Security Agencies and Parliamentary Committees of Inquiry in Germany: Transparency vs. Confidentiality

By von Münchow, Sebastian | Connections : The Quarterly Journal, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Security Agencies and Parliamentary Committees of Inquiry in Germany: Transparency vs. Confidentiality


von Münchow, Sebastian, Connections : The Quarterly Journal


Introduction

"Good governance" is the political concept through which transitional and post-conflict states seek to be integrated into those parts of the international community that embrace the ideals of democracy and the rule of law and place a premium on the will of the people. One of the most decisive factors for the implementation of good governance is in how the security sector interacts with the state and contributes to the public welfare. In particular, the security sector should be subject to civilian oversight and control, make decisions that are comprehensible, and be held accountable for misconduct and unlawful actions.

This concept has led to a worldwide movement for security sector reform (SSR). As the global SSR agenda has been developed and implemented over the past decade, there has been increasing pressure to better integrate the security sector into the state in an effort to restrict the use of security forces as oppressive tools for power by a particular regime, clan, or individual. This is the most important task facing those countries that are embarking on SSR processes in an effort to align themselves more closely with the Euro-Atlantic security space, as the most crucial element in reforming a security sector is to build a nationally-owned and led vision of security that embraces modem-day standards of transparency.

In this light, several states in the Caucasus, Southern Europe, and the Middle East have launched reform initiatives to strengthen parliamentary control and governmental oversight over police services, the military, and intelligence services. There are numerous examples where previous security sectors of states within those and other regions have been involved in serious human rights abuses and have colluded in maintaining a corrupt or tyrannical regime. Considering this sometimes difficult background, it becomes even more obvious what a huge effort a reform seeking transparency in the secu- rity sector actually entails. Visible indications of the implementation of good governance are vague at best with respect to both internal and external security, making them particularly difficult to identify. However, if parliamentary control and closer supervision by the ministries of the civilian government lead to the exposure of serious deficits within the power apparatus of the state-especially in the sensitive field of intelligence services-and succeed in drawing reasonable conclusions without reverting to historic behavioral patterns, then this would be counted as a strong indication of progress. The Federal Republic of Germany has spent decades reforming their security sector, and can serve as an example that other states might follow.

Over the last few decades the Federal Republic of Germany has developed a complex system of checks and balances to provide oversight within the security sector. Some of the checks and balances that have been put into place within the many layers of the security sector to ensure there is sufficient oversight are:

* Distinctions between the fields of responsibility for federal and state agencies

* An emphasis on the different aspects of oversight in the form of parliamentary control and executive supervision of the security sector

* A consistent judicial system, along with institutions such as the permanent Parliamentary Control Panel

* Investigations into and the publication by the media of misconduct and unlawful actions.

Similarly, other Western-oriented states have created diverse mechanisms for control and oversight of their security sectors, wherein the scope, means of intervention, and composition of responsible authorities vary. More often than not, the balancing act between the executive and legislative branches has led to the establishment of expert or parliamentary institutions dedicated to questions of budget, lawfulness of actions, and strategic alignment of the intelligence services.

Unique to Germany are the ad hoc parliamentary Committees of Inquiry (COI) at the federal level. …

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