Rethinking Security in Germany: From Scenario to Policy?

Ralf Becker reports on how the Rethinking Security initiative in Germany has developed from a scenario for shifting to a civil security policy to a nationwide network with real prospects of helping shape government policy after landmark national elections in September.

The scenario “Rethinking security – from military to civil security”

Between 2015 and 2018, on behalf of the Evangelical Church in Baden, a nationwide working group developed a far-reaching Peace Scenario for Germany. This is also intended as a stimulus for similar scenario developments in other countries. The “Rethinking Security” (Sicherheit neu denken) scenario received such a diverse positive response after its publication that its abridged version has since been published in English, French, Dutch, Polish and Russian. Long versions in English and French will be published soon.

The scenario is based on the German Federal Government’s report on the implementation of the 2014 action plan “Civilian Crisis Prevention, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding”.  The scenario shows how the many existing approaches to a civil security policy could be consistently expanded in the future – and describes five pillars of civil security policy:

  • 1. Fair economy and lifestyle;
  • 2. Sustainable development of the EU’s neighbouring countries;
  • 3. Development of a global civil security architecture;
  • 4. Resilient democracy;
  • 5. Conversion of the military and the arms industry.

The scenario recommends the negotiation and implementation of an economic and security alliance with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and similar partnerships with Europe’s southern neighbours via the Arab League (LAS) and the African Union (AU).

An annual investment of €17 billion is intended for the economic, environmental and social development of these countries. If the German military security policy were to be reduced, the UN and the OSCE could receive annual contributions of €27 and €6 billion, respectively, from Germany – and thus become significantly strengthened and more capable of acting than today.

All churches and parties in Germany have long been in favour of strengthening the UN for global crisis prevention and peace mediation. However, in recent years UN peacekeeping operations have been reduced every year. The regular (core) annual budget of the UN is only about €3 billion.

For peace support operations (current annual budget of about €6 billion) and the care of refugees (UNHCR) as well as for the World Climate and Food Programmes (WFP), the UN always has to ask for higher financing contributions from its members – which regularly leads to much-too-slow reactions in the event of a crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) is also suffering from a lack of funding, as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown.

The focus of our foreign and security policy on the military is unreasonable

If Germany were to invest €33 billion annually in the UN and the OSCE and their institutions instead of the planned €70 billion (were NATO’s 2% of GDP military spending target to be reached)in the relatively ineffective Bundeswehr (German armed forces) as proposed in the scenario, our security and peace would be sustainably served. The UN would be four times as effective (in terms of budget) in one fell swoop; the neglected OSCE’s capacity would increase six-fold.

In the meantime, numerous scientific studies have shown that the effectiveness of military operations to achieve political goals is relatively low – which every layman in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq can observe. Measured by their contribution to the achievement of political goals, the strong focus of Germany’s foreign and security policy on the military is unreasonable, as shown by more and more international studies collected on our website.

On the other hand, international studies now prove the double effectiveness of nonviolent resistance compared to violent uprisings and actions. Therefore, the scenario argues for Germany’s continued membership in NATO, but as an increasingly civilian actor.

A broad-based initiative

Since 2019, a nationwide initiative for a sustainable German peace policy has been formed on the basis of the Baden scenario. 35 German and 3 European organisations, including the Peace Working Group of the Rhenish Regional Church, the Catholic peace initiative Pax Christi, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and many others, actively demand a paradigm shift of German solidarity towards sustainable peacemaking. Beginning in autumn 2021 online kick-off meetings will start in some ten German catholic dioceses.

So far, more than 100 facilitators or ‘multipliers’ have been trained nationwide, who meet every month digitally in regional groups and annually in plenary for nationwide exchange and networking. Additionally, some 40 church ‘multipliers’ are networking at the national level. More and more academic research institutes are approaching us. In the meantime, some ten academies hold events on rethinking security (see a youtube event of autumn 2020).

The Synod of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland of January 2021 recommended its congregations, church districts, the regional church and its institutions to take up the impulses of our initiative “Rethinking Security” and to examine their accession to our initiative.

In total, the scenario had reached over 9,000 interested people in 220 public events by July 2021. Numerous other events are planned and there has been mainstream media coverage. We are also conducting a public dialogue with the Munich Security Conference. We were able to present the scenario at the annual meeting of the Association of German Scientists as well as to over 40 defence officials and members of the German Bundestag by various public and private meetings.

In 2019, Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) Peace Commissioner Renke Brahms, the current EKD Military Bishop Bernhard Felmberg, the chairwoman of the Association for Nonviolent Communication and the two GDR (former East Germany) civil rights activists Heiko Lietz and Christoph Ziemer participated in study and initiative days.

Rethinking Security’s virtual Annual Meeting in December 2020 attracted 190 participants and was addressed by, among others, the Honorary President of the Club of Rome, Ernst U. von Weizsäcker, Roman Huber, Managing Director of Mehr Demokratie, Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN International, Dr Martin Herrmann, Chairman of the German Climate Change and Health Alliance, and Hubert Heindl from the University of Peace in Africa.

Our expertise was also sought by the Citizens’ Council on Germany’s Role in the World, which was created by the German Bundestag in the beginning of 2021. A long-planned large panel on the question “Are military operations an effective means of peace?” with the German Green Party’s leader Annalena Baerbock at the Ecumenical Church Convention this May was unfortunately cancelled due to coronavirus.

Regional contacts and prominent support

In the meantime, the initiative has developed a nationwide network of regional contact persons and Youtube films of various lengths. Along with the honorary president of the Club of Rome, Ernst U. von Weizsäcker, retired bishop Bärbel Warttenberg-Potter, the bishop of the Evangelical Church in Baden, Jochen Cornelius-Bundschuh, Franz Alt and several well-known artists, numerous celebrities are now supporting our initiative. As one of our prominent supporters wrote:

“What we need is a fundamental rethinking. What we need is an expanded understanding of security. An understanding of security that focuses on the socially just transition to a climate-neutral economy, that focuses on social rather than military security, that focuses on conflict prevention and crisis prevention, that does not always generate new causes of flight, but aims to combat the causes of flight. This also means that we need a multiple of today’s spending on development cooperation and humanitarian aid. Disarmament instead of upgrading – there is no way around it.”

German Trade Union Confederation Chairman Reiner Hoffmann.

International networking

A similar scenario for the Netherlands is now being developed based on the German model. In the UK, “Rethinking Security” has a similar enlightening effect as our German initiative, and there are similar initiatives in the USA as well. In summer 2021 we are building up connections to similar Italian networks.

In Austria, work is currently being carried out on the introduction of a Civil Peace Service. In Switzerland, the SwissPeace Council presented our scenario at the heart of its 75th anniversary event in April 2021. In 2022, together with the Threshold Foundation’s International Bremen Peace Award, and the European Christian network Church and Peace, we are planning a virtual online conference.

Since autumn 2020 we are also building up a strong connection with the University of Peace in Africa, whose alumni formed a Panafrican Union of Peace Builders, out of which teams join local activities of de-escalation, conflict management, mediation in direct intervention for several months at selected African communities (INOVAR).

Political strategy

Meanwhile, we have become well known to German academic and political peace and security policy influencers. Through intense networking we have ensured that the electoral programme of the Green Party, which we expect to be a prominent member of the next German government, rejects the 2%-NATO spending target and demands a strong expansion of civil security instruments.

We are well connected to key political actors of several parties, including the conservatives (CDU) at the national level, and with best links to the German Left Party (Die Linke). We try to influence key politicians to adopt the following four aims in the next government programme to be negotiated between October and December:

  1. By 2025, Germany should double the financial and human resources of its national and international instruments for civilian crisis prevention and intervention. To this end, we should form the Civil Crisis Intervention Consortium, following the example of the Civil Peace Service Consortium.
  2. In a transparent process with this Consortium in 2022, the German Federal Government should evaluate the efficiency of previous military operations in achieving the goals formulated at the beginning of these operations and evaluate corresponding investments in alternative instruments and measures of civil security policy.
  3. Before making security policy decisions, the German government should enable an informed public discussion through the description of:
    • the initial situation and German political objectives;
    • possible civilian, police and military intervention instruments as well as options for action to achieve these goals;
    • the evaluation criteria and the proposed selection of instruments.
  4. The government should finance 100 full-time education promoters for civilian crisis prevention and intervention, among other things for use in schools.

Through this development – combined with increasing critical public reflection on military experiences in Afghanistan, Mali and elsewhere, which we try to support by building up connections with key journalists – we want to prepare for the deployment of a public commission on security policy before the next German federal election in 2025. Such commissions have helped to prepare a German consensus on exiting from coal-fired power generation and a change of paradigm in agricultural policy. We believe it could and should propose a general change of paradigm for Germany from a military to a civil security policy.


Ralf Becker coordinates the nationwide civil society-church initiative “Rethinking Security – from Military to Civil Security Policy” on behalf of the Evangelical Church in Baden. Previously, from 2012 to 2019, he coordinated the association gewaltfrei handeln, which trains civilian peace specialists nationwide and networks them in their worldwide work. Since March 2020, he has been a member of the Speaker’s Council of the Platform for Civil Conflict Management, the network of German organisations and individuals for the promotion of civil conflict management.


The views and opinions expressed in posts on the Rethinking Security blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the network and its broader membership.


Photo Credit: Sicherdeit neu denken.

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