Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC San Diego

The Bundesgrenzschutz: Re-civilizing Security in Postwar West Germany, 1950-1977


This dissertation investigates West Germany’s Federal Border Police, the Bundesgrenzschutz, and seeks to connect its development to the broader questions surrounding democratization. Why did the democratic government re-establish and sustain a militarized national police force? Existing scholarship connects the return of militarized policing to Cold War politics and rearmament. But these findings fail to explain why the Bundesgrenzschutz endured after the Federal Republic established a new army. As a contribution to the topic, I explore the development of this force from its foundation into the 1970s when it was integrated into the state’s civilian law enforcement infrastructure. This case study of the Bundesgrenzschutz sheds new light on important insights into the larger process of West Germany’s postwar democratization; it shows how security was re-civilized in the aftermath of the Nazi dictatorship.

In the first part of the dissertation, I argue that the federal government used rearmament to justify the force, but intended to maintain it even after establishing a new army. It was the government’s only symbolic instrument of coercive force since the army remained under the supranational control of NATO. Border policemen rather than soldiers contained minor disturbances at the demarcation line to prevent them from triggering larger conflicts.

In the second part, I examine how the Interior Ministry recruited, hired, and trained border policemen. Drawing upon research in gender history, I argue that the Bundesgrenzschutz was used to promote conservative ideals of masculinity in West Germany’s young men. Redefining masculinity was one way that Germans attempted to make sense of the Nazi past while facing the new cultural challenges of Americanization.

Finally, I focus on the ongoing struggle between continuity and change as the organization underwent a series of reforms that transformed it into a modern civilian law enforcement agency. During the 1960s, for example, border policemen still imagined and prepared for a guerilla war against the East. It took the crisis of domestic terrorism in the 1970s to bring the organization into the state’s professional internal security forces.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View