Ministry of Defence is cooperating closely with the Ministry of the Interior, which is predominantly responsible for IT security.
Action by Federal Ministry of Defence
Federal minister of defence, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, also shows that she is aware of the task at hand. Recently she announced a 130 bln. Euro programme for research and modern material for the Federal Defence Forces through 2029. Concerning cyber defence, she created a new large organizational entity within the Bundeswehr at the beginning of this year, following the example of other NATO Allies. This entity consists mainly of units formerly belonging to other sections of the forces. It will be used to encompass all cyber capabilities. A core group consisting of three hundred cyber experts in the ministry is then going to lead more than 13,000 soldiers and employees in the areas of cyber defence and information – considering the overall size of the Federal Defence Forces, that is an impressive number. The leading heads in the defence ministry including, above all, State Secretary Katrin Suder, also stand in favour of a successful change in the culture of German security policy. This is also a good sign for the air force in order to prepare it for the challenges posed by cyber conflicts. As concerns the public at large, however, the discussion regarding this special threat looks rather typical: The public remains largely untouched by it. As in other areas of security policy, continued information and communication activities are therefore needed in order to convince the public of the requirements of the scenario and the resulting political – and possibly financial – necessities.
As a highly developed national economy, the Federal Republic is exceedingly dependent on modern technology – militarily, domestically and economically. In the case of a conflict, it should be considered even less likely than with other members of the Alliance that the public will rally around the flag once effects of degradation make themselves felt. In order to allow politicians to help prevent or alleviate the effects of degradation in possible conflicts they rely – like with other strategic questions – on the factual input of the responsible military leaders. Politicians can then inform the public and bid for public understanding.5 As usual, military leaders should seek the dialogue with the political realm and use the proven military-civilian channels: The Federal Ministry of Defence, the defence committee of the Bundestag, security and alliance bodies including possibly, in Germany, the Parliamentary Ombudsman for the Forces (‘Wehrbeauftragter des Bundestags’).
The debate may prove strenuous from time to time but it is surely worth the effort. Since an advanced persistent threat was identified nesting in the IT structure of the German Bundestag in 2015, there should be a certain sensitivity to the subject, particularly in Berlin that can be relied upon. Countering this threat slowed down parliamentary proceedings for a while and put the legislature and government in a state of considerable alarm.
Expert meetings like the JAPCC Conference are the indispensable first step of the information cascade, particularly for cyber conflicts and degraded.