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Germany: Government Publishes Civil Defense Concept

(Sept. 9, 2016) On August 28, 2016, the German Federal Government published a Civil Defense Concept in which it set out a federal strategy to facilitate non-military defense measures in Germany in a national emergency such as an attack against the country or a natural disaster. (Bundesministerium des Innern [Federal Ministry of the Interior], Konzeption Zivile Verteidigung [Civil Defense Concept] (Aug. 28, 2016) Federal Ministry of the Interior Website.)

The civil defense concept is designed to facilitate modernization of non-military defense capabilities, taking into account the current security environment. It operates as the civil counterpart to the Concept of the German Armed Forces. (Id. at 8; Bundesministerium der Verteidigung [Federal Ministry of Defense], Konzeption der Bundeswehr [Concept of the German Armed Forces] (July 1, 2013).)


Matters of civil defense that concern Germany’s national defense or the protection of the civilian population fall under the exclusive legislative power of the Federation. (Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Basic Law) (May 23, 1949), BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE]  I at 1, as amended, art. 73 ¶ 1, no.1, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE (unofficial English translation).) Legislation on civil defense is spread out over several federal acts, including the Act on Federal Civil Protection and Disaster Relief (Gesetz über den Zivilschutz und die Katastrophenhilfe des Bundes (ZSKG)) and the Act on the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (Gesetz über das Technische Hilfswerk (THWG)).  (Zivilschutz- und Katastrophenhilfegesetz (ZSKG), Mar. 25, 1997, BGBl. I at 726, as amended; Gesetz über das Technische Hilfswerk (THW-Gesetz – THWG), Jan. 22, 1990, BGBl. I at 118, as amended.)  The laws are generally executed by the German states on behalf of the federal government, unless the respective act provides for execution by the federal government through its own administrative authorities.  (Basic Law, art.  85 ¶ 1.)

The new Civil Defense Concept represents an overhaul of Germany’s previous document on the subject, from 1995, which was released during a time that was characterized by a rather safe security environment after the end of the Cold War. The revision of the plan follows the publication of a threat assessment by the German government, the White Paper 2016, which described a changing international order and cited transnational terrorism and cyber-attacks as new challenges for Germany’s national security.  (The Federal Government, White Paper 2016 on German Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr (June 2016), Federal Ministry of Defense website.)


The Civil Defense Concept covers the following four areas of civil defense:

  • protection of the functioning of the government;
  • civil protection;
  • protection of supplies; and
  • support of the military. (Civil Defense Concept, supra, at 9.)

The Concept does not contain detailed provisions, but sets out principles and guidelines for improving and modernizing civil defense in each of these categories. However, it does lay the basis for future amendments to the different binding laws governing civil defense.  With regard to the protection of the functioning of the government, for example, the plan calls for the implementation of precautionary measures to ensure availability of auxiliary power and operational information technology services in government facilities in the case of outages.  (Id. at 18.)

In terms of civil protection, the plan proposes optimizing existing help systems with guidelines on topics like self-protection, warning practices, and fire safety. (Id. at 19 et seq., no. 6.)  A key part of the plan is to increase the protection of vulnerable infrastructure and to safeguard supplies for a highly resource-dependent society in the case of an emergency.  The plan calls for precautionary measures to be taken by infrastructure operators and the maintenance of state emergency supply systems.  (Id. at 42-44, no. 7.1.)  The plan also advises the German people to stockpile five days’ worth of water supplies (id. at 46, no. 7.3) and ten days’ worth of food supplies.  (Id. at 47, no. 7.4.)


Public attention on the plan has focused on the plan’s advice to stockpile water and food. The Concept has been criticized as fearmongering by Dietmar Bartsch, the parliamentary head of the left-wing party “Die Linke,” who said, “you can completely unsettle people with yet another round of proposals, such as hoarding supplies.”  (Germans Told to Stockpile Food and Water for Civil Defence, BBC News (Aug. 22, 2016).) Others criticized the timing of the Concept’s publication, because it coincided with an ongoing security debate in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis.  (Kai Biermann, Zivilschutzkonzept – Keine Panik [Civil Defense Plan – Don’t Panic], ZEIT ONLINE (Aug. 22, 2016).)

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière stressed, however, that the plan was not adopted as a reaction to a specific terrorist threat but represents a long-overdue revision of an outdated security concept, in particular with regard to vulnerable infrastructure. (Press Release, Bundesministerium des Inneren [Federal Ministry of the Interior], Bundesregierung beschließt Konzeption Zivile Verteidigung [Federal Government Adopts Civil Defense Concept] (Aug. 24, 2016).)

Prepared by Felix Beulke, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Jenny Gesley, Foreign Law Specialist.