A Controversy:

Moral and legal Limitations on Military Obedience Versus the Demands of Combat*

Paul-Bolko Mertz, Co-Director, Institute for Defence Politics

Paper presented at a conference on Civil-Military Relations in a Post-Settlement South Africa, hosted by the Institute for Defence Politics in conjunction with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, CSIR conference centre, Pretoria, 23 April 1992.

Published in South African Defence Review Issue No 4, 1992


The announcement hit the press like a bombshell: a draft code of conduct for the SADF had been presented to and discussed at the National Peace Secretariat. Unprepared for such a development, the news was received by the public and the military with mixed feelings. These varied from the harsh warning that the proposed code would "weaken the Defence Force" thus making the transition to a new South Africa more dangerous and unpredictable,1 to a visionary scenario where the SADF is projected as "defenders of democracy in the subcontinent"2 The main cause of this rumpus was a paragraph in the draft code which provides that a soldier has the right to refuse to obey orders which are in conflict with the constitution and/or international law. The code further provided that all members of the defence force would be held legally responsible for their actions. Whilst some interpreted this as a right to disobey "political orders" and even as casting "doubt over the authority of officers and undermining discipline thus diminishing the Army's preparedness",3 others lauded the proposals as "a Military Beachhead".4

Those persons central to this debate, however, namely the soldiers in active service or retirement, remained ominously quiet during these relevations.
5 As has happened only too often, there was no authoritative voice, who was prepared to give guidance to military members and the public on a subject which affects the essence of military professionalism: the ethical principles of military service and the question of honour.


Modern military history has many heroic and, conversely, humiliating examples where soldiers have placed personal honour above their duty to obey orders. Or have refused to acknowledge their responsibility by obeying manifestly illegal orders.

This controversy must be dissected - what are, in fact, the limits to obedience? This is particularly true in democracies where the political situation demands parliamentary control over the military and where the rule of law protects the individual, including those persons who serve in the defence force.

How does this state of affairs affect the combat effectiveness of the soldier? Is the need for unconditional obedience a prerequisite for an efficient fighting machine ?

The subject is addressed in terms of:
  1. The ethical elements of the soldier's duty, such as loyalty, obedience and discipline
  2. The 'Oath of Allegiance' made by the soldier on enlistment.
  3. The legal foundation of military service in a democracy.
Reference is also made to the situation in the United Kingdom, Germany and the former Soviet Union to justify the need for a fresh approach to our South African situation.


The professionalism of the soldier in a democratic society is determined by his service for the common good. This commitment binds the soldier to the sovereign
, represented by Parliament in a democratic state, in which the military is constitutionally established as the most powerful instrument in the country. The purpose of the military is to protect the State and to defend constitutional values.
Military service is not meant to satisfy economic interests or to achieve materialistic profits. Its aim is of a political nature: The preservation or restoration of peace in freedom.6
It is for this reason that military service should adhere and be in accordance with specific moral values and professional ethics. These values and ethics should apply to all members of the armed forces.


Inherent in military service is loyalty. This expresses itself in certain patterns of conduct: faithful service, sense of duty, reliability, preparedness and respect for the law. Such loyalty should be towards the nation and the constitution, rather than to any group or political interest.

From a soldiers point of view, however, a few additional factors should be considered.

The loyalty to institutions, pledged by an oath of allegiance to the constitution, should, of course, have priority. This form of loyalty is supplemented in the military by loyalty to a person. In the long term, no objective loyalty can exist without personal loyalty. Personal loyalty cannot, however, serve as an excuse for the possible abuse of military discipline. Loyalty to a person includes the respect for the weaknesses of the other person and mutual respect between those who lead, and those who are led. Esprit de Corps, respect for human dignity and comradeship are the characteristics of the personal loyalty of the soldier. This is not simply solidarity of political or group interests, because it is independent of individual interests.
7 Comradeship is unthinkable without these ethical and emotional elements.

Loyalty in authoritarian systems is often misrepresented as unquestioned acceptance of any actions or decisions of authority.
Critical thinking is discouraged because it is feared that it may threaten the very structure which it is supposed to serve. Loyalty requires moral courage - the courage of one's own conviction.
Soldiers must stand up for what is morally right, particularly when others may want to act out of expediency or self interest.8


All armed forces in the world function according to the principle of discipline and obedience to orders. Obedience is a fundamental requirement of the soldier as well as a legal duty. That orders must be executed "to the best of one's abilities, completely, conscientiously and immediately"
9 is the commonly accepted standard laid down in military law books throughout the world .

Even in this day and age, soldiers are subjected to very strict requirements in this regard for both political and military-professional reasons. Each is discussed in turn below.


The structure of centralised control and an array of lethal weapon systems provides military leaders with a considerable amount of power. Such power tempts abuse. The history of military coups, in young democracies in particular, illustrates the threat which often originates from the frustration or isolation of the military machine. Integration of the military in the democratic society is one way of avoiding this temptation. Another way is effective political control and, in particular, parliamentary control.

The hierarchical order of the armed forces allows the political leadership to enforce its will down to the lowest level. Although co-operative leadership principles are promoted and practiced in modern command philosophies, decisions are finally the responsibility of the leader alone. The commander is, therefore, ultimately responsible for the accomplishment of the mission assigned to him. The responsibility stays with him and cannot be delegated.

This moral principle of leadership supports the factor of primacy of politics
over the military. Command structure and leadership principles must allow for the impact of political control mechanisms such as parliamentary control, and acknowledge them as important elements of the democratic value system.

These political control measures are not aimed at usurping or interfering with the military chain of command. They are aimed at the integration of the military in a democratic society, thereby strengthening mutual trust between the public and the military and promoting a sense of honour and duty within the military in its service to the democratic constitutional state.


As a fighting machine, which has to deal with rapidly changing and dangerous situations, the armed forces must be a reliable instrument in the hands of their commanders. That was so in the past and still is a valid argument. Advanced technology, electronic C3I systems, improved lethality and the precision of weapon systems has dramatically changed modern warfare as was demonstrated in the Gulf War. Modern mobile operations are critically dependent on dedicated and reliable leaders and men. Combat efficiency requires leadership qualities of the highest order.

In modern combined arms warfare the instant availability of real-time intelligence in vast quantities places additional demands on commanders at all levels, who have to analyse data and act in situations which have hitherto not been experienced. High mobility forces, wide dispersion of weapon systems and the capability to quickly establish and re-deploy concentration points makes it imperative to delegate command decisions.

This means that mutual trust
between all levels in the forces is essential for battlefield efficiency.

The emphasis on individual responsibility and initiative is in accordance with the dictates of modern military doctrine. The foremost command philosophy is that of mission orientated command and control, which stresses initiative and decentralized but integrated command structures in an attempt to maximise the benefits of modern day communications and combat technology.
11 In this manner leadership development and tactical doctrine support the establishment of a professional general staff culture and enhances military professionalism. Initiative and responsibility must always be encouraged.

General N. Schwarzkopf, former Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces in the Gulf recently delivered a paper in Winterthur, Switzerland, to an audience of prominent businessmen and industrialists on leadership. His first principle reads as follows:
Leading of men has nothing to do with management. While you manage your enterprise, you have to lead your personnel. And it means you have to motivate them, set an aim and give a mission, and than you leave them alone.12
This is in fact mission orientated command, which has been adopted as a command and leadership principle in Germany, France, Britain and in the US Army, the latter since 1985.


As is the case of military leadership, military discipline should not be exercised in a vacuum. Discipline is the key to combat power and a prerequisite for good military performance. The maintenance of discipline is of benefit to all ranks. It is emphasised by obedience and it ensures that the soldier reliably accomplishes his mission even under pressure and in danger of his life.

Disregard of the rules of international military law and tolerance of injustice will quickly and effectively undermine the discipline and morale of the forces. Regular forces involved in guerrilla warfare are particularly tested in this respect. These forces have a well-documented tendency to abandon the precepts of the Geneva Convention
on the pretext that they operate in an unruly if not criminal operational environment within which their opponents have no such restrictions. The surrender of ethical values which are exactly those the army should defend, is too high a price paid for doubtful operational success. Armed Forces who disregard the requirements of humanity, it has been stated, are not worthy or capable of defending humanity.

Respect for the rule of law
both national and international must be maintained under all conditions, in peace and in war, in all operational situations.



Considering the grave impact which the strict military principle of obedience has on the individual soldier as well as on the State, it is necessary to look at the ethical basis of military service with the aim of balancing certain perceptions and fears. In many societies, democratic as well as autocratic, the military professional value system is harnessed to an oath of allegiance

In comparing the many oaths of allegiance which soldiers have had to take since the establishment of standing/permanent armies in the 16th and 17th century, it is interesting to learn that nowhere was unconditional obedience (sometimes referred to as blind obedience) demanded. The oath of allegiance was always a confirmation of mutual commitment between the soldier and the sovereign. Every form of oath contained a reference to legal norms. In the past, this was usually martial law, which typically contained reference to Christian values. It defined, in principle, the framework within which obedience was required. The person to whom the oath was dedicated, usually the sovereign, was obliged to fulfill his commitments to the soldier and these were also laid down in the articles of martial law. The oath of allegiance has always been seen as a mutual promise of loyalty.

In modern history only absolute, autocratic dictatorships have bound the armed forces to the political system or the political leader in person (Hitler and Mussolini are examples). Such dictatorships instituted an oath of allegiance demanding 'unconditional obedience'. In some cases, such as the former Soviet Union, the oath even called for "the condemnation and contempt of his people and for the severe punishment of the law should he [the soldier] ever break his solemn oath". Following the Soviet example, the oath and solemn pledges of the other former Warsaw Pact Armies were almost identical.

The ethical basis of mutual commitment and moral values was deliberately abandoned by these regimes, and thus forced the military to impose draconian measures in order to protect themselves and their leaders, and to enforce discipline. To this end thousands of soldiers were executed when they hesitated or questioned the criminal, often inhumane orders of the State or their superiors.

One example stands out, where honour and moral principles could no longer be reconciled with the oath of allegiance to the political leader. The attempted assassination and the coup of the 20th of July 1944 against Adolf Hitler serves as a tragic climax and an example of disloyalty towards a criminal system. The gruesome revenge of the Nazi system ended in the execution of more than 5 000 persons, including 250 officers, who were directly involved in the coup.

These examples serve to highlight the conflict of the duty to obey orders with the commitment of adherence to a moral value system.

The nature of the oath of allegiance has also always been a promise of faith which defined the limits of military obedience.

Faith as a moral value must not be abused in adherence to immoral and criminal orders. The officer corps of European armies, whose tradition were largely derived from medieval knighthood, was committed to a strict code of honour which included prominent elements of Christianity. It was an accepted article of war that the officer had to carry out the orders of the King, provided they did not violate his honour. The consequence of these rules and directives was that officers maintained a certain degree of independence.


Derived from this tradition and ethical concept was the leadership principle of mission oriented command
, which is based on the philosophy of officers who are loyal, but both critical and creative in the pursuance of their duties.

The superior who granted his subordinates a certain latitude in the way in which they could accomplish their mission, of necessity had to accept a certain risk of failure. On the other hand, the freedom of choice gave such a command and control concept exceptional flexibility - provided the officers were well trained and loyal.

This is aptly illustrated by the words of Prince Friedrich-Karl of Prussia, that brilliant military leader in the wars of German unification between 1864 and 1871. The prince was particularly proud of the independence of his officer corps and considered this the main reason for his operational success. He once reprimanded a major, who carried out his tactical orders too rigidly with the following words:
H M the King has not appointed you, Sir, as a staff officer to merely execute orders, but to know when not to carry them out.14
This spirit of honour and independence is the best insurance against abuse of power. However, moral values alone do not prevent criminal acts - particularly in dangerous or politically controversial situations. Here, the adherence to the letter and spirit of the law and of certain codified rules, which foster a generally accepted value system, are necessary.

The freedom of a soldier, as referred to in an old soldiers' song, is evident in the degree of self-discipline which he applies willingly and voluntarily and which he maintains as a principle of honour.


It is one of the most elementary principles of military service that only the soldier who is convinced of the necessity to fight, and who is aware of his tasks, responsibilities and capabilities will put his life at stake in the performance of his duty. The most intensive political propaganda and indoctrination and the threat of the most dreadful punishment will lose its impact on the soldier's will to fight, once he recognises that the political values he was called upon to defend are hollow, and do not correspond with reality and his basic moral values. It is not so much defeat in battle which demoralises forces, than the loss of confidence and the sudden awareness of having served and suffered for a criminal and corrupt cause. This happened in Germany in 1945 and is happening at this time in all the former communist countries in the world. A Russian senior officer is quoted as having said:
We curse those 'durakis' (stupid idiots) who pulled our great and beautiful country so deep in the dirt for more than 70 years. We demand to live in conditions of human dignity as we can see it here in the West and we demand to apply these values now in our home country, Russia.15
The enforcement of formal discipline and loyalty through draconian punishments and extreme disciplinary measures is not a long term solution for maintaining morale in any armed force. The futility of these measures can be seen in the horrifying reports coming from the former East Germany and the CIS countries of the former Soviet Union.

The German magazine, Der Spiegel,
last year published an article which summarised the demoralisation process in the former Soviet Forces in a dramatic and frightening analysis.

The demoralisation of the once most prestigious Soviet Western Group of the Armed Forces (Honorary title "The Military Avantguard of Socialism"
) consisting of four Army Groups of about 350 000 men based in Germany resulted, within three months of German unification, in the dismissal of the Commander-in-Chief, Army General Snetkov and three of his deputies.

The official reason given by the Soviet Ministry of Defence was that a colonel and commanding officer of a tank regiment had defected to Germany, taking a number of the latest anti-tank weapons with him. During a press conference in December 1990, the Soviets admitted that in 1990 alone 152 soldiers deserted and 120 had sought political asylum in Germany. The unofficial German numbers are much higher. During 1991, for example, the German Federal Office for Criminal Investigation (BKA) registered an average of thirty criminal acts a week which was committed by Soviet soldiers, including theft, burglary and the selling of arms and equipment.

In analysing the erosion of discipline, obedience and loyalty, the BKA identified the main reason as the collapse of the discredited socialist philosophy which, the soldiers were taught to believe, would conquer the world.

Despite the severe disciplinary methods, for which the Russian Army was well known, they proved to be useless and eventually resulted in arbitrariness and criminal mistreatment, culminating in rape, beating, torture and, in several cases, murder. The Soviet High Command published, for 1990, a total number of 216 cases of suicide and unnatural deaths in their military camps in Germany alone. Press reports, however, give a number of 700 - 800 cases.

The oath of allegiance sworn by Soviet soldiers, proved to be equally ineffective during the operations in Afghanistan. The high number of desertions and the low fighting morale led to the complete relief of all forces within the first months of that campaign.

The lesson from these examples is quite clear. Loyalty and duties of the soldier, may they be demanded by an oath of allegiance, any other pledge, or code of conduct, or even by the law, must be in accordance with the ethical basis of military service and the moral values generally accepted by society. The demand for loyalty and obedience can, in a democracy, only be justified by the commitment of the State not to abuse its powers. This commitment should be embodied in the constitution together with the manifestation of parliamentary control of the defence force.


The question is, however, is it necessary to subscribe to the formal codification of moral standards?

The British tradition, which has obviously left its impact on South Africa, is instructive in particular because of its strong emphasis on regimental tradition.

The British Army does not have a Code of Conduct per se, although behaviour is regulated by the Queen's Regulations and regimental traditions. It must be remembered that legal control is through the Manual of Military Law and, in particular, the Army Act
of 1955.

On recruitment a member of the permanent force, called a 'regular', is attested by a recruiting officer. This is, in fact, swearing allegiance to the Queen as head of state.

An officer on commissioning, receives a commission signed by the Queen stating:
...You are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge your duty and you are in such manner and on such occasions as may be prescribed by Us to exercise and well discipline in their duties such officers, men and women as may be placed under your orders from time to time and use your best endeavours to keep them in good order and discipline. And we do hereby command them to obey you as their superior officer and you to observe and follow such orders and directions as from time to time you shall receive from Us or any of your superior officer according to the rules and discipline of war.
One should be aware that the above law and regulations are re-inforced by a strong regimental ethic (tradition), which has been developed from generation to generation. Traditions are fostered not only in the officers mess but also in the warrant officers and sergeants mess and to a lesser degree in the corporals mess. All persons in authority in a regiment are taught these traditions and infringement of accepted behaviour or norms can result in discharge from the army. On the gounds an officer can be asked to resign his commission. Basically, discipline is seen as self-discipline as against imposed discipline and this applies to all ranks.

Whilst the Queen's Regulations
and military law regulates the behaviour of the soldier, the general commitment of the soldier to serve the state is appropriately regarded as a mutual commitment, which clearly binds the soldier to exercise his duties within the framework of national and international law and which prevents the state ("The Queen") from abusing its position.

In South Africa
members of the SADF permanent force are not always obliged to take an oath of allegiance or a formal pledge for their military service on recruitment. As in Britain, the SADF does not have a formal code of conduct, although some units or corps have a code for internal use or as part of their regimental traditions.

It is tradition in the SADF, however, to read the preamble to the constitution after prayers at formal parades. This can be interpreted as a pledge to serve the aims and values contained in the preamble.

Upon being commissioned, an officer receives a Deed of Commission, signed by the State President. The officer is
"to serve his country with loyalty, courage, dignity and honour, to discharge his duties and responsibilities with zeal and diligence and to set a good example to those placed under his command."

These acts in conjunction with the Military Disciplinary Code (MDC), is, in the eyes of those who are familiar with the military law, deemed to be sufficient legal protection to prevent abuse or exploitation of any person subject to the Military Disciplinary Code. A code of conduct in respect of legal protection is, therefore, considered superfluous.

Whilst this may have been the case in the past, this point of view is inappropriate within the turbulent society which is modern day South Africa, particularly in these times of fundamental change. Neither the ethical nor the legal aspects of military service are sufficiently addressed or strongly entrenched within our indigenous military culture to create mutual trust between the military and the public.


From the preceding it should be clear that the ethical limitations to military authority are critical factors in the motivation and the willingness to fight of a soldier. Human nature requires the guidance of rules and regulations, which are based on a moral and cultural value systems and which make it possible to correct and prevent misconduct and offenses against that system.


In the authoritarian military environment, which is based on the values of responsibility and obedience, the law must balance the strict duty to obey and set limits. These limits are derived from:
  • unimpeachable human dignity;
  • constitutional aim of military service; and
  • observance of the law, both domestic and international.
Irrespective of the role in which troops are deployed, they must always operate within the law. If the conflict is international, the international law of armed conflict must be observed. If the operation falls short of international armed conflict, then the internal, national law of the state, together with any provisions of international law by which the state are bound, must be followed. International law applying to such operations is to be found in treaties aimed at protecting basic human rights and in the Geneva Convention.

It is vital for the individual soldier and his leader to know what law applies in a given set of circumstances and what are the legal limitations, which will guide the soldier in his operational duties. These legal limits must indicate conditions where disobedience to orders is permissible and even obligatory. There is, however, a considerable difference between these legal restrictions and active resistance by the individual.

Any act of the democratic state, whether overt or covert (such as intelligence operations), are controlled by the law. Consequently the military officer is bound and controlled by the law. He is, strictly speaking, only authorised to issue orders which are within the framework of the existing law.

As discussed previously, military operations require that orders have to be obeyed and executed immediately. There is often no time to consider or evaluate the legitimacy of an order. For this reason, it is generally accepted that a soldier, first and foremost, has to obey the order. It is, however, his basic right and in some cases his duty, even after having followed the order, to report the incident and to request a redress of wrongs, if he feels he has been given an unlawful order.

This means that his superior, who issued the order, is held responsible for his actions.

In a democratic/parliamentary controlled defence force the institution of a Parliamentary Ombudsman on defence can be called upon to investigate incidents of this nature and initiate corrective action. There are, of course, various other ways which can be used to correct wrong doings of authorities in a democracy. They are, however, beyond the scope of this paper.

Although the following considerations are based on the German legal concept for their armed forces, they are nevertheless applicable in most armies of democratic countries. In some countries, like South Africa, these legal limitations are not codified but accepted on ethical, moral and logical grounds.


The soldier is a servant of the state, in other words, he serves the public good. Any orders given in the private interest
of the superior are not covered by this objective and the subordinate can refuse to obey the order. This includes orders which serve an activity not covered in the constitution as a role of the defence force, such as running a business or party political activities.

A soldier as a 'Citizen in Uniform' is entitled to the protection of his personal dignity
. A Bill of Rights would ensure his human and citizen rights. The state is responsible to respect and protect this dignity. No operational requirement can ever justify the violation of this right. Therefore an order which violates the dignity of the soldier cannot claim obedience i.e. ridiculing a soldier or requesting unnecessary, humiliating duties.

This restriction includes orders which may, unjustifiably, place the life of the soldier in danger.


Disobedience of an order is obligatory when an order demands that the soldier commit a crime. Both national and international law such as the Geneva Convention are relevant. An order to murder, rape or mistreat civilians, to plunder, burn and destroy civilian property, to mistreat, torture or kill prisoners, and to refuse medical assistance must be refused
  • In cases like this, both parties are fully responsible - the superior who issues the order and the subordinate who executes it, provided they are, according to the circumstances, aware they are committing a crime.

  • The final responsibility always has to be accepted by the highest authority, which is in control of the forces involved.
Nowhere in military history are there examples that armies who respected and adhered to these principles have suffered a loss of motivation, or displayed a decline in its combat capabilities. Even in the case of defeat by an enemy, who has made use of ruthless and criminal methods, they have earned the respect of their nation and of the enemy for the maintenance of their honour.

In peacetime these limits do not prevent realistic training for war, but ensure that the conditions for the soldier and superior are fair and just. This is the primary factor in the quest for mutual trust and confidence.

In present day South Africa, a code of conduct should confirm the ethical and moral values which we are attempting to institutionalise in our political-legal system. Certain amendments to the South African Defence Act
and the Military Disciplinary Code in this respect can only strengthen the case of the armed forces, provided they are supporting a democratic constitutional dispensation.

A code which defines, in clear layman's language the rights and duties of military superiors and subordinates, will assist to the trust and confidence of the public in their armed forces.


In some quarters the opinion has been raised that too much respect for and consideration of ethical and moral values only restrict the will to fight of the soldier and the army. Historic analysis clearly indicates the opposite. Ruthlessness and brutality is, in most cases, a clear indication of cowardice. A person, who is not able to show courage in the face of the enemy, will only too quickly turn his intimidating power and fury against defenseless civilians.

A code of conduct, an oath of allegiance and leadership principles, which confirm the moral and ethic principles of the soldier and which emphasise the legal and political restrictions which military power has to acknowledge, can only enhance combat efficiency of armed forces, which proudly support and defend the democratic constitution of a post-settlement South Africa.


  1. The Citizen, 23 September 1991.

  2. Brendan Seery in Weekend Argus, 30 November 1991.

  3. Conservative Party, MP Koos v.d.Merwe quoted in The Citizen, 23 September 1991.

  4. The Star, 24 September 1991.

  5. It is quite surprising that none of the South African military magazines, i.e. Paratus and Armed Forces Journal ever commented on or published articles of authority addressing important military professional subjects. On the rare occasion that something does appear on a slightly sensitive subject connected to the SADF, the author usually covers himself with a Nom de Plum. Overseas military professional periodicals publish the name, rank and appointment of military authors and do not hesitate to discuss political and professional subjects even if they are controversial. It shows the standard of creativity and openness which should apply to the military in a democracy.

  6. Ulrich de Maiziere, Soldatische Tugenden und militärische Verantwortung in unserer Zeit. in De Officio, p 230, Hannover, 1985.

  7. Ibid., p 231.

  8. Colonel M. Ferguson, US Defence Attache to Pretoria in a memorandum dd 8 July 1991: "There are certain core values that must guide all members of the defence establishment as we serve the nation. These values - encapsulated in the phrase "Duty, Honour, Country" - apply in peace and in war, for the institution as well as the individual and are central to the military profession....The core values are loyalty, duty, selfless service and integrity."

  9. This is quoted from the German Military Law (Soldatengesetz) par 11: "Der Soldat muss seinen Vorgesetzten gehorchen. Er hat ihre Befehle nach besten Kräften vollständig, gewissenhafdt und unverzüglich auszuführen."

  10. For more detail on this subject see Paul-Bolko Mertz, Parliamentary Control of Defence in South African Defence Review, Issue no 2, 1992.

  11. Mission oriented command tactics or Auftragstaktik has its origin in the German approach to the art of warfare and was developed since the late 18th century. It has been adopted by most armies in Western democracies. The US FM 100-5, edition 1985 refers directly to the German terminology of Auftragstaktik.

    The manual on Command and Control of Armed Forces / HDv 100/100 Truppenführung
    explains the principle as follows (par 604):

    Mission oriented command
    and control is the first and foremost command and control principle in the Army, of relevance in war even more than in peace. It affords the subordinate commander freedom of action in the execution of his mission, the extent depending on the type of mission to be accomplished. The superior commander informs his subordinate of his intentions, designates clear objectives and provides the assets required. He gives orders concerning the details of mission only for the purpose of CO-ordinating actions. Apart from that, he only intervenes if failure to execute the mission endangers the realization of his intentions. Subordinate commanders can thus act on their own in accordance with the superior commander's intentions. They can immediately react to developments of the situation and exploit opportunities.

  12. Die Weltwoche, 13/92, p 26. March 1992, Hanspeter Born, Balsam auf die Seele der Abgespannten

  13. There are numerous publications which discuss the value and impact of an Oath of Allegiance. In particular, German literature, which analyses the history of the military coup of the 20th July 1944 against Hitler, evolves around the moral and ethical impact of an oath of allegiance. Most prominent are Hermann Weinkauf, Vollmacht des Gewissens, R C v Gersdorff, Soldat im Untergang, and H Bücheler, Hoepner. The brief summary is based on H Walle, Gehorsam im Konflikt in De Officio p. 134 - 141.

  14. Ibid, p. 138.

  15. Der Spiegel, 10/1991 p Sie haben den Rückzug nicht gelernt Another account of the horrifying demoralisation of the former Soviet Forces was recently published in the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, Nr 12, March 19, 1992, Josef Neidhardt, Ein Heer ohne Staat. The author reports on Russian soldiers who are selling everything on which they can lay their hands in order to get food: petrol, ammunition, arms, spare parts and their own services. In Moldavia, a weapon depot was stormed by soldiers, who cleared it out: one million rounds of ammunition, several thousand automatic rifles and thirty rocket launchers were stolen.

  16. Ibid. The other reason given were:

    * The defeat in Afghanistan and the defeat of the Soviet trained and equipped Iraqis in the Gulf war.

    * The forced withdrawal from Germany, in the eyes of many of officers this is a retreat without being beaten on the battlefield.

    * The humiliating circumstances of the transit of their forces through countries once their allies in the former Warsaw Pact.

    * The fear of the possibility of being deployed against their own people, on repatriation.

    * Finally, the fear of a pending civil war which could be fought with nuclear weapons.

  17. This section is based on an internal paper for IDP prepared by Col Clive Lea-Cox, a former British Army officer with some service in the SADF.

  18. Brigadier Ben de Wet Roos (Rtd) in a memorandum discussing the introduction of and need for a Code of Conduct for the SADF. On the subject of legal limits to obedience he comments: "Provision is made (in the MDC) for the punishment of any person subject to the Code for disobeying a lawful command given by a superior in the execution of his military duties. (Section 19 MDC) As military courts follow the rules of evidence as applicable in civil courts, authority for what constitutes a lawful command inter alia can be found in the decisions in R v Smith (1900) 17 SC 561 and R v werner and Anor 1947 (2)AD828." There is no section or article in the military law of South Africa, which spells out the standards required of lawful order and the conditions when an order can or even must be refused.

  19. The legal restrictions as referred to are derived from the German Military Law, par 11. The detail of the implications of this law is the subject of intensive training, which every soldier, NCO and officer has to undergo. This knowledge alone, at all levels of the military hierarchy, serves as an accepted limitation on arbitrariness, mistreatment and abuse.