GIDS to be the Think Tank of the Future

Unterzeichnung der Gründungsurkunde

On 30 June 2018, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen inaugurated the German Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies (GIDS) in Hamburg. The GIDS will be the Bundeswehr’s think tank, a place where military expertise and scientific excellence are to be concentrated. “The work of the GIDS will always be centred on the contribution it can make to increase the Bundeswehr’s operational readiness in a professionally competent and practice-oriented manner,” the Minister said.

Signing the memorandum of association

In front of more than 120 invited guests, she signed the memorandum of association of the GIDS during a ceremony held at the Helmut Schmidt Bundeswehr University (HSU) in Hamburg. Together with the Commandant of the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College (BwCSC), Brigadier General Oliver Kohl and the President of the HSU, Professor Dr. Klaus Beckmann, Minister von der Leyen signed the document in the Thomas Ellwein Hall at the HSU. The inauguration ceremony took place as part of the Open Campus Day at the HSU.

Breakthrough

The President of the HSU, Prof. Dr. Klaus Beckmann, emphasized the importance of the foundation of the GIDS, which had been a long time in the making. Having come so far, finally being able to inaugurate the GIDS felt like a real breakthrough. According to Beckmann, the Bundeswehr’s GIDS fills a scientific gap in the field of strategy counselling and both the HSU and the BwCSC are providing valuable contributions to further realizing this project.

The mission was to enhance the profile

The new institute was established on the Minister’s initiative. In 2016, she had tasked the BwCSC to enhance its profile as a think tank in order to make better use of the expert knowledge available at the college. To be able to do so and to conduct research on issues of military security and strategy, the GIDS was founded as a cooperation institution between the BwCSC and the HSU. The aim is to twist together the manifold strands of knowledge available at the HSU and the BwCSC to form a strong rope of expertise and counselling.

Breaking new ground

In founding its own think tank, the Bundeswehr was breaking new ground in the German think tank landscape, the Minister said. Current international developments, be they conflicts at Europe’s borders, fake news or cyber matters, all urgently require the ability to think strategically. “We need to enhance our strategic capability if we want to be able to shape developments more responsibly,” Ursula von der Leyen said. By doing so, the Bundeswehr was consistently following the path taken with the 2016 White Paper. 

Network for “Strategy and Foresight”

In a world that is constantly changing and ever more complex, there is no room for political decisions to be made alone, the Minister emphasized. What is needed is a strategic discourse with knowledgeable counterparts. The Federal Ministry of Defence has set itself this task of initiating such dialogue and has therefore established the “Strategy and Foresight” network in its Directorate-General for Policy. This is complemented perfectly by the GIDS with its access to the “very specific and unique expertise” provided by the BwCSC and its unique “pool of experience and knowledge”, Minister von der Leyen said. At the same time, the city of Hamburg is also home to the HSU, one of the two “academic training institutions for our future senior officers” with its focus on scientific excellence and interdisciplinary basic research.

Unique cooperation

“It is exactly this combination of military competence and scientific expertise that we wish to bring together and utilise with the GIDS. This structural cooperation between a university and a military academy is unique” the Minister emphasized. This common wealth of knowledge must not be left to gather dust in archives. “We must rather make sure to transfer this knowledge to decision-makers in the Bundeswehr and in politics,” the Minister explained.

Knowledge management takes center stage

It is not only important to gain such expertise but also to systematise and utilise it. Knowledge management utilises, controls and cross-links expertise. The final product in this case would be first-class strategy consulting for the Bundeswehr and the Federal Government – and beyond this the capability of strategic foresight. 

Decision basis for decision-makers

The GIDS is to contribute to this aim in the future. It will provide analyses that act as a basis for military and political leaders to take decisions, Ursula von der Leyen said. With the support of the GIDS, we can discuss and explore the great security and defense issues of our time.

GIDS to be a sparring partner

According to the Minister, the GIDS should serve as a “sparring partner for the highest Bundeswehr commanders and the Federal Ministry of Defence”. “This means challenging old thinking patterns and asking inconvenient questions,” the Minister said. By doing so, the GIDS will tie in directly with the METIS project of the Directorate General for Policy (named after the ancient Greek goddess), which aims to further improve Germany’s strategic capability.

Think tank and pulse generator

Moreover, the aim is for the GIDS to be a think tank and impulse generator. To achieve this, it is necessary to spark debate—both in the Bundeswehr and with external experts from Germany and other parts of the world. The GIDS will face up to the security and defence questions of our time that are posed in public. The aim is for it to become an active part of the public discourse, thus clearly expressing the will of the Bundeswehr to take part in open and critical dialogue and to look beyond its own horizon.

A partner much sought after for discussions and cooperation projects

The idea is also to establish the GIDS as a much sough-after partner for discussions and cooperation projects, both on a national and international level. This includes exchanges of ideas with ministries of the Federal Government and their respective institutions such as the Federal Academy for Security Policy (FASP) and the Bundeswehr Center of Military History and Social Sciences (BwCMHSOSC). Moreover, it includes dialogue with other think tanks such as the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) or the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). The GIDS is also part of a network consisting of the think tanks of its partners and allies. 

Encouraging discourse 

Some 24 academic personnel from the BwCSC and the HSU will be assigned to the GIDS and continuously involved as “thinkers” in this project. The Minister urged them to make a conscious effort to break new ground and to have the courage to engage in discourse. Consequently, they should not only be thinkers but also maverick thinkers to a certain extent. “I am looking forward to seeing a think tank that will make our policy more strategic and our Armed Forces more operational,” Ursula von der Leyen said.

 Much groundwork has been done

In order to show that the BwCSC and the HSU had already developed quite a number of high-profile scientific contributions even before the GIDS was founded, Colonel Prof. Dr. Matthias Rogg and Prof. Dr. Burkhard Meißner presented the Minister with a copy of the new scientific book “Militär, Strategie und Forschung – Studien zu Verteidigungskapital, Economic Statecraft, Data Envelopment und Verhaltensökonomie” [Military, Strategy and Research—Studies on Defense Capital, Economic Statecraft, Data Envelopment and Behavioral Economics].

Written by: Jörg Fleischer

“We need to enhance our strategic capability if we want to be able to shape developments more responsibly. This is exactly how we, the Federal Government, set it out in our requirements document, i.e. in the 2016 White Paper.”

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der LeyenFederal Minister of Defense

“It is exactly this combination of military competence and scientific expertise that we wish to bring together and utilise with the GIDS.”

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der LeyenFederal Minister of Defense

“The GIDS has the following three tasks: First, it is to provide analyses forming the basis for decisions to be taken by military and political leaders. Secondly, the GIDS is to serve as a sparring partner for the highest Bundeswehr commanders and the Federal Ministry of Defence. … We also expect the GIDS to put aside old thinking patterns, to ask inconvenient questions and to give unconventional answers …We expect it to think and write down the unthinkable, to run it through from A to Z and to find arguments for and against it. Even against resistance. Thirdly, the GIDS is to be a think tank and impulse generator. In order to achieve this, it is not only necessary to launch debates but also to carry them through till the end.”

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der LeyenFederal Minister of Defense

“I am looking forward to seeing a think tank that will make our policy more strategic and our Armed Forces more operational.”

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der LeyenFederal Minister of Defense