Germany in Military Dialogue

Posted in Russia , Peace and Conflict | 09-Nov-04 | Author: Konrad Freytag

The Kremlin - the power centre of Russia
The Kremlin - the power centre of Russia

Following the unification of Germany in 1990 Soviet Forces, based in East Germany since the end of World War II, began to withdraw from German soil in an orderly manner, and on the basis of agreements with the unified Germany. With 18 billion Deutschmarks of German financial backing the Western Group of Forces/Troops (WGT) organized the retreat of approx. 650.000 military men and women, to include civilian employees and family members, a huge undertaking!

Early in the withdrawal process, one question came up in the German WGT Liaison Office:

“What will the young man, returning home, tell his grandmother in Russia when she asks: ‘how are the Germans now, how is the West now’?” It was very clear to all concerned that the members of the WGT were lacking information about the country they had lived in, isolated, for several years. And all concerned agreed, too, that here was a challenge: to provide the returnees with facts in order to enable them to carry a true message to the people of the Soviet Union about “the West”.

So, some information programmes for the WGT members were developed. Between 1990 and 1994 about 15 seminars took place financed by the German Government Information Agency (Bundespresseamt), organised by the German military and with approx. 25 WGT officers each (from Major General down to Major), in different locations of the German Länder, in West Germany as well as in the “new” Eastern part.

However, this project was strictly directed at and tailored for the military stationed in country, and it terminated when the last Soviet soldier left Germany in August 1994.

Era of Dialogue

When the Berlin Wall collapsed in November 1989, the world changed. Since then, and a typical product of this unexpected and dramatic change, an often heard formula is: “It was beyond my imagination …”! When one wants to identify the ignition point for a new approach in the East-West Dialogue it was at this time, and the roots were in Russia.

“It was in winter 1989/1990 when a US/ German delegation of government officials and scientists was in Moscow for talks with Soviet officials on the issue of ‘Nuclear Deconfliction’. Our unofficial exchanges after these talks disclosed the enormous need for information on the Soviet side about what was really going on in East Germany, in Poland and elsewhere…” remembered the former German Chief of Defence, General (ret) Wolfgang Altenburg, who during those Moscow talks had frequent contacts with high ranking Soviet generals. “The then National Security Advisor to the US President, Bob Blackwill and myself quickly agreed we must continue contacts with the Soviet military leadership”, continued Altenburg and said: “And our governments finally became convinced about this approach. Bob Blackwill was able to start a programme at the Harvard School of Business, and I became the first seminar director at the Ebenhausen Institute at Lake Starnberg in the vicinity of Munich, Bavaria”. The idea was to bring together young generals from both sides in seminar-type environments and to talk without ideological barriers: the so-called “Dialogue Seminars” were born, where Russian (and later also Ukrainian) general officers could meet with German general officers to discuss matters of common interest, ranging from security policy and military matters to economic affairs and cultural issues.

Who and what is SWP?

The “Ebenhausen” Institute, officially named “German Institute for International and Security Affairs of Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik” (SWP) has been in charge of these new seminars since 1993. SWP, with strong backing from Germany’s Foreign Office (assisting with diplomatic contacts) and the Defence Ministry (providing the budget), conducts these gatherings every year; a German four-star general (ret) is in the seminar chair; approx. 15 Russian/ Ukrainian and four to five German generals experience the intense 10-day programmes which are embedded in the overall academic dialogue that SWP is engaged in with other institutes around the world.

The institute is located nearby the famous Berlin Kurfürstendamm, at Ludwigkirch-Platz. The building’s façade is reminiscent of Berlin’s construction expansions of the 19th century “Wilhelm Imperial” period.

SWP is an independent scientific establishment that conducts practical research on the basis of which it then advises the German federal parliament (Deutscher Bundestag) and the federal government on foreign and security policy issues. The analyses and publications (approx. 200 SWP Research Papers, Discussion Papers and SWP Comments per year) produced by SWP researchers, and their participation in national and international debates on key issues, help to shape opinion in their respective domains.

SWP throughout the year organizes approx. 300 conferences or colloquia on a broad range of political topics. Some of these events are co-sponsored with other foundations or institutes. Very welcome, too, are the subject-oriented jours fixes with academics, ministry officials and in-house experts.

German and international newspapers often provide platforms for the SWP experts who at the same time are welcome participants on specific issues in TV news programmes and talk shows.

SWP was set up in 1962 by private initiative in the small Southern Bavaria town of Ebenhausen nearby the pittoresque Lake Starnberg, and given legal status as a foundation. Since January 1965, when the Deutscher Bundestag unanimously backed the establishment of an independent research centre, the Institute has been federally funded. Berlin has been SWP’s new home since January 2001.

There are currently more than 140 staff working at SWP. The institute has eight Research Units employing more than 60 scholars.

SWP Organizational setup

The Board of Trustees/ SWP Council (Stiftungsrat) is SWP’s highest supervisory and decision-making body.

It appoints the Institute’s management, approves broad outlines for its research and guarantees its independence. All important decisions are by a two-thirds majority of the board members, who include leading scientists, economists, representatives of various federal ministries and several members of the German parliament (Mitglied des Bundestages, MdB).

The Board is presided over by Ulrich Hartmann, Supervisory Board Chairman for Germany’s famous electric power plant E.ON AG. Deputy presidents are Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier (currently Chief of Staff in the Federal Chancellery) and the Bundestag’s Foreign Committee Deputy Chairman Hans-Ulrich Klose, a long time Social Democrat MdB.

Among the Council Board members are:

the Christian Democrat MdB Volker Rühe, a former German Defence Minister and currently Chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Committee; several other representatives of all parliamentary fractions; the presidents of Berlin’s Humboldt University (Jürgen Mlynek), of the Max Planck Society (Peter Gruss) and the Berlin-based Wissenschaftsskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study, Dieter Grimm); Horst Teltschik of BMW Foundation Herbert Quant; Dr. Michael Otto, Chief Executive Officer of Otto- Versand, and General (ret) Peter Heinrich Carstens, former Chief of Staff at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters SHAPE.

Questions to the SWP Director:

For six years Dr. Christoph Bertram has been the Director of SWP Institute. From 1982 until 1998 he was foreign policy editor of the German weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT in Hamburg, Germany; and from 1974 to 1982 Bertram held the position of Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, UK.

  1. How do you define your institute’s role and responsibility?

    SWP has the unique and exclusive mandate to advise the German government and parliament on matters of international policy. This has become increasingly appreciated with the growing significance of international affairs and the growing international responsibility of the country.

  2. What is your “political counselling” objective?

    Our objective is to provide, on the basis of independent academic research, an assessment of those international developments which we deem of particular significance for a German foreign and security policy.

  3. To what extent can “political science” contribute to wise policy making?

    I believe that this kind of service can contribute to better policy making by providing the working level in the administration, as well as in parliament, with an independent assessment that can form the basis of recommendations to political leaders

  4. What are your means and tools to ensure a valuable partnership with German politicians?

    In order to ensure a close relationship with German foreign policy making, the institute is not only providing written expertise, but also engages to hold a variety of individual and group briefings, study groups and international conferences to which representatives of both the administration and parliament are invited and usually take part. The fact that the institute, which was formally situated in Bavaria, moved to Berlin in 2001 has given additional access and a possibility to participate in the discussions on German foreign policy which take place in Berlin.

  5. How do you describe the German Strategic Community?

    The German Strategic Community is, as in all European countries, rather small. It consists of a few specialized members of parliament, a few journalists and a handful of academics as well as some of the major think tanks of which SWP is the most important.

  6. Who are your partners on the international scene?

    Our partners on the international scene are similar think tanks, such as IFRI in France, Brookings and the RAND Corporation in the USA, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, etc. However, there are many close contacts with international centres elsewhere, and the institute invites guest scholars from a number of countries.

  7. Is there any feed-back from your work, and if yes: how do you measure success in this context?

    It is very difficult to measure the success of our work. Policy decisions are very different from analytical work and quite often have to take other considerations into account than those which independent researchers need to be aware of. There is, therefore, rarely an occasion when the advice provided and the policy pursued are more or less identical. The best measure of success is, therefore, the demand for our work, the participation in our activities as well as the financial support which we continue to enjoy from the federal budget. It is complemented by considerable media attention and appreciation.

SWP Dialogue with Russian Forces

Every year since 1993 a seminar with Russian and German generals has taken place (since 2001 the programme includes a dialogue seminar for young colonels and lieutenant colonels). The Chiefs of Defence/General Staff from Germany and Russia, in an exchange of Letters of Intent set the framework for the dialogue:

  • The seminar should follow a seclusion format with closed meetings and excursions;

  • seminar topics should reflect current security policy and be chosen to meet the interests of both sides;

  • the participating general officers are picked according to their jobs;

  • they should represent all services, and they should preferably come from staff assignments as well as from command positions;

  • the seminar director is always a retired German four-star general (the first seven seminars were conducted by General [ret] Wolfgang Altenburg, former German Chief of Defence and former Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee).

Long before the start of the seminar, and through the German Defence Attaché in Moscow, the Russian General Staff receives detailed information about the seminar programme. This is to ensure the Russian participants can prepare for speeches, presentations and comments. At the same time, the SWP invites internal and external speaker-experts on the selected issues. Visits to headquarters and units are organized through the German Defence Ministry. But the seminar goes also country wide to see German daily life and to discuss non-military issues like economy or finances (visits also include an investment bank and the famous Potsdam castles Sanssouci and Cecilienhof). And they make a trip to Belgium in order to get an idea about “Germany in NATO and in the European Union”, and how NATO’s integrated command structure works.

For the 12th SWP- Dialogue in 2004 Russia nominated a vice admiral, six generals (two/ one star) and five senior colonels, Germany selected six brigadier generals from the different services. And as in the previous four years, General (ret) Peter Heinrich Carstens was in the chair (see below).

This time the first two days of discussion was dominated by German and Russian Security and Defence Policy, and subjects like

  • combating international terrorism

  • illegal immigration, smuggling and drug trafficking

  • Russia’s way ahead (politics, economy, Caucasus etc)

which turned into very controversial and heated debates.

The seminar visited the Einsatzführungskommando (GE Armed Forces Operations Command), responsible for all German military operations outside Germany, for all German troops deployed in operations, be it in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Djibuti, Ethiopia, Georgia, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, Kuwait or Qatar, etc. The generals went to see an Armour Infantry Battalion which is preparing for deployment to Afghanistan in December 2004. The seminar was in the Federal Chancellery for a meeting with the German National Security Advisor (there they could witness by chance the visit of Paraguay’s president to Chancellor Schröder).

In the German Ministry of Defence the generals received in-depth briefings on “Transformation of the German Armed Forces” (in parallel the Russians informed about their defence reform efforts), on Germany’s participation in international military operations (Afghanistan, Middle-East, Balkans etc.) and on the German civic leadership principle of Innere Führung. The German vice Chief of Defence, who himself briefed “Transformation” and stayed for the entire visit, underlined the necessity of the military dialogue for the benefit of common security.

When the group visited the German parliament building Reichstag everybody was impressed by the concept of completely reconstructing the interior of the 1890-built Reichstag. The Russian guests took many photographs of the preserved Soviet-soldiers-graffiti reflecting moments of the eight-day Reichstag battle in April 1945. But they were also faced with the issue of a “German soldiers' ombudsman”, an institution of the German parliament since the establishment of the German Armed Forces. So, they had many questions to and received the appropriate answers from the Wehrbeauftragter des Deutschen Bundestages. Before the visitors left Berlin they took two other opportunities: first, they visited the Alte Nationalgalerie with its unique collection of paintings of the “German Romantic Movement” by artists like Carl Blechen, Caspar David Friedrich (a friend of and admired by the Russian Emperor Nikolaus I), Philipp Otto Runge or Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Second, at one of the more than 500 war grave sites around Berlin they were shown how a former Soviet military monument and large graveyard is being turned into a cemetery with good German standards, i.e. care is being taken to preserve the dignity of their fallen. Additionally, they were briefed by the German War Grave Commission’s president, Brandenburg Region, about a joint German/ Russian cemetery project in Russia’s Kaliningrad District.

A definite a highlight was the travel to Brussels, Belgium, where the guests witnessed how the international community can work together. At Headquarters NATO they were hosted by the German Military Representative to NATO’s Military Committee; at the European Union Military Staff (EUMS) they received briefings and had discussions with the Deputy Director General EUMS (a Belgian two-star general) and the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Exercises (ACOS O&E), a German brigadier who also briefed in detail about the EU plans to take over NATO’s SFOR mission in Bosnia Herzegovina.

In SHAPE’s Eisenhower Centre the group had intensive talks with the Chief of Staff, German Army four-star general Rainer Schuwirth on a wide range of current issues, to include NATO defence arrangements in the Baltic airspace (of “great concern” to the Russian guests). They also discussed “NATO-Russia Cooperation” with SACEUR’s Special Assistant for Russian matters, and they spoke to SACEUR’s Deputy International Advisor for Strategic Affairs.

During lunch there was a lively conversation with people of the many nations represented at SHAPE. And a happy coincidence allowed them to talk to participants (mainly officers from former Soviet Union Socialist Republics, now independent states like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan etc) of the George-C.- Marshall-Centre International Course visiting SHAPE.

A Dialogue Forum unites 20 German and Russian general officers at NATO’s Allied Command Operations (first row: 5th from right…
A Dialogue Forum unites 20 German and Russian general officers at NATO’s Allied Command Operations (first row: 5th from right Gen [ret] Carstens, 6th from right VAdm Dmitriev)

Very interesting, too, was the unofficial part of the visit, conducted by the SHAPE Historian in his capacity as the Chairman of SHAPE’s Historical Society, who took the seminar to the fields of the Battle of Waterloo. It was a moving, curious event: at Napoleon’s former battle command post in a Belgian farmhouse, an American civilian explains the strategic and tactical facts about an alliance of British, German and Russian troops fighting a French army in 1815 to free Europe from dictatorship…


Of course, at seminar’s end there was an “after-exercise” meeting with comments like:

  • the seminar schedule was too tight, and there should be more “free time”;

  • ten days were not enough, and there should be additional topics;

  • some “political issues” could be replaced by military ones;

  • it would be helpful to organize some aspects in “group work” or exercises;

  • etc, etc.

But it might be useful to see what the chief of the Russian delegation had to say, and how the director of the seminar viewed the whole project. Following are the interviews with these two individuals.

Questions to Vice Admiral Dmitrij A. Dmitriev,
participant in the 12th German-Russian Dialogue, head of the Russian delegation
(translated from Russian language)

  1. Admiral, what is your role in the Russian Armed Forces?

    I am the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Naval Forces’ Headquarters. Our Ministry of Defence is highly interested that senior representatives of the Russian Armed forces participate in this series of seminars. In last year’s seminar the head of Russian delegation, Lieutenant General Jevnevich, came from the Army Forces Headquarters, this year it is me from the Principal Navy Staff.

  2. How do you view the Dialogue Programme as such?

    Good. In this dialogue framework the participants have the possibility to listen to and to express our views. We can discuss positions, and we can view things from different angles. Those exchanges of opinions are very useful; they enable us to improve our relationship by taking into account the partner’s views. We need this dialogue and I think, it should go on.

  3. What are, in your perspective, the most interesting issues of the seminar?

    I feel, in the scope of the entire seminar programme we touch very interesting questions of German and Russian security policy, and we discuss real current issues of mutual interest.

  4. What is your comment on the mixture of participants?

    Concerning the seminar composition: long ago the organizers of this dialogue developed a certain system to appoint the participants. In my delegation there are experts from different services and military areas. And as I saw from the German side, they seem to do it in a similar way. This helps to cover a broad spectrum, and it gives hope for an interesting productive and professional work.

  5. How would you sum up these ten dialogue days?

    The seminar went very well and was of great interest to us. We really got a complete overview on all current political and military issues. But also the variety of items like visits to institutions, to army units and headquarters, to the museum, the parliament building etc. was superb. The travels to the international organisations like the European Union, NATO and its military headquarters of SHAPE added tremendously and should remain a part of future seminars. Of course, one could think of additional highlights like a soccer game, a concert etc. But what was included in this year’s ten-day-cadre does not give room for any complaint. Quite the contrary: my resume is very positive, and I leave the seminar with great thanks.

Questions to General (ret) Peter Heinrich Carstens,

General (ret) German Army Peter Heinrich Carstens (67) has been seminar director of the SWP Dialogue with the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation for several years. He is a member of the SWP Board of Trustees, and a member of the Advisory Committee to the German Defence Ministry on Armed Forces Structure matters.

Carstens’ 42 years of military service included studies at German and UK General Staff Colleges, national and international command positions (he commanded NATO’s Allied Mobile Force [L], and Germany’s 3rd Army Corps) and staff assignments ( Aid-de-Camp to the German Defence Minister, Deputy Director of the Defence Ministry’s Planning staff, and Chief of Staff at NATO’s Supreme Command Headquarters SHAPE).

  1. General, in 1996, in your capacity as the SHAPE Chief of Staff you helped defining the agreement, under which Russian military forces would participate in NATO’s Bosnia operation SFOR, a new dimension of NATO- Russia relationship! How do you view this step in retro-perspective?

    We were truly breaking new ground. Never before have NATO and Russian forces operated together, and it was not an easy task to reconcile two completely different military cultures: a good example are the rules of engagement, designed to control and constrain lethal military force. The Russians didn’t know such instruments and argued that their officers would always know what to do. The results of such doctrines could be seen during the first Chechnia war.

    While the planning proceeded and the operation was launched such and other incompatibilities could be overcome.

  2. What is the scope and value of the dialogue with the armed forces of the Russian Federation?

    The purpose of our dialogue is to improve our mutual understanding. That’s why we do not limit our discussion to military matters. We are not holding staff talks.

    We try to show a wide range of political, social, cultural, economic aspects of a modern, democratic, industrialized western republic and how the Bundeswehr (the German Armed forces) fits into it.

  3. How do you view the impact of the Dialogue Seminars on the Russian military leadership?

    The direct impact, which such information makes on the individual participant, is impossible to measure. But most Russian officers have little opportunity to travel outside the GUS (i.e. territory of the former Soviet Union). And also, in the Russian Armed Forces there is – 15 years after the breakdown of the Soviet Union – a new generation of military leaders, who are keen to better understand the world and learn more about foreign countries. This is particularly important in times, when we are confronted with risks, that our nations share and opportunities that must be used.

    And I trust, that after 13 years and with over 150 Russian participants, we have made a significant contribution to the relationship of our nations.

  4. In October 2004 you concluded another Dialogue Seminar with Russian and German generals. What is your assessment?

    This year’s dialogue has not been much different from the previous. The subjects of discussion are always very much influenced by real world events. This year the battle against international terrorism and the whole range of countermeasures were such a topic.

    Russia also has a growing interest in the European Union, and has become a very active player in the NATO-Russia Council. For this reason we extend our traditional excursions to Brussels, Belgium, for three days, which was highly appreciated by our Russian guests. On our side it is extremely useful to hear how senior officers view and assess the developments in and around the Russian Federation and the way ahead.

  5. Before the background of inner-Russian political developments would you see an end-state for this kind of dialogue work?

    I see no reason, why this successful bilateral programme should not be continued, nor do I see an end-state where we could come to the conclusion, that the ‘mission has been completed’.

    Whatever happens in the future, Russia will always be Germany’s most important partner east of us, and our relationship will always be of paramount significance for the prosperity and security of our country.

In October 2005 there will be a 13th German-Russian Dialogue. But before the next seminar begins, there is another date to be considered: the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, the great catastrophe of the past century in which Germany and Russia each had to deplore more than 20 million losses. And the SWP is already brainstorming about what particular dialogue format it could add to the overall efforts to turn this grievous history into a better future.