Diversity and Defense: Military Management of Demographic Change
On June 17, 2013, the Berlin chapter of the German Marshall Fund’s Young Transatlantic Network (YTN) in cooperation with the Embassy of Canada in Germany held a discussion on “Diversity and Defense: Military Management of Demographic Change” at the Canadian Embassy. The event featured Christian Leuprecht, associate professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and a fellow at Queen’s University; and Captain Dominik Wullers, deputy chairman at Deutscher Soldat e.V. as speakers. The discussion was moderated by Jessica Bither, a program coordinator at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF).
Setting the scene, Christian Leuprecht highlighted the fact that the discussion of diversity in Western democracies’ armed forces is both old and new. Old, because armies have long been places of societal negotiation on integration and citizenship, and new, because the issue of demographic change—leading to smaller recruitment pools and more diverse societies—has brought the issue back on the political agenda. Regarding concrete institutional policies, Mr. Leuprecht emphasized the many advantages of a proactive, rather than a reactive approach to addressing diversity in the military. In this regard, the notion of the citizen soldier also implies a question as to what extent the armed forces represent society as a whole. Armed forces further represent the norms and values a country wants to export, and together with increased cultural competencies that a more diverse army may employ, actively seeking a diverse military has concrete functional advantages in terms of operations. Conversely, on the domestic level, the armed forces can serve as a litmus test for how liberal a society is. Mr. Leuprecht concluded that the challenge facing armed forces today is to embrace diversity without straying away from their core mission.
Elaborating on the German context, Captain Dominik Wullers drew attention to the lack of legislation on diversity aspects in the armed forces. While women were allowed to join the German Bundeswehr as soldiers in 2001, there are very few efforts aimed at accommodating women or soldiers who have immigrated to German. Addressing the issue of diversity in the German armed forces is further complicated by the country’s history and a strong distaste for anything military after the World War II. These factors often translate into a mostly skeptical public perception of the Bundeswehr. The issue of diversity in terms of cultural plurality is further embedded in Germany’s own immigration history and debate. Dominik Wullers also described the activities of Deutscher Soldat e.V., an initiative founded by German officers with a migration background that seeks to widen the German debate by addressing issues of societal plurality in the Bundeswehr and society at large.
The following discussion focused on differences between the way diversity and plurality is treated in the armed forces in Canada and Germany and the way they appear in public debate. Canada presents a unique constitutional context with its official policy of multiculturalism and, based in part on its diversity policy, the Canadian Forces are seen as one of the most equitable institutions in Canada. The policy of the Canadian forces is also a prime example of a proactive approach in addressing diversity in the armed forces, implemented with concrete recruitment and retention targets as well as targeted data collection and statistical analysis. This policy in a way pre-empts a controversial public debate by seeking to address diversity issues before they arise as potential problems. Germany, in contrast, exhibits a reactive policy, and is also an example of how the lack of a wider public debate can lead an institution such as the military, that places great emphasis on its autonomy, to prefer the status quo and to ignore the need to adjust to societal change.
The lively debate ended with a Q & A session and touched upon strategies for recruitment, both for young people and migrants, the work of the initiative Deutscher Soldat e.V., how to link societies to their armed forces, and the issue of dual citizenship. In the event’s last question, both speakers dismissed the counter argument that making armed forces more diverse would result in weaker armies.