The Politics of Military Force

“A must-read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the change in German foreign policy”
Internationale Politik

“Stengel’s ideas are too important to be left to poststructuralists”
International Studies Review

The Politics of Military Force examines the dynamics of discursive change that made participation in military operations possible against the background of German antimilitarist culture. Once considered a strict taboo, so-called out-of-area operations have now become widely considered by German policymakers to be without alternative. The book argues that an understanding of how certain policies are made possible (in this case, military operations abroad and force transformation), one needs to focus on processes of discursive change that result in different policy options appearing rational, appropriate, feasible, or even self-evident. Drawing on Essex School discourse theory, the book develops a theoretical framework to understand how discursive change works, and elaborates on how discursive change makes once unthinkable policy options not only acceptable but even without alternative. Based on a detailed discourse analysis of more than 25 years of German parliamentary debates, The Politics of Military Force provides an explanation for: (1) the emergence of a new hegemonic discourse in German security policy after the end of the Cold War (discursive change), (2) the rearticulation of German antimilitarism in the process (ideational change/norm erosion) and (3) the resulting making-possible of military operations and force transformation (policy change). In doing so, the book also demonstrates the added value of a poststructuralist approach compared to the naive realism and linear conceptions of norm change so prominent in the study of German foreign policy and International Relations more generally.



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Named one of Internationale Politik‘s and Süddeutsche Zeitung’s “Books of the Year” 2022

“Overall, Stengel’s book is one of the most competent applications of discourse theory in IR. It is strong not only in theory, but also in methodological and empirical rigor. … Stengel’s ideas are too important to be left to poststructuralists.”

Jakub Eberle in International Studies Review

Stengel’s main contribution may lie in the realm of methodology. … His extensive methodological chapters deliver a step-by-step primer of how to undertake rigorous analysis of political rhetoric. Taken on its own terms, Stengel’s book is carefully constructed and clearly reasoned, and it usefully demonstrates what a careful and systematic reading of rhetoric can—and can’t—accomplish.

William G. Gray in H-Net

“Frank A. Stengel explores the question of how the discourse on out-of-area operations unfolded against the background of a deeply rooted antimilitarism and elegantly embeds the German debate in domestic as well as transatlantic processes. A must-read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the change in German foreign policy.”

Carlo Masala in Internationale Politik

“The strength of Stengel’s analysis lies first and foremost in the way it is carried out – in a meticulous and detailed fashion. He offers a rich account of how hegemonic discourses were constructed and how a securitisation of issues played into this by creating chains of equivalence between hitherto unlinked civilian and military means and issues. … Stengel, to his credit, does not shy away from discussing the strengths and weaknesses of his post-structuralist approach and does this with rare finesse, self-reflection and intellectual honesty. … Overall, Stengel’s book is an excellent read and a thought-provoking study into how security discourses emerge and how they change. Students of German politics, international relations and foreign policy will greatly benefit from this book and the detailed information it provides. It is very timely reading for observers and academics working in the field of IR and German Politics.”

Antti Seppo in German Politics

“Stengel’s greatest contribution is the demonstration that security policy discourse has had both an enabling as well as a limiting effect on Germany’s use of force, leading to Germany’s regular participation in foreign military missions, but with restrictions that often seem incomprehensible to Germany’s allies. This insight has implications for the importance of language and ideational creation, not only in the local German environment but also within the broader of context of transatlantic security as well.”

Joseph Verbovszky on Atlantic Community

“Stengel argues convincingly that the changes in German security discourse and practice are not inevitable adjustments to any functional requirements of a changing security environment. … Stengel’s book contributes to a growing body of literature that—correctly in my view—treats security policy change not as inevitable adjustments to a country’s changing environment, but as the result of political decisions that reflect value commitments, worldviews, and the expectations of the domestic public as well as allied states. Stengel’s contribution is theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich.”

Wolfgang Wagner in Perspectives on Politics


“The Politics of Military Force offers a persuasive and novel analysis of a fascinating phenomenon: that Germany simultaneously embraces both antimilitarism and military interventions. The book does much more, however. It develops a sphisticated approach to analyzing discursive and policy change relevant much beyond the case of Germany.”

Maja Zehfuss, Professor of International Politics, University of Copenhagen

“In this path-breaking and carefully argued book, Frank Stengel uses the resources of poststructuralist discourse theory to provide a compelling critical explanation of the transformation of Germany’s security policy over the last thirty years. Engaging thoroughly with existing theoretical and empirical debates in foreign policy analysis and International Relations, the book is an exemplary employment of new ideas to problematize pressing problems and issues. The Politics of Military Force will surely come to function as a paradigmatic study that will stimulate further empirical investigation and theoretical reflection.”

David Howarth, Professor, Department of Government, University of Essex

The Politics of Military Force offers a theory of foreign policy that shifts the focus toward the ontological analysis of society in a sophisticated and and innovative manner. I can think of no other book that has gone as far as Stengel’s in the explanation of discursive change in foreign policy and international politics.”

Dirk Nabers, Professor of International Political Sociology, Kiel University


Introduction (open access)

Chapter 1. Hegemony and Social Transformation: How Discursive Orders Change

Chapter 2. Hegemony Analysis as Reconstructive Social Research: Methodology and Methods

Chapter 3. Creative Destruction: The Dislocation of the Cold War Security Order and the Rearticulation of Military Force

Chapter 4. Peace in Europe: Comprehensive Security as a New Paradigm for German Policy on Conflict Prevention

Chapter 5. “Forward Defense” as a New Grand Strategy: The Establishment of the New Security Order