The German government concept of civil defense dates back to the year 1995. Helmut Kohl was chancellor, the Warsaw Pact was history, and the world was looking forward to a peace dividend.
Then came the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, followed by wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and most recently Syria. Now there are terrorists armed with bombs and assault rifles staging attacks in Europe.
The world is certainly a different place than it was 21 years ago. Which is why Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière is updating Berlin’s civil defense concept.
“The main forms of conflict to be expected are so-called hybrid conflicts involving both state-aligned and non-state-aligned conflict parties and opponents,” says an internal draft for inter-ministerial consultation seen by Handelsblatt.
It goes on to say that such “conflicts taking place using terrorist-style methods” could well be a threat to security, as modern infrastructure offers “many targets.”
Berlin also wants the general population will make its own preparations, like keeping medicine cabinets well-stacked and stockpiling drinking water.
The new concept contains plans to warn the population, not just by sirens or radio, but using apps or SMS messages.
For attacks with biological, nuclear or chemical agents, the federal and state governments are developing a “framework concept for mass-casualty incidents.” Reserves of vaccines, antibiotics, or iodine are to be topped up where required.
The government ascribes a key role to the some 80,000 volunteers of the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW). The plan is to be able to deploy at least one-third of these people simultaneously within 24 hours, either nationally or concentrated in several locations. Traditional THW capabilities like search and rescue, along with providing emergency repairs and supplies, will be given new emphasis.
The concept includes protocols for securing food, water and fuel supplies, in addition to protecting critical infrastructure, including computer centers and cloud service providers.
Energy and water utilities should ideally “show initiative and voluntarily accept responsibility for an adequate level of security,” the document says.
Berlin also wants the general population to make its own preparations, like keeping medicine cabinets well-stocked and stockpiling drinking water.
The interior ministry is set to submit the plans to the cabinet “soon,” but not as a reaction to the recent terrorist attacks in the country. The ministry claims that the coalition agreement between Chancellor Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats had already included plans to further develop the country’s civil defense concept, saying that it would be “adapted to meet new challenges.”
Existing legal principles like the law governing civil defense and disaster relief or the so-called Civil Alarm Plan are also to be updated if necessary.
According to the draft, the civil defense plans are in line with the “threat assessments” laid out in a new defense white paper, presented to cabinet last month. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen also recently floated the idea of allowing the Bundeswehr to be deployed inside Germany’s borders because of the increased dangers posed by terror. Given Germany’s history, this is a controversial suggestion.
On that topic the interior ministry draft says only that “a high interoperability” of police, army and other security forces would be desirable in the event of a disaster. In an amendment of the framework guidelines for overall defense, military and civil concepts are to be combined.
Coalition politicians appear to approve of the plan.
“Both the civil population and state institutions are now exposed to a new kind of danger, not least because of terrorist threats,” said SPD interior security expert Burkhard Lischka, adding that a new concept “could only be welcomed” after more than 20 years without a change.
Frank Specht is based at Handelsblatt’s Berlin bureau, where he focuses on the German labor market and trade unions. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org